Monday, December 12, 2011

Why I Rooted My Kindle Fire

Actually, a more accurate title would be, "Why I Had My Son Root My Kindle Fire." He had some spare time this weekend so I asked him to do the job for me. I simply emailed him this link, handed him my Fire and told him not to worry about the results. After all, I've hardly used my Fire since it arrived. I do all my book reading on my new Kindle Touch (highly recommended) and intended for the Fire to replace my iPad. But it hasn't.

My favorite iPad apps are Zite and Flipboard. Neither of them are available on Android. More importantly, I kept running into interesting apps that are available in the Android Market but not Amazon's appstore.

The rooted device looks and acts a lot like it did before. One key difference is that I can now go to the Android Market and download whatever I want. Here are a few I installed immediately:

The real Twitter app -- It's totally ridiculous that Amazon doesn't offer this one. Prior to this my Fire twittering took place in the browser. Awful idea. 
The Dolphin browser -- Don't get me started about the Fire's supposedly super-fast Silk browser. I've done side-by-side test with my iPad, Galaxy S II phone and Mac PowerBook Pro. The results show the Fire browser comes in last place pretty much every time I load a page, reload a page, etc. This is one of the most disappointing aspects of the Fire. I originally planned for it to be a fast, small browsing device. Now that I have Dolphin installed it's at least as fast as my iPad. Amazon should publicly apologize for the misleading promises they made about Silk. 
The Everpaper app -- I'm a big fan of Instapaper. The Fire's smaller size should make it a better alternative for this sort of short-form reading than the iPad. Sure Amazon offers InstaFetch but it's not as good as Everpaper. I'd argue that Everpaper is a better app than Instapaper's own one on iOS. Isn't Amazon supposed to curating a list of the best apps for their own app store? If so, why are they leaving this terrific one out? 
News360 -- This one is an excellent news aggregator that's well designed for a tablet user interface. Again, for some silly reason Amazon has decided it's not worthy of their own app store.
I could go on and on but I won't. I'm sure I'll discover more each day and I'll be sure to report the best ones on Kindleville. I should also mention that every Android Market app doesn't come with a simple installation process on a rooted Kindle. In fact, I've come across a number of apps that simply don't show up in the Market search results when I look for them on my Fire. The solution there is to back up the .apk file on my Android phone and email them to myself. I then open the .apk on my Fire and most install just fine. Btw, if you need to do the same you'll want to install the free ASTRO File Manager app on your phone. It's a great little tool.

Then there are the apps that, for one reason or another, simply won't install on a rooted Kindle Fire. The biggest disappointment so far is Google Currents. I'm getting tired waiting for Zite and/or FlipBoard to appear on the Android platform and Currents is a nice app on my iPad. I've tried installing it a couple of times on my rooted Kindle and it always ends with a failure message. Bummer.

I'm also pretty sure the next time Amazon pushes out a Fire OS update it will unroot the device. My son tells me he can re-root it in a matter of minutes though now that he's done it once. That's good news because there's no way I'm going back to the walled ghetto Amazon has created with the standard Fire setup.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Kindle Fire Needs a Killer App

My Kindle Fire is proving to be a decent ebook reader and a worthy tablet. I can't ditch my iPad though because I can't abandon Zite or Flipboard. I consider both of them to be killer apps for the iPad platform. Neither of them were available when the iPad was launched but I'm so hooked on them now that I can't imagine losing either one of them.

Given how long the Kindle Fire was in development I have to admit I'm disappointed that Amazon didn't see to it that one (or both) of these apps were ported to the Android platform at launch. I can understand why the developers behind Zite and Flipboard hadn't ported their apps to Android yet. Prior to the Fire no Android tablet made a dent in Apple's market dominance. But everyone realized the Fire was going to change that situation, so it wouldn't have been all that risky for either company to port to Android earlier this year. They didn't though, so the door is wide open for someone to create a Zite-like or Flipboard-like app for the Fire.

Meanwhile, there are no apps out there that truly make the Fire unique. A cheap tablet is great but Amazon needs to make sure one or more irresistible apps get developed soon for their shiny new device. And please don't tell me Amazon's content and cloud strategy are the Fire's killer app. I'm not buying it. It makes for a nice platform but delivery pipelines aren't what make people buy (and remain loyal to a tablet). Unique apps do though, as evidenced by my need to keep lugging my iPad everywhere I go.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shhh...Don't Tell Amazon You're Loading These Apps on Your Kindle Fire

Up to now I've only bought ebooks from Amazon because I figure they offer a great multi-platform service. I can read those books on my Kindle hardware, my Mac, my iPad, a Windows PC, etc. Good luck doing that with books you buy from the iBookstore.

We all know the Kindle Fire is based on the Android operating system and you probably realize that only a small number of Android apps are offered through Amazon's Appstore for Android. That's because Amazon wants to limit the apps you run on your Fire. In some cases they're trying to prevent you from a buggy or unpleasant experience. In other cases though, they're just looking out for their own revenue stream.

So what if you've bought some ebooks from Barnes & Noble? Are you out of luck and unable to read them on your Fire? No way. Thanks to the extremely easy steps outlined in this article you too can load not only the nook app on your Fire but also a bunch of other non-Amazon-sanctioned Android apps as well. Btw, there's no rooting involved in this solution. It took me less than 5 minutes to implement and now I have access to a much larger list of apps for my Fire. Highly recommended!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Kindle Fire & Touch: First Impressions

I thought everyone was pre-ordering both a Kindle Fire and a Kindle Touch so I did too. Now a lot of people are asking me why I got both. More on that in a bit. After using the Fire and the Touch for a few days now I wanted to share my initial thoughts on each of them.

