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The Most Important Tech Product Is the Kindle, Not the iPhone

Over the weekend, I conducted an informal poll with friends and colleagues, asking them which tech product is the most important. I explained to them that "important" could be classified as having the most profound impact on people, and perhaps, society as a whole.

The answers that came my way ranged from the iPod to HDTVs to the Xbox 360. But it was the iPhone that garnered the most votes. And it was the Kindle that failed to receive a single mention.

I was shocked. It wasn't surprising that the iPhone received all the accolades (it always does), but I did find it jarring that not a single person picked the Amazon Kindle as the most important product on the market today. It was my choice. And to me, it seemed like a pretty obvious one.

The Kindle is doing something that no one thought possible: it's revolutionizing an industry that hasn't changed since its inception. You can't say that for the iPhone. The iPod might have started an industry, but it isn't all that groundbreaking. And HDTVs and the Xbox 360? Come on.

I just don't believe that the Kindle is as appreciated as it should be. That single device that allows users to read books electronically is putting the publishing industry on notice, it's causing books to be offered at their cheapest prices in years, and it's practically ensuring that going forward, people will have ready access to desired books without leaving the house. It's taking on the library and the book store. And it's taking no prisoners.

Can the same be said for the iPhone? I don't think so. Apple's product might be changing the way mobile-phone vendors do business, but it isn't really making a profound impact on us.

There's another consideration that we must remember when deciding which product is most important: students.

Today, the iPhone is becoming a distraction in class at some points and a helpful tool at others. But the Kindle is transforming the educational system. Instead of forcing students to lug heavy textbooks around campus, all their books can be found in the Kindle. Even better, students who are already paying thousands of dollars just to receive an education will be able to save hundreds on textbook prices, since the Kindle can deliver textbooks at a steeply discounted rate.

Admittedly, the Kindle has yet to make significant inroads into the educational space, but the seed has already been planted. And once it takes root, it could totally transform the way teachers educate students. Simply put, the Kindle could have far-reaching ramifications.

So as we look ahead at what the Kindle might offer to the average person, I think it's clear that it's extremely important. It can save us money, it can change how we consume education, and it can totally transform the publishing industry. That's quite a feat. And it's a feat that the iPhone can't quite match.

Don Reisinger is a technology columnist whose work has included popular columns for CNET.com, Computerworld, InformationWeek and others. He has appeared numerous times on national television to share his expertise with viewers. You can follow his every move on Twitter at @donreisinger.