Sunday, May 31, 2009

Unlike Texting, Reading While Driving is Safe

Too many compare Kindle’s text-to-speech to a beautifully crafted and performed audio book. That is a mistake. There’s too much additional information in an audio book represented by among other things, the voices of famous actors. It’s hard to imagine a text-to-speech engine ever being able to impart the drama and emotion of a Richard Burton or Peter O’Toole. Not to mention the fact that two audio books performed by different actors will result in two different works.

The text-to-speech capability in Kindle is obviously not on par with an audio book, or up to speed with the best speech engines. However, once you’re into a book and familiar with the characters and story line, brief episodes with Kindle’s text-to-speech are perfectly acceptable.

For example, let’s say you started reading a particularly thrilling book last evening and continued reading the next morning. Sadly, you must leave for work. Instead of listening to the radio or another rap song, fire up your Kindle and "read" while you drive. Again, it’s not great audio, but at this point you’re so engrossed in the story it doesn’t matter.

Try it. You might be surprised.

--by Mel Dashner, Kindle Zen blog

Monday, May 25, 2009

Kindle File Manager is Awful

Amazon desperately needs to come out with a better Kindle file manager. Every time I use it I feel like I'm stepping back into the 1980's. I'd say it's got all the functionality of MS-DOS but that would be an insult to anyone associated with that fine (but very old) operating system.

Am I the only one who wonders why there's no GUI interface for the Kindle? Haven't we all been using GUI's for at least the past 15 years? Just because the display is one color doesn't mean the operating system interface has to feel so outdated.

OK, maybe a GUI is asking too much. How about simply letting me arrange my books and other documents in whatever order I prefer? Why can't I customize it so that my main page features the books, magazines and newspapers I want to read that day? Why do I have to go hunting through screen after screen of listings just to find that book I'd like to read today? I may not have read from it for a couple of weeks but I'd like to have it front and center every time I wake up my Kindle.

I typically have enough entries on my Kindle to fill up 8 or 9 pages of screen listings. Some of these are books. Others are magazines or newspapers. Some are just book samples. One of the major problems I'm finding with the current Kindle file manager is that I forget about certain books/magazines/etc. Out of sight, out of mind. I'd really like to move all the important stuff to the first page but there's no option for this.

C'mon Amazon, can you at least bring this UI into the 1990's and let me dock my important stuff on the first screen?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thoughts on Amazon's New Whispernet Charge Policy

As everyone probably knows by now, Amazon has altered the conversion/delivery fee associated with sending files wirelessly to your Kindle. When I got my Kindle v.1 I was happy to see that I could email PDFs and other documents and have them delivered wirelessly to the device for 10 cents/attachment. When I dug in deeper and was told by an Amazon rep (last summer) that they're actually not charging anything for this service I was ecstatic.

Once I figured out there was no cost involved in using this service, well, I'm sure I used it a lot more frequently than Amazon anticipated. Unfortunately, I apparently wasn't the only one doing this, which is what forced Amazon to change the policy.

Am I happy about the change? Absolutely not, but I understand the reason behind it. Here's a great summary of the situation from the Kindle 2 Review blog, btw.

So although I understand why Amazon made this change, I think they're financially addressing the symptom but not the cause. If the problem is due to so many of us using Kindles for services other than buying books or subscribing to magazines, newspapers and blogs, well, Amazon what does that tell you?! Maybe the model for those books, magazines, etc., needs to be adjusted.

This gets back to one of my chief gripes about Amazon and the Kindle. I see almost no innovation happening with the platform. How about other ways to acquire content? What would you think of an all-you-can-eat Kindle content subscription model like Safari Books Online, for (one simple) example? When I get my AMEX bill every month I'm amazed at how little I spend on Kindle content. I guarantee you I'd spend considerably more for a monthly all-you-can-eat subscription model on it and I suspect I'm not alone.

So Amazon, rather than just putting a bandaid on the wound and hoping it gets better, would you please take a closer look at the data and see what it might mean about the platform itself?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

KindleFeeder Free Wireless Is Back!

When Amazon announced their recent decision to start charging for wireless file conversions (and raise the price from 10 cents/file to 15 cents per meg) I had to change my KindleFeeder settings to manual rather than wireless. I was pretty bummed because I had gotten hooked on the ease of use this service offered and now I'd have to shift to always remembering to download and move the files from computer to Kindle via USB cable.

Earlier today I got an email from KindleFeeder's Dan Choi saying he's got an interesting workaround to resurrect that wireless service (premium KindleFeeder subscription required). Here's how he describes it:

It's the "Prepare download" button in the middle column of the Dashboard. Click this, then wait for the delivery to become ready in the Deliveries box on the right side. When it's ready, download the linked file on your computer and transfer it manually to your Kindle. This should be a one-time thing.