Kindle Fire
When I heard the Fire was going to be roughly the same size as the RIM Playbook I was pretty excited. I've got a Playbook and, although it has almost no apps to speak of, RIM's form factor is perfect for me. I bought a first-gen iPad on day one and I've enjoyed using it but I've always felt it's too bulky, especially when you have to lug around a laptop in addition to a tablet. It's been said that tablets are much better at content consumption than content creation, so why have something as large as an iPad when consumption can be accomplished on an even smaller screen? I'm finding the smaller Fire is a much better match for my needs.

The major disappointment with the Fire so far, as reported elsewhere, is the unimpressive results from the Silk browser. Amazon really played this up and many of us were expecting a speedy browsing experience. In reality, the Fire's browser is no faster than my iPad's. It makes you wonder how Amazon benchmarked this and why they feel it's superior.

I've been outspoken about the need for a better way to manage and organize content on a Kindle and I'm not convinced Amazon's Carousel view is the solution. It has all the sizzle of Apple's cover flow without an underlying folder structure. Have you grown accustomed to the Collections organization capability of your eInk Kindle? Get used to living without it on a Fire. That's right. One step forward, two steps backwards. One minor advantage to the Fire user interface is the Favorites section. That's the smaller-sized view of covers at the bottom of the screen. If you're reading 3 books at the same time, just drag them down there so they don't get lost in the larger Carousel clutter. And speaking of clutter, is there really a reason for so many operations to add items to the Carousel? Open a new tab in the browser, go back to the home screen and there's an image of that web page added to the Carousel. Yuck. Amazon needs to get a UI expert to help them reconfigure the main screen and navigation.

Finally, my last beef with the Fire has to do with the app selection. There are a number of iPad apps I use that aren't available on Android. Zite is the most important one. I can't imagine a day without Zite. It's an amazingly useful app but it's for iOS only. I realize there haven't been any successful Android tablets up to now and that's why developers like Zite haven't bothered with an Android version. But surely they saw the enormous potential for the Fire, so why weren't some of these killer apps available on day one? I'm forced to use both an iPad and my Fire till more of these apps are ported. If you buy a Fire, btw, don't limit yourself to only those apps Amazon offers. Here's a link to a very simple series of steps you can take to open your Fire up to a large number of additional ones, including, believe it or not, the B&N nook app!

You might think that with all these complaints I regret buying a Fire. You'd be wrong. I'm optimistic Amazon will address all of these issues in the coming months and I have no buyer's remorse whatsoever.

Kindle Touch
My third-gen Kindle is less than a year old but knew I wanted to upgrade to the Touch as soon as I heard about it. I never liked it that so much Kindle surface area was dedicated to a lousy keyboard that gets used, at best, perhaps 1% of the time I'm holding the device. It made no sense.

The Kindle Touch is a terrific device. I opted for the $99 Touch with Special Offers. The "offers" are totally unobtrusive and never appear during the reading experience. I have yet to find one I want to take advantage of but if this program helps lower the cost of the device I'm all for it.

The touch screen is great but not exactly perfect. It's clear that eInk displays aren't intended for use with something like a virtual keyboard where you want instant feedback that the right key was pressed. The delays are a bit irritating. Then again, since the keyboard is used so infrequently it's not a big hassle. It's so nice though that I can now simply touch or swipe the screen rather than hunt for the physical button for any operation.

I've noticed a bit more screen ghosting with the Touch than I had with my third-gen Kindle. I believe the new eInk display technology is to blame for this. Amazon offers a new option called "Page Refresh" on the Touch and it's set to "off" by default. If you've used a Kindle before you're familiar with the screen flash that happens each time you turn the virtual page of an ebook. What's happening is every little dot on the screen gets reversed before the next page is displayed. With this new setting in the off mode you don't see so many of those flashes but you wind up with a bit of ghosting. It's easy enough to flip the switch to "on" and the ghosting goes away.

The Touch is even smaller than the already lightweight third-gen Kindle and the battery seems to last even longer, if that's possible. You could easily tuck the Touch in your backpocket (assuming you're not concerned about sitting on it, which you should be!).

The bottom line is I'm very happy with both these devices. So why did I buy more than one? I'm hooked on eInk for long-form reading. As crisp as the Fire's display is, I find eInk to be a much more comfortable reading experience. I wouldn't want to do much web browsing on a Touch though and, of course, the Fire is much more extensible via the app ecosystem. I've been using both a tablet (iPad) and an eInk device (Kindle) for most of 2011 and I don't see that changing. It would be great if eInk would offer full color since that would allow me to go with one device instead of two. That doesn't appear to be on the short term horizon so, for now, I'll continue using two devices.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How Frequently Will Amazon Release Kindle Fire Software Updates?

It's unfortunate (for me) that Amazon decided to deliver my new Kindle Fire while I'm out of town. New Fire and Touch devices are waiting for me at home though and I can't wait to try them out. In the mean time I've been living vicariously through all the bloggers and tweeters who have written about their initial Fire experiences.

One point I've seen made in too many reviews so far is that the Fire has a number of minor bugs and annoyances. Many users go on to say that these are things Amazon should be able to fix quickly by issuing software updates.

While that may be true I worry that Amazon doesn't have a history of frequent updates and improvements. Yes, they've issued a number of new O.S. releases for the eInk Kindles but it's happened at a glacial pace with very few core functionality enhancements. Something as simple as folders, better known as Collections, was considered a radical improvement!

My point is that it doesn't appear that Amazon dedicates enough developer resources to their Kindle platform. That may have been acceptable in the eInk, dedicated reader days. After all, most customers only expected their eInk Kindle to do one thing and do it well. With the Fire though, Amazon has now entered the tablet arena and the expectations are different, particularly since they're pushing so many cloud-based content consumption options (e.g., music, video, etc.)

The minor bugs and annoyances I've read about sound reasonably acceptable for an initial release. However, they also sound like the type of fixes that could and should be made within the next week or two. Let's hope Amazon assigns a higher priority to these Kindle Fire software updates than they've shown in the past with eInk Kindle software updates.

