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iBooks 3.0 Seriously Underwhelms

iBooks 3.0 was announced today at Apple’s event, and is available now on the App Store.

Is it just me, or does calling this update “3.0” feel like a overstatement? A new (continuous) scrolling mode (that doesn’t work with fullscreen), some new languages, and “iCloud” sync that, as far as I can tell, is *identical* to the sync it’s had from day one (suns reading position and lets you download purchased books)? That’s it? Am i missing something? This should have been a labeled a minor point release, not “3.0”. Oh, and iBooks Author got an update, too. Some new themes, and you can now make portrait-only books. Be still my heart.

Why do I even care? Because I’m an avid ebook buyer and reader (several per month). I love my iPhone and iPad and I love reading on them. I want to love iBooks. It’s gorgeous. But I find myself doing all my reading in the Kindle app (and hence, buying from Amazon). iBooks offers no benefits I can see over the Kindle app and ecosystem. I guess I’m kind of rooting for Apple to do something groundbreaking and spectacular here, not because I love Apple, but because I love books.

That’s why this “update” underwhelms. iBooks could be so much more.

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My Dreams Just Came True – Amazon Kindle App for iPhone

I’ve been waiting for this moment almost since I heard about the Amazon Kindle (affiliate link). I dreamed of a simple app they could write for the iPhone that would sync with my Amazon account, to let me download and read my Kindle books on my iPhone, sync my place between the two devices, so I could hop back and forth as much as I wanted, and basically turn my iPhone into a little “mini Kindle”. Even though I take my Kindle most places I go, there are times when I forget it, and want to read something. Since I’m never without my iPhone, I usually just read feeds or something, but now, I have my whole world of ebooks, at my fingertips across multiple devices, stored and synced on the cloud.

Tonight, my dream came true.

I noticed (on Twitter, or FriendFeed, I don’t remember) someone wondering how page turning should work on the iPhone Kindle app. “Is that out?” I asked myself. A quick Twitter search for iPhone and Kindle revealed that yes, in fact, it was available in the App Store. After one super excited tweet, I was off to download it.

I’ve taken screenshots of most of the interface, and tested logging in and downloading at least one of my books. Here are the screenshots, with descriptions. I’m sure I’ll post more thoughts after I’ve used it for a while, but so far, it works perfectly, just like I hoped and thought it would. Major kudos and thanks to everyone at Amazon and Apple who made this happen! You’ve made me one happy bibliovoracious geek! :-)

Kindle in the App Store:

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Kindle App Splash Screen:

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“Archived Items”, things in your Kindle account but not downloaded to your iPhone:

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Downloaded books show on the “home” screen:

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Reading a book – the main interface. Haven’t used this much yet, but I was super impressed that it knew exactly what page I left off reading this book on my Kindle, and too me right there:

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How to Get Books. Basically, you have to browse and buy on a Mac or PC (or a Kindle, of course), though that link will take you to…

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The desktop version of the Kindle Store web page in Mobile Safari. This works, but is obviously not optimized for the iPhone. Last time I tried, you couldn’t browse or buy Kindle books in the iPhone version of Amazon.com, or using the Amazon iPhone app. Maybe that will change.

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The Options Screen. Pretty basic, only real option is to deauthorize your iPhone from your Kindle account (important to remember, since you have a 5 device limit).

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In conclusion? This is awesome, long awaited news, and I can’t wait to play with it some more. Am I going to read less on my Kindle and more on my iPhone? Maybe, maybe not. I’ll likely end up reading more in general, now that I can access my Kindle books (and my saved place!) on my iPhone, and I can’t wait.

One interesting thing this opens up: now, people can download this free iPhone app, and spend money buying Kindle books from Amazon, without ever buying an actual Kindle.

What you do think about this news? Do you have a Kindle and an iPhone? Or no Kindle at all, but willing to try Kindle books on your iPhone? Post a comment and let me know! :-)

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Can the Kindle Do For eBooks What iPods Have Done For Music?

Next in a long series of thoughts about electronic books an the Amazon Kindle: can the Kindle have the same kind of huge, mainstream success, and become embedded in our culture like the iPod has?

