E Ink Advancements

Well it appears as though the company that makes the e-paper displays used on e-book readers I’m so fond of is making some real advancements. E Ink just showed off some of their new displays at the Society for Information Display conference. The linked article includes a video demonstrating some color displays (nowhere near as rich of color as current LCDs produce of course) as well as flexible displays. By the looks of the opening demonstration they have upped the refresh rate (the display was showing what was being written is damn near real-time).

It’s pretty cool stuff. I would love to see color displays come to e-book readers in the near future.

Another Nook vs. Kindle Observation

Yes I keep making posts comparing the Barnes and Nobel Nook to the Amazon Kindle. It’s not that I hate the Nook, far from it I just find it lacking in several areas. Well I found another thing I love about the Kindle that the Nook lacks, access to the store without the device. Before I purchased my first Kindle I browsed through Amazon’s Kindle Store to see what books they had available.

Today I figured I’d see what books the Nook had available but am unable to find the store front on Barnes and Noble’s website. It appears the only way to browser their book selection is to have a Nook. That makes checking out the selection of books very difficult before buying the device.

The Kindle store let’s me purchased or obtain trails via my web browser and have them delivered to my Kindle when I next turn it’s wireless interface on. Sure this feature doesn’t sound like much but I actually use it quite a bit. There are quite a few times where I’ll see a book mentioned but not be near my Kindle. In that case I’ll just log onto the website and select the book as a sample. The next time I turn on my Kindle the sample appears and I remember a book which I most likely forgot earlier. Yes the website is nothing more than a fancy reminder system for me but it’s very convenient.

If anybody knows how to access the Nook’s store via web browser let me know.

The Kindle Isn’t a Textbook Replacement

A few colleges were doing trail runs of the Kindle DX as a mechanism to replace textbooks. Well Princeton’s review wasn’t so hot (in fact it was downright damning) but now Darden is backing Princeton up:

“You must be highly engaged in the classroom every day,’’ says Koenig, and the Kindle is “not flexible enough. … It could be clunky. You can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs simply or easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.’’

Yeah I can also confirm this. The Kindle is great for reading novels and other books you go through serially. But it’s not so hot at books where you jump around a lot. The interface and page turning is too slow for such a process. I think e-ink displays will need to advance another couple of years before e-readers will be viable textbook replacements.

Like most technology in its infancy e-ink displays will take some time to become viable general purpose tools.

Here I Thought They Were Already Doing This

This shows how paranoid I’ve become. MSNBC has a story about Amazon uploading notes and highlights taken on the Kindle is aggregating the data in such a way other people can view it.

Since the Kindle is able to sync things like notes and highlights I already knew they were being uploaded to Amazon’s servers. Likewise since the file storing said notes and highlights is a plain text file I assumed it wasn’t be encrypted. Finally I assumed the data was being sifted through and aggregated at some point. In other words I’m paranoid and trust nobody.

Well apparently Amazon wasn’t really doing anything with the data but will be soon. They’re trying to turn the Kindle into a social network reading device (yeah I just made that up and it’s officially my buzzword, wait this is under Creative Commons… crap). What Amazon is planning on doing is making popular highlights and such available for Kindle books.

If you don’t like this feature there is only one way I know of to disable it, never turn on the wireless card and do a sync operation. Either way you should know about this feature before they implement it and I’m sure Amazon will do everything in their power to not alert anybody of it.

Upcoming Kindle Firmware

I mentioned Amazon is planning on rolling out a new firmware for the Kindle sometime back. Well Ars Technica has a good review of the firmware (lucky dogs got it early).

I have to say overall I’m excited. The categories feature is enough for me to be excited. But it appears as Amazon also implemented a decent password system. If you don’t enter your password properly it pops up a message saying if you forgot your password call Amazon and gives you a number. This leads me to ponder if you have to reset the password remotely. If so it would be a boon for times when the device gets stolen because Amazon could just refuse to reset the device if it’s reported stolen making it a paperweight. On the other hand they would need a mechanism in place to reset the password on Kindles not within range of a cellular data network.

I’m far less excited about the social networking features. Needless to say it uses a URL shortening service (which I talked about today) to post passages from your books on Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand Amazon controls the service so you can be fairly sure (although not completely) the links you see from them are legitimate.