Monday, November 7, 2011

We Need A Better Way to Manage Content

When the Kindle first arrived there was no way to create groups. Every book, newspaper or magazine just got plopped onto the home screen. As a result, everyone's home screen quickly turned into many home screens and you had to flip through page after page to find what you're looking for.

Fast forward to today where we now have the ability to create Collections. Terrific. It's 2011 and the state-of-the-art Kindle content organization technique is something MS-DOS supported way back in the 1980's. Can't we do better than this?

Here's my problem. I'm constantly downloading samples and buying new ebooks. I also have subscriptions to a couple of magazines on my Kindle. There's so much stuff piling up that I can't remember what I wanted to read next. In short, there's no way to prioritize my Kindle reading list!

In the old days I'd just stack my books on my desk or nightstand and I'd make sure the important ones were on top. That works when you're only reading 3 or 4 books at a time, but what happens when you're juggling a half dozen or more as well as thinking about reading any one of 10+ samples? The current model breaks down.

Here's one simple solution: How about automatically pouring all of my samples into a Samples Collection? That would be pretty easy and I'll be Amazon could code that up in no time. Or how about this?: Let me assign a priority to each of the books, magazines, samples, etc., that I download. Then let me sort my library by priority. Even better!

I'm sure a great user interface designer could come up with a variety of solutions to this problem. I hope they do it soon because I keep losing track of what I want to read next!

Monday, October 24, 2011

Why I'm Not Trading In Any of My Old Kindles

In case you missed it, Amazon recently announced that they'll accept trade-ins of older Kindles. Visit this page to see how much yours might be worth. I've got a first-gen Kindle (yup, with the super-ugly design and keyboard) as well as two third-gen ones. I have no intention of sending any of them back. Not even the first-gen one with the weak battery.

Why? First of all, thanks very much to the glacial pace of change of the Kindle e-reading software, that first-gen device is every bit as useful as the latest one. Amazon never made functionality a compelling reason to upgrade; it's just always been about a sleeker design or a slightly faster device. As a result, all of the Kindles I own make for great hand-me-downs. When my Fire and Touch arrive next month I plan to give my third-gen Kindle to my son (just don't tell my daughters).

That leads to reason #2 I'm not taking part in the "great Kindle trade-in deal": Account sharing. All 3 of the Kindles in the Wikert family are on the same Amazon account. That means we buy a book once and can share it with each other. Yes, you have to be careful with Whispersync when you do this, but my wife and I have been sharing books all year with no problems. When I pass some of these older Kindles to my kids I'll keep them all on that same account so we can continue sharing books we only have to buy once.

Finally, the trade-in prices are awful. Seriously. $20 for the wifi Kindle I just bought earlier this year? No way. Again, even when the new generation ones hit next month I feel my current Kindle has way more value than $20. If Amazon really wants to make this program interesting though, they should consider giving all the trade-in Kindles to schools and other non-profits around the world. At least then we'd know the paltry trade-in credit we're receiving was for a good cause.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

What Could a "Kindle Membership" Program Look Like?

Amazon is selling millions of Kindles every year and, of course, they're selling even more ebooks, so perhaps they don't feel the need to sweeten the customer pot with a membership program like the one Barnes & Noble offers. You could argue the B&N program is more oriented towards physical products with in-store discounts and free express shipping. Then again, that sounds a lot like Amazon's own Prime program; Amazon has at least started migrating Prime more towards digital content with their TV/movies streaming service. I think it could be even more valuable in the digital world though.

Here's a good example. Do you check out the Kindle Daily Deal every morning like I do? I find myself simply hoarding content from it now. After all, if a book is usually $9.99 or more and available for only a buck or two, how can I resist? That only leads more to the Amazon formula factor I mentioned in an earlier post: the more I buy the more I feel compelled to stick with Amazon's platform. I'm already way behind on all my reading and these cheap daily deals are creating even more of a backlog.

Does Amazon really need to take these deals all the way down to 99 cents though? What if there were two tiers instead? For the general public, also known as non-members, that $9.99 book is $4.99 today; for members of a Kindle program the price is 99 cents. Membership could cost $20, $50 or whatever makes sense per year. Discounts could also apply to other products on Amazon (e.g., magazine or newspaper subscriptions, accessories, etc.) In short, they'd need to come up with a program that's compelling enough to get you and I to fork over money in advance. If they come up with the right formula I'd definitely sign up.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Amazon Formula

They didn't create the first ebook device. Sony's original Reader had more than a one year head-start on the Kindle. What they were first with though was a platform that made wireless ebook buying a snap; Whispernet was a game-changer.

Next, they had the vision to create a Kindle reader app for every platform known to man. Want to read a Kindle book on your Windows laptop? No problem. On a Mac? Absolutely. On an Android device, an iPhone, iPad or Blackberry? Check, check, check, and check. This, btw, is what made me comfortable building up a library of Kindle content. I pity the sucker who's bought a ton of content from Apple's iBookstore; that person is locked in with Apple for the rest of their lives.

Of course, the more ebooks I buy from Amazon the more I'm locked in with them down the road. But I don't mind. That's a key part of Amazon's secret sauce. Btw, when I say "locked in", I'm talking about the content platform, not the hardware platform. I plan to buy a Kindle tablet on day one, but if another Android tablet comes along a year or so later and is better, I'll probably switch to it.

I've been asked why I don't buy econtent from Barnes & Noble or Kobo. After all, they too offer apps on a variety of platforms. I'd rather stick with one reader app I'm used to and not have to remember which options are/aren't available (or how they work) in other apps. Then there's the practical side. if I want to search for a phrase I know I read but I can't remember which ebook it was in, it's easy to search across your entire long as that collection was purchased from the same ebookstore! Good luck searching simultaneously across your Kindle ebooks, your Nook ebooks, and your Kobo ebooks. It can't be done. In fact, cross-library features like this are something I'll bet each vendor will build up further, again, with an eye on keeping you loyal to them.