You can read my previous posts on the Kindle, including my Two Month Review (and Washington Times interview), Why eBooks are a Great Entertainment Value, my Rebuttal to Kindle Critics, and my video Kindle Unboxing and First Impressions. Each of those posts has some great discussion in the comments, and I’d advise you to read them if you’re interested in the topics. Now, on to the topic at hand!

Comparisons between the Kindle and the iPod are inevitable. Some say (and I’m among them) It could do for books and reading what the iPod has done for music and listening – make it a very digital, customizable, personal experience. Part of the draw of iPods, I think, is the ability to bring your whole music library with you, and mix it up and listen to it in whatever way you feel like moment to moment. The Kindle seems similar on the surface – they even use some of the same terminology (“library”, etc.). The terms of the DRM (Digital Rights Management) restrictions on Kindle books and iTunes music files are also very similar – you can only use the digital files on devices from the manufacturer from whom you purchased the iPod/Kindle, you can authorize up to 5 devices to share the files within your family, but not with thousands of your closest friends on the internet, etc. You are permitted to load up free files that you’ve obtained from elsewhere. The promise of the Kindle seems to be the same as that of the iPod – you can bring all of your digital books with you, and read them however and whenever you want.

This is certainly part of the appeal of the Kindle, and ebooks in general. But there are some differences – places where direct comparisons between the Kindle and the iPod break down. I think the linear nature of books and reading means that people won’t be shuffling through their books on random, like we do with music on our iPods. And there’s the attention issue – you can listen to music or podcasts or other audio content on your iPod while you’re doing something else – driving, working out, even reading. You can’t really do much else while you’re reading a book. In the end, though, I think there’s one big issue that will prevent the Kindle from obtaining the same level of commercial and popular success that we’ve seen the iPod soar to:

Lots of people just don’t like to read.

Steve Job said as much when he was asked if Apple was working on a Kindle competitor (though many took that to be tacit acknowledgement that Apple IS planning such a device – just like when Jobs said “no one wants to watch video on an iPod” years ago). Speaking as an avid reader, and lover of words and books in all their forms, it saddens me to admit this. But I know lots of people who just don’t enjoy reading. And it’s going to be almost impossible to convince that set of people that they should buy a Kindle.

So why do people love their iPods so much? Most of us like music, and even if you’re not a full blown music lover, listening is a passive activity – it doesn’t take much effort – so it makes a nice background filler. Personally, I love listening to podcasts – they make me smarter. Plus there’s the “cool” factor – wanting to be seen with the latest iPod dangling from those white headphones, wanting to express yourself through your playlists and preferences. So even if you don’t think of yourself as a music lover, there are lots of reasons to own and use an iPod.

No one is ever going to be considered “cool” for walking around with their nose in a Kindle (although I do know people who express themselves through the books that they read in public – nothing tells the world you’re a science fiction lover like reading a Cory Doctorow paperback on the train – something the Kindle can’t do). Why the stigma against reading? I’d say that often it goes back to our school days, and the whole “smart kids” versus “cool kids” culture clash. Those habits and preferences are deeply ingrained.

For these reasons, I don’t think the Amazon Kindle, or eBooks in general, are ever going to be as popular, culturally or commercially, as the iPod and digital music.

That doesn’t make it less important. I’d argue that the Kindle and digital books are likely to change and influence people on an individual level, because of how much more stimulating reading is for your brain compared to listening to music. And for that set of people who DO love books, words, and reading, even if they’re not technologically inclined, there’s a lot to love about the Kindle. It won’t make you into a book lover, but if you’re already of that ilk, the attraction of the Kindle is just as powerful as bopping your head to the latest tunes with those white earbuds in your ears.

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Two Month Kindle Review (and full text of my Washington Times interview)

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by Kelly Jane Torrance, a reporter for the Washington Times. She was working a piece about the Amazon Kindle ebook reader, and had seen my Kindle unboxing and initial review video. We conducted an email interview, part of which went into her final article in the Washington Times (“The Carry-On Library” – beware popups).

Of course, all of my lengthy replies didn’t make it into the article, so I’m posting them here. Consider this my “two month” review of the Kindle – that’s about how long I’ve been using it. Read on for the rest of the interview/review.

