Some Quick Thoughts on the Kindle

I got an iPad for Christmas.  For me, it was a relatively simple decision.  I fly/travel a lot and was burning a lot of space carting books around, especially newer hard cover books.  I also already use an iPhone 4G and have been extremely happy with the platform and device, so I was excited to see a lot of my favorite applications make their way to the iPad.  Essentially, I was looking for an eReader that had good battery life (at least 8 hours) which would provide flexibility to do other things.  This ruled out the Kindle eInk device and the Nook but I felt like the Kindle bookstore was more mature, had better selection, and was more portable (available on more devices).  All of my iPad reading is done with the Kindle application.The Kindle application ecosystem has gotten a lot of things right.

  • The highlighting is a killer feature.  Read a book, non-destructively highlight it, view your highlights on kindle.amazon.com.  This makes note taking SO much faster, easier, and portable.
  • The device syncing is fantastic.  I generally will read on the iPad most places but read on my phone if I’m biking at the gym.  The iPhone app syncs up where I left off and I don’t have to think about it.  Yes, this is a little feature and an obvious one, but it makes a big difference.
  • The book selection is very good.  Only when I’m trying to find more esoteric books is it a problem, and then I dutifully click “Tell the Publisher”.  Amazon should give you an email when it becomes available, but they don’t seem to do that right now.
  • The desktop applications are nice and consistent with the mobile applications.
  • The one-click buying is ridiculously convenient, and the books downloads almost instant.
  • Page turns are instant, and pleasant.
  • The built-in (and offline) dictionary is used a lot more than I thought it would be.

The Kindle software needs to improve on a few things:

  • I can’t find a good way to export all of my annotations in plain text.  I’m wondering if this is some sort of DRM policy to prevent people from highlighting the entire book (which I haven’t tried) then exporting it.  Anyway, I have to copy and paste my highlights directly from the web page right now which is not the end of the world, but is annoying.
  • It’s super annoying that the iOS Amazon application doesn’t include the Kindle eBook store.  You have to use your web browser to hit the store and purchase a book.  It literally does not exist within the mainline iOS Amazon app.  Search for a book there and it won’t show you if it’s available on the Kindle.
  • Their DRM policy is really stupid.  This is something everyone says to me when I mention I use a Kindle.  Almost all DRM complaints would go away if Amazon let you do an time unlimited lend of a book to another account which prevented you from reading that title while it’s lent out.  Currently they let you do one lend (total, ever, never to be lent to someone else after that one-time lend) for up to 14 days.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  My response to those complaining about these restrictions is that it’s relatively simple to strip the DRM, and just like that, Amazon is only hurting it’s paying customers and providing an incentive not to buy and to pirate.
  • The Kindle app should start supporting every file format out there that’s available.  I know they’re starting to do this, but seriously, what’s the holdup?

Things I’m unsure about / haven’t tried yet.

  • It’s unclear to me how PDFs work.  I’ve got a bunch that I’d like to have for reference, etc., and locally manage (or access via Dropbox), and you can’t just drag a PDF into the app and have it show up on your device.  Very annoying.  I get that there’s some sort of post-processing that needs to happen for eInk devices, but it seems like this could all be easier.  Maybe you could post-process yourself on your desktop app and save everyone the trouble.
  • Haven’t done much note taking.  I’ve found note taking to be almost unnecessary when you can just highlight content and move on.

Parting ThoughtIf I was involved in an eInk company today, I’d be doing everything I could to bridge the “tactile gap” that still exists for most people.  The Wife has emphatically stated that reading for her is half tactile.  She likes the page turning.  The physical pages.  The weight of the book.  The smell.  She’s like an alcoholic who loves everything about the experience: the glass, the ice, the sound of the pour, the smell.  It’s easy to dismiss this as a triviality but it’s going to be a long-term battle for the next twenty years at least.  The company that can make an eInk page that feels like paper inside a book with pages to turn might have a shot at interesting these people.  Nice leather cover, plenty of pages (a thousand?) to accomodate 95% of books out there.  Pages to turn, etc.  It’d be like the book lover’s smokeless cigarette.Maybe I’m just out to lunch, but I’d love to see a double-blind study with a well-worn eInk “book” compared to a normal book and see if people could tell the difference or would care.

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