So the fact that I keep buying more and more econtent from Amazon, just like many of you, means I'm making it harder and harder to ever abandon them. But as long as they keep supporting all platforms I'm perfectly content to keep doing this.

P.S. -- It's no secret that I'm a huge Amazon fan. In fact, I took the Amazon position in a fun Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishers webcast debate we recently had. In that debate I presented the five key reasons why I feel Amazon's platform is superior to Apple's. You can watch it via this link or the embedded version below.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How "Open" Will Kindle Tablet Be?

I recently got into a fun Twitter debate with Andrew Rhomberg. He wanted to know if I thought the much-anticipated Amazon Kindle tablet will be open, with no restrictions onwebsite access or Android app support. I stubbornly said yes, it's got to be or it won't be successful. Andrew then pointed out that everyone's not as "geeky" as me, that he doubts it will be as open as I suggest and that the mainstream market doesn't need it to be.

Gulp. You know what? I'm afraid he's right...sort of.

Most people probably don't care that today's Kindle web browser is awful. They're using the device to buy and read content. I think that changes when you go to a tablet. Of course, what we don't know is whether Amazon will market this device as a tablet or simply a color reader. If it's the former they better support any and all websites. After all, what if Barnes & Noble comes up with a cloud-based reader just like Amazon did? That should be usable from every device.

The same goes for apps, but I realize this is more than wishful thinking on my part. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize Amazon built their own Appstore for Android because they want a cut of every app bought for their device. I'm sure they'll also configure their Android Kindle so that you're only able to install apps from their app store on it. I figure there will be no support for the broader Android Market.

That would be a shame and it would prove that Amazon isn't confident enough in their own content ecosystem to offer a completely open device. What I want is a Kindle tablet that lets me install apps from any Android storefront. Sure, there's a nook app for Android. Let me run it on the Kindle tablet. More importantly, Amazon, make your reader app and content so irresistible that I don't even want to consider other apps. But don't lock them out. Besides, if Amazon doesn't offer a completely open device they'll only invite hackers to unlock it. I'd prefer not voiding the warranty but I'll seriously consider it if the tablet is too closed. You should too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Print Tail Still Wags the Ebook Dog

I've been anxiously awaiting Thomas Friedman's new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. I'm fascinated by both Friedman as well as the book's insanely long title. I first heard about the book earlier this year and discovered the Amazon catalog page for it a few weeks ago. At that time I could have pre-ordered either the print or the Kindle edition. That was the case until yesterday when I was finally able to download the free Kindle sample.

I have one question for both the book's publisher and Amazon: Why won't you let us download an upcoming book's sample before the book is formally released? I know the answer: Both publisher and Amazon are still following an outdated tradition of coordinating the release of any content with a new book on a specific date. September 5th was apparently the date the publisher decided the embargo could be lifted on this one. Why? Because that's the date they fired up their marketing and PR engines, making sure all their efforts were focused on the book's first sale date.

I have two words for this approach: Stupid and out-dated. It's a print model that's still being used in the e-world.

What's the harm in letting a prospective customer like me download the sample of this book a week or a couple of months before the print book is available? None whatsoever. I end up reading the sample and probably pre-ordering the Kindle edition before September 5th. I also probably tweet/blog about it and that's what the publisher is worried about. They want to control the messaging that surrounds their products and they insist on everyone starting at the same time...except for anyone who received a pre-release or galley copy of the book, of course!

I know...the brick-and-mortar stores would complain if their online competitors had earlier access to some of a new book's content before they did. Should that really prevent the online retailers from serving their customers? I don't think so.

I find it incredibly frustrating when I discover an upcoming book with a Kindle edition page that only lets me pre-order but not sample it. Rather than being stuck in a model from yesterday, both publisher and Amazon have an opportunity to try something new: How about selling me the sample (or something a bit longer than the sample) before the book actually publishes? For a $20 book, sell me the first 3 chapters for $5. Then if I decide to buy the entire book, apply that $5 sample charge to the $20 price so I can buy the rest of the book for $15 more. As a consumer I won't buy too many pre-release samples like this but there are certain cases where I definitely would, and Friedman's book is a good example.

The Kindle edition of this one was ready for distribution well before September 5th. There's no good reason it, or a sample of it, couldn't have been offered for sale before the 5th. Let's drop yesterday's silly marketing/PR restrictions and start living in today's e-world. And hey, if this causes more print book diehards to finally make the jump to ebooks we'll all be better off!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Give Your Kindle Some Personality!

Amazon isn't exactly known for creating devices with a lot of sex appeal. Even though today's Kindle is more attractive than the original one (remember how ugly that was?!) it's still no head-turner like the iPad. How would you describe the color of the Kindle's case? I think "army-olive drab" is pretty accurate.

I wouldn't call either of those Kindles in the picture on the left "drab" though. That's because they're now covered in a couple of skins from DecalGirl. The Kindle on the left is mine and features the "Lucky" dog skin. Now when I'm reading on my Kindle I feel like one of our three Bassett hounds (yes, we have three: Olivia, Betsy and Ricky) is staring back at me. The Kindle on the right is my wife's and features the "Three Amigos" horse skin.

Each of the Kindle 3 skins are available in either gloss or matte finish and only cost $14.99. Besides the fun factor, the thing I love most about these is that they're super easy to apply. Unlike screen protectors I've wrestled with for my iPhone and iPad, these Kindle skins are vinyl and easy to put on, take off and reapply. If you screw it up the first time you can take comfort in knowing you'll be able to reposition the skin. There's no excuse for anything other than a perfect, bubble-free application.

DecalGirl isn't just about Kindle skins though. They offer colorful skins for pretty much every popular electronic device. Be sure to check them out for your iPhone, iPad or even laptop or game device cover needs. You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Kindle Cloud Reader: First Impressions

Apple forces Amazon to remove their in-app purchase button from the Kindle app and Amazon complies. Meanwhile, Amazon was obviously developing their HTML5-based Kindle Cloud Reader for all platforms. Advantage, Amazon! If Apple ever had any hope of grabbing 30% of all Kindle content sales taking place on iPads/iPhones that dream just crumbled.