(Update: I forgot to refer you to a couple of other posts I’ve written about the Kindle, namely, my Rebuttal to Kindle Critics, in which I talk in depth about the limits, real and perceived, of the DRM on Kindle books purchased from Amazon, and “Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else“, which is pretty self-explanitory. Both are good background on my thoughts/stance on the Kindle in general, and DRM in particular. I didn’t get into DRM much in the newspaper interview.)

How long have you had your Kindle?

I’ve had my Kindle for about a month and a half, since they became reliably available in mid-April. But I’ve wanted one ever since they were released in November 2007 (and subsequently sold out in 6 hours).

Why did you decide to purchase it?

I’ve been a long time fan of ebooks. I’ve read hundreds of them on various PDA and phone devices over the last few years. Needing to touch a physical book as part of the reading experience stopped being an issue for me a long time ago. The convenience of being able to take a library of hundreds of ebooks with you on a small device is very appealing. Already a fan of ebooks in general, I wanted a dedicated reader device with an electronic ink screen (super high contrast and DPI, low power usage). Among the dedicated eInk reader devices out there (Sony Reader, etc.), I chose the Kindle for a couple of reasons.

First is the Kindle Store – the almost-150,000 books that Amazon has made available to purchase and read on the Kindle. You could have the greatest ebook reader device in the world, and without a great library/store, it would fail. I figure if anybody can do the “electronic bookstore” right, it’s Amazon.

Second, the Kindle has a built-in unlimited cellular wireless data connection. That means it can access the internet and the Kindle Store almost anywhere there’s cell phone coverage, with no monthly fee. Besides being able to look things up on Wikipedia, or browse the web, this means I can go from “I want to buy a new book” to having the book purchased and downloaded to my Kindle in a matter of minutes, from anywhere.

You mentioned you have an iPhone, so are you the sort of person who tends to buy the latest gadgets?

I’m definitely the kind of person who always wants to have the latest gadgets. I’m a geek all the way down to the core. Interestingly, it was when I bought my iPhone that I stopped reading ebooks, because there was no ebook software for the iPhone, and it replaced the other mobile gadgets that I used to carry. So when the iPhone came along, I went back to buying “dead tree” version of books. I lost the advantages of ebooks, and the paper books I was buying started piling up all around my house.

Have you always been a big reader?

Yes, I’ve been a voracious reader all my life. It drives me crazy to have a few minutes go by without something for me to read (either on my Kindle, or reading the web on my phone).

How many books do you read in a month/year?

I read probably 6-8 books a month, around 100 per year (first time I’ve counted that up – yikes!).

What sort of things do you find yourself reading on the Kindle?

I find myself reading mostly books from my favorite genres on my Kindle – science fiction, history, computer books. Besides the books that are available for purchase from Amazon, I read a ton of free books that are available from places like Project Gutenberg, Creative Commons, and the Internet Archive. Many of my favorite authors, like Cory Doctorow and Charles Stross, have embraced Creative Commons (“Some Rights Reserved”) as a way to distribute their work for free in order to gain new fans. Cory Doctorow has written extensively on why he follows this model (the basic argument is that for most authors, your enemy isn’t piracy, it’s obscurity), and in my case, at least, it works. I buy hard copies of Cory’s books to give to friends, as well and recommending they get the free versions of his books. He and others like him have gotten way more money out of me this way that they would have if they followed the traditional publishing model.

Are you happy with your purchase?

I am very happy with my Kindle purchase. I use it every day, and I love it more and more. I read to my daughter from it every day (she calls it my “magic book”, the best way I could think of to describe how it works to a 5 year old). I highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading.

What have been the best things about the device?

As a concept, the best thing about the Kindle and ebooks in general is being able to hold hundreds (or thousands) of books in one physical device. As a device, I love the electronic ink screen on the Kindle, and the built-in wireless connection (and the fact that Amazon doesn’t artificially block you from using the web with it). The battery life is stellar (with the wireless radio turned off, battery life is measured in thousands of page turns, which translates to days and days of active use). The design and layout, while controversial, becomes immediately comfortable when you start using it – you can tell why it’s designed the way it is as soon as you hold it in your hand. For me, it has changed reading the same way MP3 and iPods changed music. It’s a real-life Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Anything you’ve been dissatisfied with?

