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.