If you're a Kindle device user this development doesn't mean a whole lot to you...yet. You'll continue using your Kindle hardware like you always did. But if you own a tablet like the iPad you'll find Kindle Cloud Reader is a terrific alternative to Amazon's native app for those other platforms (e.g., Apple's iOS, Android, etc.)

You'll notice a significant user interface difference vs. what you've been used to in the platform-specific Kindle apps. Amazon built this from the ground up and the result is an extremely clean interface. Some might argue they've hidden too much but I'm hoping they'll allow for more interface personalization in a future update.

So what does it mean to have all your books in the cloud? In simplest terms it's delivering on the "buy once, read anywhere" promise Amazon hypes in their press release. That's not all that different from how things worked yesterday though. I bought Kindle books on my iPad and was able to read them on my Kindle, iPhone or Mac, to name a few platforms. And all that content was sync'd across my devices. The same holds true for this cloud approach. Now though, if you're using the Cloud Reader your content starts out living remotely on Amazon's servers. You can download books for local storage, which is something you'll want to do anytime you're offline.

Given that this is an initial release it's not without bugs. For example, I'm a huge sampler. I've tried downloading a few samples on my iPad using the Cloud Reader and they're nowhere to be found. Then there's the purchase option. If you buy a book on Amazon's website (or with their native apps) you can tell Amazon where you want the book delivered (e.g., to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, etc.). The Cloud Reader doesn't offer any of these options. All purchases simply go to the Cloud Reader. In fact, they don't show up automatically in the Cloud Reader. I've had to press the sync button to make them appear. Again, not a huge bug but a minor annoyance. I'm also disappointed I still can't get my one and only Kindle magazine subscription (The New Yorker) onto my iPad through the Cloud Reader. Lastly, you'll find the Cloud Reader takes a long time to load, at least it does on my iPad. And once the app is loaded I've been getting synchronization errors. If you touch the "Kindle Store" button in Cloud Reader you'll also find it takes a long time to load the store page; much longer than it used to take to hit the store from the Kindle iPad app. These are issues I'm sure Amazon will address soon.

Since I recently switched from long-form reading on my iPad (with the Kindle app) to a new Kindle device I probably won't get a lot of use out of the Cloud Reader. Most of the time I'm just shopping for content and buying it on my iPad and then reading it on my Kindle. For those situations I'll probably just stick with the simple home screen shortcut I created to the Kindle store I wrote about earlier.

I'll check in on Cloud Reader from time to time though to see what enhancements Amazon makes to it. I'm particularly curious to see if this will become the model they'll use for the Android-based Kindle tablet that's supposedly coming soon. It makes a ton of sense to shift to this HTML5 platform across the board since they'll not only avoid the Apple hassles but they'll have one common app for all platforms.

Monday, August 1, 2011

How Apple Is Pushing Me Away, Towards Amazon

I held off for a bit but finally wound up letting iTunes update the Kindle app on my iPad. It was my tiny protest against Apple's forced removal of the "Shop in Kindle Store" button in the app. But then I noticed the updated app also lets you view "some" magazine subscriptions, so I decided I wanted that functionality enough that I was willing to live without the in-app purchase ability.

(Notice I said "some" magazine subscriptions. Based on the recommendation of a colleague, I recently signed up for a Kindle subscription to The New Yorker. It's a weekly magazine and a bargain at $2.99/month. Unfortunately it's also one of several Kindle magazines that aren't available for the iPad. I guess the magazine's publisher, Conde Nast, is trying to protect their iPad app investment. The subscription rate for the iPad app version is $5.99/month so they're probably not too keen on letting me enjoy my Kindle subscription there as well.)

Back to the loss of in-app ebook purchasing in the Kindle app... It's easy enough to create an icon that links directly to the Kindle ebook store on your iPad. Just go to, touch the icon to the right of the bookmarks icon (the one with the right-facing arrow coming out of the box), select "Add to Home Screen", give it a name (I went with "Kindle Store") and press the Add button. I dragged it into my Books folder and placed it next to the Kindle app (see image at top of post). You'll see it even comes with its own attractive icon. So now when I want to buy an ebook from Amazon I just touch that icon and am immediately in the Kindle store.

This is all rather silly though, don't you think? Apple's goal here was to get on even footing with Amazon and be able to earn a 30% cut of any books bought within the app. Amazon's removal of the in-app purchase button means (a) customers have to buy from outside the app and (b) Apple still gets zero. So in the end, Apple, the supposed king of elegant user interface design makes it more awkward for Kindle app users on their iPad.

Here's what I'd love to see happen: Amazon (or someone else) releases a Kindle ebook that's (a) nothing more than that link I provided above ( and (b) always locks itself in the top right corner of my Kindle book list, just below where the old "Shop in Kindle Store" button used to be. In fact, maybe this special ebook could be called "Shop in Kindle Store." It's a free ebook, you download it to your iPad and anytime you touch it you'll launch Safari and head to the Kindle store!

Could Apple prevent something like this from happening? I'd like to think not but it all depends on how Apple wants to interpret and enforce the language in section 11.14 of the App Store guidelines (see this TechCrunch post for a comparison of old vs. new wording). It starts off by saying "Apps can read or play approved content..." So what does "approved content" mean? Nobody at Apple is reviewing the almost one million ebooks in the Kindle store, right? This one would jump out at them though, I'm sure. :-)

But what if Apple does intervene and say my proposed workaround is not acceptable? Then where do they draw the line? Will publishers no longer be able to include any links to other products for sale in the Kindle store or elsewhere?