My only real complaint with the Kindle is that I wish the page would refresh faster when you “turn” it. The refresh time is about 750 milliseconds – three quarters of a second. I understand why this is – the electromechanical eInk screen just can’t flip all those pixels very fast. This will improve as the technology matures. But it’s still irritating sometimes, when the Kindle can’t keep up with me and my page turns. I also feel a little guilty when visiting my favorite local independent bookstores. I still go there, browse, and buy books that aren’t available or wouldn’t work well on the Kindle (photography books, etc.), but I’m spending a lot less time and money there than I used to.

Have you shown your Kindle to others through the forum on Amazon?

Yes, I posted a “See a Kindle in Portland, OR” in the forum that Amazon set up for this purpose. A couple people came, including another Kindle owner (at the time, the only other Kindle I had seen “in the wild” besides my own). Since then, I’ve been keeping loose track of how many people in Portland have a Kindle – we’re up to 8 or so that I know of (and a whole lot more that I don’t know about, I’m sure).

Do you find people coming up to you to ask about the Kindle? And do you enjoy showing it off?

People often come up to me and ask about the Kindle, and I love to show it off, and tell them all about it. I know several people who have decided to buy a Kindle after hearing me sing the praises of mine. Sometimes I feel like I’m working for Amazon and Jeff Bezos, and they should pay me a commission. (Actually, I am an Amazon affiliate, and I get a small percentage of Amazon credit when someone buys a Kindle through the links on my website.)

Have you traveled with your Kindle?

I have traveled with my Kindle, and it’s one of the most brilliant uses for the device. A few weeks before I got my Kindle, I took a two week trip to Shanghai, China. I brought a “dead tree” book with me to read during the trip. I finished the first book before I even left my home airport, and bought another one there. I finished that one by the time I got to San Francisco, and bought another one there. I finished that one before we landed in Shanghai. While I was there, I bought a couple more books, which were sufficient for the rest of the trip. By the time I got home, I had been carrying these five or six books in my luggage all over the world. It was that experience that gave me concrete evidence of how a Kindle could simplify my reading.

Could you see yourself taking it to the beach and places like that?

I take my Kindle with me everywhere I go – it has a semi-permanent place in my cargo pants pocket. I take it to work, to appointments, to meals, everywhere. I love being able to read for a few minutes when I have the chance.

Did this factor into your decision to buy — To me, this seems like one of the biggest benefits, being able to get what you want wirelessly, without having to carry books or worry you’ll run out of reading material.

This is exactly why I love my Kindle – being able to read what I want, when and where I want, and get new stuff to read easily and quickly, and I can carry it all around in my pocket.

/end of interview

Do you have a Kindle? If so, what do you think about it? If you don’t have one, what would it take for you to get one? Have any questions about mine? Post a comment, and let me know! :-)

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Why eBooks are a Better Entertainment Value Than Almost Anything Else

I’ve had my Amazon Kindle ebook reader for a few days now, and my Kindle unboxing video and “first impressions” post has generated a TON of great comments, and I’ve tried to respond to them all. I wrote WAY more in responding to people’s comments than I did in the original post, so make sure you go read through it all if you’re interested.

One of the questions that came up a lot was “Aren’t you concerned that you’re wasting money on DRM’ed ebooks that you might not be able to read again in a decade?” It’s a very valid questions, and I posted my thoughts in the comment thread. But I thought of one more thing, that started as just another comment to my own post, but grew really long, and became this post. :-)

Here’s the way I’ve always looked at ebooks and DRM and value. For background sake, you should know that I’ve spent hundreds, maybe thousands of dollars on ebooks in my life, mostly from eReader (formerly Palm Digital Media, formerly Peanut Press), and ready on the various Windows Mobile devices that have found themselves in my possession over the years.

Instead of comparing the cost of a DRM’ed ebook that I’ll, in all likelihood, only ever read once, I look at it this way: Is the $9.99 (or less – $9.99 is about as much as I’ll pay for an ebook) worth the number of hours of entertainment you get from it?