The other feature I’m looking forward to wasn’t covered much which is the ability to zoom and pan PDF files. PDF files don’t scale well on the Kindle’s small screen and are only legible if you put the device in landscape mode. Being able to zoom in and pan will allow you to read PDFs in portrait mode on the regular small Kindle.

Now Amazon just needs to hurry up and release the Kindle Development Kit so I can start writing applications for the bloody device (yes I have ideas for applications for me Kindle).

Kindle 2.5 Firmware Details

Well it looks like Amazon is going to be pushing out another firmware update to the Kindle (well they are now to “select users” but everybody should get it towards the end of may). The new features look pretty cool.

First the Kindle will finally have a mechanism for organizing books into collections. For me this is probably the best new feature listed on the site (yes I’m easy to please). The problem I currently have is that there are so many books on my Kindle I have to go through five pages just to find the one I’m looking for.

The second coolest feature is the ability to zoom and pan in PDF documents. This may not be that big of an issue for the Kindle DX but the little Kindle doesn’t do well with PDFs unless you put it in landscape mode. The main issue is the Kindle scales the PDF to fit the screen so if it’s a large (as in physical space no file size) PDF the text will be scaled down to a point of being unreadable.

Password protection is also being added to the Kindle. Pretty simply although the Kindle is one of those devices I never really felt a need to password protect. Alas it’s nice to see the feature is there should I change my mind.

Amazon lists more fonts but the description states “enjoy two new larger font sizes…” To me that’s not really adding new fonts, just increasing the maximum size of the ones on there. Seeing as I always have the font size on my Kindle set to the absolute lowest this won’t concern me. They also mentioned improved font clarity which I won’t know what to think until I see it.

Finally the Kindle is going to be getting its social networking on. This will be a wholly useless feature for me but probably a bigger one with you social media addicts out there. You will be able to share passages from your books on Facebook and Twitter. Likewise you’ll also be able to see what passages people find most popular.

It should go without saying (since this was the case with the last firmware update) that if you still have a first generation Kindle you don’t get to come to the new firmware party, sorry.

Overall it sounds like a pretty solid update. Now if Amazon would just hurry up and approve me for their beta Kindle developer program I’d be in very good shape.

Developer Kit Coming to Amazon’s Kindle

Now this is interesting. Amazon is planning to release a development kit for their Kindle. It’s going into beta next month, and I’m going to do everything I can to grab a copy (Assuming it’s a closed beta).

This will allow developers to write applications for the Kindle devices. This could be huge as it opens the possibility of adding readers for other e-book formats to the device. Of course there are restrictions:

Amazon has released some specifications and pricing details for prospective KDK developers. The max file size is set at 100MB, compared to the iPhone’s 2GB (just over 2,000MB) limit, but the Kindle shares Apples policy on restricting users from wirelessly delivering active content over 10MB on the Kindle’s 3G connection. Files larger than this will need to be transferred via USB.

Other restrictions include a ban on content deemed offensive, advertising or misuse of the user’s information, as well as a ban on voice over IP software and applications that supersede the Kindle’s basic functions.

Developers can also choose to provide small pieces of content (less than 1MB) for free, but are forced to charge for any larger content to pay for 3G data costs. Software creators can choose between a one-time purchase and a monthly subscription model for their content.

The need to make an application cost money if it’s over a certain size isn’t surprising to me. Every Kindle user gets access to free 3G. But that connection is really only free to you in the sense that you don’t pay a monthly fee. Every time you download a book part of the money you paid goes to Sprint or AT&T for the data transferred.

I’m rather worried that Amazon is planning such strict controls over the development process beyond the use of the 3G connection though. It seems like Apple made it OK to release a device where the manufacturer has to approve every applications for that said device. I really hate that idea and it’s part of the reason I don’t have an iPhone. I hate to see this kind of crap catch on.

But not matter how you slice it having an SDK for the Kindle is a pretty cool idea.

The E-Book Reader Wars Continue

First Sony, then Amazon, then Barnes and Nobel, and now Borders. Spring Design, whom claim the Barnes and Nobel Nook is a rip off of their design, has signed a partnership with Borders book stores. Spring Design has an e-book reader that also happens to have an LCD screen (But of course their’s is bigger.) and is also powered by Android.

Engadget has a video of them playing with the device. They said the speed is good (A common complaint against the Nook) and the touch screen is responsive.

Either way it’s nice to see more e-book readers hitting the market. Hopefully this means more books will be released in electronic format. I’m looking at you gun book printing industry!