That would be ridiculous, but it's all part of the reason why I'm anxious to dump my iPhone as well as my iPad and jump to the upcoming Samsung Galaxy S II Android phone (recommended by my son) as well as whatever Android-based tablet Amazon releases later this year. I'm tired of Apple's games and ready to make the switch.

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Want an Uber-Magazine Subscription

I used to subscribe to at least 10 print magazines.  Now that's down to four.  Three of those four include free iPad app subscriptions if you're a paying print subscriber.  I don't pay for any other magazine or newspaper subscriptions for my iPad and I don't subscribe to any on my Kindle.

What's wrong with this picture?  When I bought my iPad I figured I'd sign up for all sorts of digital magazine subscriptions but it just hasn't happened.  Part of the problem has to do with ridiculous pricing models (see Wired, although they finally wised up and decided to offer free iPad access to print subscribers).  The other problem is every magazine is operating on its own and they're not coming together to leverage their collective strength.

Here's where Amazon has a huge opportunity.  Those four print magazines I subscribe to cost me about $100/year or between $8 and $9 per month.  I would gladly pay more than twice that much (at least $20/month and I might go as high as $25) if I could get all-you-can-eat access to a bunch of magazines.

Think of this like Safari Books Online, but for magazine content.  I pay a flat fee of $20 or $25 per month and I'm able to access the contents of several dozen magazines.  Individual magazines are paid on a pageview basis.  So let's say my subscription costs $25 per month and last month I was kind of busy so I only read a few articles from one magazine.  That magazine receives my $25 that month (less whatever fees the service provider charges).  Next month, maybe I've split my reading across three different magazines, so they split my $25 based on my usage of their content.

Let me set up a profile so the service knows my interests and can send me daily summaries of the articles that are likely to be most relevant for me.  The service should also learn from my habits, so even though I may not have said I'm interested in the Android platform, if it sees I read several Android articles every month it should add future Android article links to the recommendations it sends me.

This is part of Amazon's DNA.  They have a terrific recommendation engine and they leverage it every day.  See for yourself by checking your email inbox or see what pops up on the next time you visit their site.

I realize the biggest challenge in creating a service like this is magazine publisher resistance.  My reduction from 10+ paid subscriptions to four isn't unique though.  This is a market that's struggling.  The model I'm suggesting means publishers with the most read content will be the winners, which is exactly how it should be.

Here I am saying I'm ready to step up and invest more than twice what I spend today for magazine content.  Let's hope Amazon makes this happen.  It would be a terrific new service to go along with the Android-based tablet they're rumored to be working on!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Why Can't I Subscribe to an Author?

What do you do when you discover a new author but you've read every book they've written?  You probably go to their website.  Maybe you subscribe to the site's RSS feed.  Perhaps they're a columnist, so you subscribe to the magazine or newspaper they write for (or maybe you just read that content for free online or you grab it's RSS feed).  If they're into Twitter you probably follow their tweet stream too.

The good news is there are quite a few options besides books if you want to keep up with what your favorite author has to say.  The bad news, IMHO, is there's no single service tying all this together.  I subscribe to way too many RSS feeds, so the result is I don't read many of them at all.  I've also been cutting back on magazine subscriptions, so I'm losing that option as well.  And even though I use TweetDeck to help split up the various groups of people I'm following (e.g., colleagues, publishing industry people, sports figures, etc.), I never find myself going from one tool to the next for a particular author.

Here's what I'm talking about: I used to subscribe to The New York Times on my Kindle.  I did so, not because it was my news source, but because I enjoyed getting the latest articles from my favorite columnists including Thomas Friedman.  When I dumped the subscription I realized I wasn't subscribing to The New York Times; I was subscribing to Thomas Friedman (and a few other columnists).  Steve Rushin is another example.  Steve stopped writing for Sports Illustrated years ago but he's active on Twitter.  I follow him there and I even have "Steve Rushin" set up as a constant search on Google News.  (Yes, I'm that big of a fan!)  So I have to check in on Twitter every so often and then look in my Google News tab to see if there's anything recent from him.  What a waste of time and effort.

Why not just have an author feed subscription via the Kindle?  Yes, Amazon sells blog feed subscriptions, but that's a ripoff and I'm looking for more.  I don't want something I can get via an RSS reader for free.  I want a combined feed of the author's blog, their Twitter activity and any publication/website they write for.  All in one.  I'd be willing to pay a modest amount for this ($10/year?), at least for the 4 or 5 authors I care most about.  And heck, go ahead and include some advertisements in it if necessary.

This is all about the convenience of having everything from one author in one source, automatically pushed to my Kindle (via WiFi) on a regular basis.  It seems like an opportunity for Amazon to extend the Kindle's functionality as well as a terrific way for authors to engage with their readers.  On top of all that, it's a great way for authors to let their fans know when their next book is coming, perhaps give them a preview or even a loyalty discount.

Monday, June 20, 2011

How Amazon Could Improve Discoverability

Discoverability is one of the biggest issues facing e-retailers.  How do the right customers know when a new product they might be interested in has arrived?  Amazon knows I buy a lot of books on sports and WWII.  Although I get emails from them every day I don't think they're doing enough to help me keep up with the latest products I might want to buy.

Here's an idea: Why not let me opt in to a service that automatically sends me samples of new books in my favorite topic areas?  I'm not talking about emails with covers and links back to catalog pages.  I'm saying they should deliver those product samples right to my Kindle.

Give me a checklist to fill out.  I'd like samples from all the new titles about baseball, hockey, Roosevelt, D-Day, etc.  Go ahead and send them my way.  My Kindle has plenty of memory and I'll delete the ones I'm not interested in.  Let's not limit this just to topics though.  I've got some favorite authors as well.  Let me sign up to automatically receive samples from all of them too.

Yes, this could lead to a very cluttered Kindle home screen.  That's why Amazon should also create a "Samples" folder with subfolders for each of the topics/authors I'm subscribing to.  Alert me when new samples have arrived...again, not via email to a device I'm not reading on but rather send a message to my Kindle so I can see a summary of what's just come in.