Then, when you open this latest delivery in your Kindle, you should see links at the top for "Check download status & get download" and "Prepare new download". You click the latter link to tell Kindlefeeder to start preparing a new download. Then 5 minutes or so later, you click the "Check download status & get download" to go to a page (using your Kindle web browser) where you can download your newest Kindlefeeder delivery. This is pretty fast, maybe 20 seconds for a big delivery. Then you should be able to find the new delivery on your Kindle home screen and read it.
I'm heading over to give it a shot right now!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Kindle DX

The big news this week, of course, was Amazon's announcement of the next member of the family, the Kindle DX. I decided to let the news settle a bit before writing anything about the DX here on Kindleville. Now that a few days have passed I wanted to share my observations as both a consumer and a publisher. Let's start things off with the positives.

Kindle DX Pros
I'm glad Amazon is innovating and not just sitting still. The Whispernet content delivery feature included in the entire Kindle family was a unique why-to-buy for K1 and it remains one for K2 and DX. It would be very easy for Amazon to just sit back and watch the competition limp around without that sort of feature but they're not. (Although I have to admit it's remarkable that Sony, for example, still hasn't figured out a wireless solution almost 18 months after the Kindle set the standard.)

I'm also delighted that Amazon is, at least on the surface, trying to help the newspaper industry find their way. Perhaps most importantly though, I'm thrilled Amazon is looking to help reinvent the textbook publishing industry. Having seen firsthand just how screwed up that sector is I'm glad Amazon is trying to do something about it. It's just that I'm not convinced the newspaper industry can be saved and I'm pretty skeptical the textbook industry can be changed, which leads me to...

Kindle DX Cons
The word on the street is that Amazon keeps 70% of the subscription fees you and I pay for newspapers and magazines. Hey, I wondered why there are so few products to choose from and now I know why. 70%. Are you kidding me?! Even Apple turns that model around and only keeps 30% on App Store sales, passing the other 70% along to developers. I can totally sympathize with newspapers/magazines as long as this remains the Kindle revenue model. As I read somewhere else recently, Amazon needs these magazine/newspaper publishers more than the publishers need Amazon. I hope Bezos & Co. wake up to that before too long. In the mean time, just know that your choices here will continue to be extremely limited.

One of the key benefits to the Kindle DX is the larger display size. Amazon plays that up and how it will provide a reading experience closer to what you've grown accustomed to in newspapers and magazines. Huh? I've had a NY Times subscription on my Kindle for almost a year now and I'm here to tell you that I love the fact that the content isn't rendered like it is in the printed paper! One of the flaws in trying to invent a next-generation product is to focus too much on the attributes of the current product. As my O'Reilly colleague Mac Slocum asks in this blog post, "why would anyone want a print experience on a digital device?" Amazon, liberate yourself from the way things work today and focus more on the great functionality you an offer tomorrow.

Regarding textbooks, I've got two kids in college and there's no way I'm spending almost $1,000 so both of them can have an e-reader...unless the price of textbooks comes way, way down on these devices. Heck, I recently bought a replacement laptop for my daughter and only spent $350, so there's no way I'm coughing up this kind of cash for a one-trick pony like the Kindle DX. You might be thinking it's OK to pay $489 for the device because the textbooks will be a fraction of the price students pay today. Dream on. I'm sure DX textbook prices will be less but I seriously doubt the savings will pay for a DX. Don't forget there are a bunch of textbook publishers out there who are used to getting fat margins on their print products; they arguably have a monopoly in this space and even though it's being challenged on a number of fronts, don't look for them to suddenly become filled with benevolence.

I admit that I'm still pretty irritated with Amazon's decision to essentially abandon the K1 and focus on K2, DX and beyond. I'm not asking for a free upgrade but I sure would appreciate it if they'd simply provide some of the same features available on K2 to all those early adopters who bought into K1. Text-to-speech is a great example. Is there really a reason why Amazon can't simply offer a software upgrade to support this on the K1? Again, despite the rumor of a "media pad" from Apple, the folks in Cupertino are not abandoning existing iPhone users. In fact, I'm looking forward to the OS 3.0 update that's due later this summer. It sounds like it will include a number of very cool features...and it will show up on my phone for free. Hey Amazon, even if you can't find it in your heart to offer free K1 software updates like this, how about making text-to-speech (and other K2 functionality) available for $5?!

I still use my K1 every day and I even bought a new book for it last night. So although I haven't abanded Amazon and the Kindle platform, each new product release seems to give me more and more reason to explore other alternatives. That doesn't sound like the type of customer loyalty Amazon has built via their core services but sometimes it feels like the Kindle comes from a totally different company.