Kindle: gadget of mystery

SANTA BARBARA, CALIF. -- The Amazon Kindle is turning out to be one of the most mysterious gadgets ever sold. The company successfully kept details about the product secret leading up to the launch. What's interesting now is that the company continues to keep a lid on basic facts about the device, even several weeks after its launch.

Inevitably, tinkerers have disassembled the device, and have cracked the encrypted code that runs the Kindle. What they found deepens the mystery even further. For example, it turns out, Kindle has a hidden picture viewer application, a secret Minesweeper game, a clock utility, several diagnostic modes and a long list of undocumented keyboard shortcuts. Details here.

Beyond the questions about why Amazon chose to hide these features, a long list of very basic questions about the device remain. For example:

* Who designed it?

* How long has it been in development?

* Does Amazon have some kind of hardware R&D lab? If so, are they working on something else?

* How many Kindles have been sold?

* How many Kindles does Amazon expect to sell?

* Why the supply issue? Are there shortages of those screens Amazon share's with Sony's e-book reader?

* When will Kindle be sold outside the U.S.?

* When Amazon sells a book, newspaper or magazine subscription, how is the money divided?

* What's the net profit difference for newspapers and magazines when you compare Kindle with paper versions?

* When will the next version come out?

* Why doesn't Amazon let you buy someone else a Kindle book?

I don't recall any major consumer electronics device that remained so mysterious so long after shipping. So far, Amazon has remained completely silent on these and other questions. If you learn the answers to any of these questions, by all means please drop me a line and let me know: mike.elgan@elgan.com

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