Some customers won't see the benefit of this.  I'm not one of them.  I would greatly appreciate this sort of service.  It would save me from manually going through each topic area every so often to see if I've missed anything.  It forces Amazon to push more content to customers but I'm sure they'll benefit from the additional sales the samples will generate.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Delivereads, eReaderIQ & Amazon's "Sunshine Deals"

Today's post is all about content discovery and great deals.  First up is Delivereads.  This is a simple email service that provides you with short-form content you might not have discovered otherwise.  It's all free, of course, and the content is delivered directly to your Kindle.  Emails come when Delivereads founder Dave Pell feels like sending them, but I generally find at least one piece that's worth reading in each collection.

Next, if you're not familiar with eReaderIQ I recommend you give it a try as well.  Rather than scouring Amazon's site to see what's free or inexpensive today, the folks at eReaderIQ gather all that info for you.  Like Delivereads, eReaderIQ is also a free service and you can expect to receive an email from them every day.

Speaking of great values, have you heard about Amazon's new "Sunshine Deals" program?  It's a deep mark-down of more than 600 older ebooks in the Kindle catalog.  Prices are either 99 cents, $1.99 or $2.99.  Several publishers are featured and I scanned all of the 650 titles the other night.  I was prepared to buy quite a few books, saving a ton along the way, but I only wound up buying 3.  That's right.  I looked at 650 titles and only found 3 worth spending no more than $2.99 on.  Maybe you'll have better luck than I did.  Be sure to review the list soon though as the campaign ends at midnight on June 15th.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sharing Within Your Kindle Account

Both Amazon and B&N have long offered lame solutions for the ebook sharing problem.  Why limit the share period and why only allow it once in the life of the book?  Ebooks should be more powerful than print books but here's a great example of how the market leaders are trying to make them less powerful.

I don't see the situation changing anytime soon but I wanted to mention a partial solution that works well for me: sharing within my Kindle account.  Our family now owns three Kindles.  Every time I buy a new one I just add it to my original Kindle account.  Now all three of the Kindles have access to the same common library.  There's no reason for us to buy any ebook more than once.

Until recently I assumed pretty much every Kindle owner was aware of this option.  I've mentioned it to at least three others in the past couple of weeks though and none of them had considered it before.  That's why I'm sharing it here.

Obviously this in-account sharing doesn't address the larger problem of being able to share with all your friends but at least you can share within your family (assuming you're all configured to use the same account).  And yes, Whispersync complicates things when two or more are reading one book at the same time.  That's why I always bookmark my last location before I close a book!

Monday, May 2, 2011

Why Isn't Twitter Connected to Amazon's "Look Inside" Feature?

One of my complaints with the first-gen Kindle was that there was no way to quickly tweet book excerpts.  The new Kindle lets you tweet as you read, of course, but it's a cumbersome process.  How many key combinations does it take to send a single tweet?!

Process aside, I'm very disappointed with the way Amazon handles the excerpts you want to point to.  For example, I'm reading Jane Leavy's terrific biography of Mickey Mantle called The Last Boy.  I came across a cool link in the book pointing to a simulation of a tape-measure home run Mantle hit at Yankee Stadium in 1963 (go here and click on mantle_hr_63 to see it yourself).  Here's the result of tweeting the excerpt:

This wasn't at all what I expected to point my Twitter followers to.

If you go to this book's Amazon page you'll see the "Look Inside" feature has been enabled for it.  That means you can flip through the book a bit before you buy it.  Why in the world doesn't Amazon take Twitter followers right to the book page I tweeted via "Look Inside"?  Followers could then read more than what I included in my tweet.  More importantly, they'd be right there on the product page, able to "1-click buy" it on the spot.

The Twitter functionality shown above is a small step forward from the complete lack of Twitter connectivity Amazon offered with Kindle 1.0.  But Amazon is really missing the boat here by simply showing the short excerpt I pulled for the tweet.  And just to add salt to the open wound, why isn't that url in the excerpt live?  I know Amazon hates sending customers to sites off, but jeez, they're doing customers a disservice by making them type in that simulation link.

I hope Amazon takes this to heart and utilizes "Look Inside" in some future release of the Kindle platform.  I don't see a lot of value in tweeting any more excerpts without "Look Inside" connectivity.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Kindle Likes & Dislikes: Another Point of View

Today's post is a contribution from John Holdcroft, one of my O'Reilly colleagues.  John is also a big fan of the Kindle and offers these likes and dislikes about the platform:

After coveting all sorts of e-reader gizmos from friends and colleagues, I finally bought my first Kindle last summer. Amazon found my sweet spot of $139 (now down to $114 with embedded ‘special offers’) and my excitable fingers did the One-Click dance in a hurry. At first, it was the novelty of having an e-reader device that excited me, no matter what the experience. I imagined stuffing it into my back pocket for a stroll in New York City, or showing it off loudly at a proudly independent Seattle area coffee shop. Now, after buying and downloading everything from popular fiction, cycling histories, and primitive board games for my seven-year-old, I am hooked deep. Some quick thoughts for you about my reading and consuming journey: 
Ubiquitous reading experiences. Amazon has done a great job of not just building a great reading device, but building better places and formats to read at any time. I love reading a couple of chapters of Steven Levy’s In The Plex at night, then synching up the next morning as I wait in line at the post office and pull out my iPhone and continue reading exactly where I left off. This seamless connection of reading makes all the difference in the world. 
Browsability of content. Amazon is right behind Google as far as mastering search, and I can go to the page and type in “Jon Krakauer” and find his latest essay in Singles program. One-click and boom (goes the dynamite), I am ready to read. I also dream about a moment when I am on a beach in Hawaii (I used to do such things before I helped sire two small children), think of an author, topic, or newspaper I want to read, find it on Kindle, and have it instantly. This ‘Eureka!’ moment has not happened yet but I know that when it does it will feel GOOD. 
Kindle community and shopping experience. Amazon seems focused on how readers are consuming right now better than other mediums. Front-end early adopters seem to consume bits of data in fits and starts (though I am sure that long, dense novels are not yet forgotten). Kindle Singles speaks to this style directly, and I would hope and expect to see this program mushroom out into new environments soon. Perhaps combining the burgeoning podcast market into a book/audio file experience is also something for the Kindlings to consider. 
Social media shackles. Gee, thanks, Amazon, for keeping my highlights, bookmarks, etc., and adding them to my locker of data that you own. Not that my data is particularly interesting, I just want to own it, see it, track it, etc. I am less interested in seeing 63 highlights of the best lines of Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (my choice comes from a description of long suffering heroine Patty, who “tried to make (her son) her Designated Understander”). Also, I should be able to see this data under the Manage My Kindle feature. Right now, Amazon holds it. Let me have it back, or at least joint custody, with weekends visits and every other holiday. Tweeting and Facebooking is suffering right now because of this loss. 
Keyboard. Seems pedestrian at best and blocky and unresponsive at worst. Compared to the fetish-loving iPad users, this looks really bad. Is it that hard to bid out this job to a usability lord and get better results? 
Page numbers. What titles have pages number references, and what ones do not? Which books, authors, are so lucky to be ‘pagified’ first, and why? Why the murkiness of this process, Amazon? And since one must hold down the MENU button to find the page feature, this is hardly an intuitive process. Make page numbers an Opt-Out feature, not Opt-In. 
Overall, I love my Kindle and look forward to seeing the innovations that I assume are on the horizon. It appears that e-readers are a part of the growing digital kudzu that Steven Levy notes in his great new book. Found on Kindle, of course.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Kindle Lessons Learned After a Year Away

I'm glad I jumped back into the Kindle market.  My wifi-only Kindle is getting almost as much use as my iPad.  I recently wrote a post on my iPad blog about lessons learned the first year with that device.  I figured I ought to do something similar covering lessons learned after a year away from the Kindle:

There's nothing wrong with doing only one thing exceptionally well -- I love my iPad, mostly because it's a jack of all trades.  But there's definitely something to be said for a device like the Kindle that pretty much just does one thing but does it extremely well.  (It's still hard admitting this since I jumped ship and did all my long-form reading on my iPad for the past 12 months!)
No free memory indicator -- I'm sure this device has plenty of storage space but I miss the ability to see just how much memory is free.  Unless I'm missing something, there's no way to tell that on the device itself.
No SD slot -- Speaking of memory, would it really have killed anyone to include an SD slot on this model?  It feels very Apple-esque without an option to add memory, particularly since the older Kindles used to support this.
Text-to-speech is a terrific feature -- I didn't have this with my first-gen Kindle and I'm already finding it very useful on my new device.  I'm still amazed there are publishers (and authors) out there who refuse to enable this in their Kindle editions.  Do they really think Kindle edition owners are also running out to buy the audio versions of the same book?  Highly unlikely.
Apps still feel awkward -- I haven't come across a single app that seems compelling enough to buy/install.  I've got dozens on my iPhone and iPad but can't find any that look appealing for the Kindle.  Are there any worth trying out?
The dictionary is even more awkward -- Here's where not having a touch-screen is a huge drawback.  The Kindle app for iPad spoiled me by letting me simply touch the word I want to look up.  The Kindle device makes it more of a challenge where you have to press the up button for every line, then the right button for every word till you get to the word you're looking for.  Ugh.
Experimental seems to have stalled out --  One year and two generations later and yet the "Experimental" screen looks the same as it ever has.  I really wish Amazon would use the R&D potential of this area and start adding some cool options. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Why I Bought a New Kindle (as an iPad Accessory)

I'm back.  It's been one year to the day since my last Kindleville post and I've decided to resurrect this blog.  After using my iPad exclusively for ebook reading for a year I went out last week and bought a new, $139, wifi-only Kindle.  I'm not abandoning my iPad.  Far from it.  But after playing around a bit with a friend's graphite Kindle I decided I needed one too.  I'm glad I bought it as we just wrapped up a family vacation and I was able to give my wife my first-gen Kindle while I tried out the new one.

I recently read a statement about the relationship between iPad and Kindle and I think it's very true: The Kindle is a terrific iPad accessory.  I'll still read a ton of short-form content on my iPad but it's nice to have the Kindle option when I want a device that's even lighter.  For the record, I've never had any eyestrain or other problems reading on my iPad, even when outside.  The Kindle offers a better direct sunlight option but I've always been able to read my iPad on my back deck, for example.

When you can get a Kindle for as little as $139 they're almost disposable.  It reminds me of the VCR evolution.  My first one cost $500 back in 1983 and before DVDs became more popular you could get one for every TV in your house for well under $100.  I like having two in the family since it enables my wife and I to read the same books and only pay for them once.  Sharing across accounts is still clunky but sharing within an account is wonderful, as long as you're both bookmarking to avoid a collision when sync-ing to the furthest point read.

I also don't see the need for 3G service, which is why I went with wifi-only.  I'm almost always in a hotspot and I don't anticipate using the Kindle for magazines or newspapers since the user experience is still awful.  It's long-form content only for me on the Kindle and I'm quite content with buying and/or syncing up on my home wifi connection before heading out.

Finally, since I skipped the second-gen and went directly from first- to third-gen I have to say the new Kindle form factor is terrific.  The control buttons are still clumsy but this new Kindle is so small it fits comfortably in the sleeve of my favorite iPad case.  So I can take both my iPad and my Kindle with me on the road in a case that's about the size as the one I used for my first-gen Kindle.  Very nice.

Kindleville is alive and well again.  I plan to post at least once a week and more frequently when possible.  If you're interested in writing a Kindleville post or two let me know.  It's nice to be back!