  • A movie gives you roughly two hours of entertainment/diversion for about $10. More if you buy snacks (I always buy snacks!). Or you can pay $20 for the DVD. Say $5 to $15 an hour.
  • A magazine gives ME maybe a couple of hours of entertainment for about $5. $2.50 an hour.
  • A video game is $50 (or $29 for DS games) for, realistically a dozen hours of entertainment $4 an hour.
  • A nice dinner out with my wife is maybe $30 to $50 (we don’t go to fancy places) for a couple of hours of enjoyment. $25 an hour.
  • Gadgets (hardware – cameras, mobile devices, computer stuff, etc.) are a little harder to figure, because the range of cost and “hours of entertainment” vary so wildly. But the “dollar per hour of entertainment” factor HAS to be super high here, for much money as I spend on it all. So I can’t put an hourly rate on this one. It’s more like a lifestyle. :-)

Finally, an ebook, at less than $10, takes me at least several hours to get through (average maybe 10? 15?), spread out over the course of a few days or weeks. I figure it works out to less than $1 an hour. To me, that’s a tremendous value.

I don’t expect any real lasting value or return from the entertainment sources I listed above (with the notable exception of video games – I’m a collector, and I always keep the good ones). I almost never go back and read a book again. There are some exceptions – I try to read The Lord of the Rings once a year or so. I’ve read The Dark Tower series twice (in ebook form). I’ve read most of Cory Doctorow’s stuff at least twice.

I just don’t expect much lasting value out of most books I read. If there’s a book that I REALLY want to keep, or have around in the future, for reference, or nostalgia, or whatever, I just buy the dead tree version. And the same “bang for the buck” applies to dead trees, too, minus the convenience of ebooks: acquiring them wirelessly, frictionlessly, carrying around a few hundred of them in my pocket at all times, and being able to read them whenever and wherever I have a few moments of “hostage time”.

Here’s what i figure an ebook would cost, to get an equal amount of entertainment, at the same rate/factor as the sources above:

  • Movies – $50 to $150
  • Magazines – $25
  • Video games – $40
  • Dinner out with my wife – $250

So, for me, the “bang for tbe buck” or entertainment value quotient or however you want to think about it for ebooks is EXTREMELY high. Much higher than any of the other passtimes and habits I pursue for fun. Sure, the math and values here are fanciful, and are different for everyone, but for me, it’s a cheap habit, no matter how I look at it. Add in the bonus effects that none of those other sources have: books make me smarter, increase my vocabulary, exercise my imagination, inspire creativity, make my conversations more interesting, etc., and it’s a no brainer.

Hi, my name is Josh, and I say that ebooks are TOTALLY worth it. :-)

Agree with me? Think I’m crazy? Want to share how much per hour you pay for entertainment? Drop a comment, and let’s talk.

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Video: Amazon Kindle Unboxing and First Impressions

I finally broke down and ordered an Amazon Kindle, now that they’re back in stock. It’s an ebook reader device, and since I read so much (borderline obsession), and there are growning piles of dead tree versions of books all over my house, I figured a Kindle was a good idea.

In this video, we go over the packaging, basic functions of the device, discuss its wireless features, have a look at the fabulous (dare I say revolutionary?) electronic ink screen, and generally check out the new gadget.

Camera help and cameo appearances by my wife Rachel and our son Gabe. You can download the higher quality original Quicktime movie file (about 6 minutes, 72MB), or get a code snippet to embed/share this video on your own site by clicking the little “connect the dots” icon in the player above.

I’ll be posting more thoughts as I use the Kindle more (I’ve had it less than 24 hours), but the verdict so far is: I LOVE this thing! I only wish I hadn’t had to wait so long for Amazon to get them back in stock.

You can find out more about the Kindle, browse the books, newspapers, and magazines available for it, and generally get more information at Amazon’s Kindle page (affiliate link – if you decide to buy one, and use that link, I get a small percentage, which helps to pay for my gadget buying habit).

Post a comment or message me on Twitter if you have any questions, and stay tuned for a lot more Kindle information in the days and weeks to come! :-)

Update: There’s a LOT of great discussion going on down in the comments for this post. I’ve been typing like mad, answering questions, so make sure you have a look if you’re interested in what book formats the Kindle can support, what you can use the SD card for, what I think of the DRM on the Kindle, how the design feels in my hands how to use the Kindle to read RSS feeds for free, and more! :-)

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