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!