Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lots of Kindle News Lately

There has been a torrent of news lately on Amazon's Kindle, and I've had little time to write about it. For those who have been living in a cave, here's a quick summary and a few links.

Kindle 2

David Pogue has a favorable review of the Kindle 2. The title of his post sums it up pretty well: "Good Before, Better Now".

For comparison, he also recently reviewed the Sony PRS-700 e-book reader. He liked some of the design features, but gives the nod to the Kindle because of its wireless connection and Amazon's much larger collection of e-books.

I now have a Kindle 2, and will blog later about my experience with it, particularly with respect to how it does with displaying medical images (short version: improved, but still not optimal).

Kindle 2 text-to-speech controversy

One of the coolest features of the Kindle 2 -- built-in text-to-speech conversion -- has excited a bit of controversy among members of the Author's Guild. AG president Roy Blount wrote a recent opinion piece expressing the AG's point of view. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, I'm very sympathetic to an author wanting control of one's intellectual property. On the other hand, while the Kindle's computer voice is nice, it's no Jim Dale. Some books are at their best when read by someone as compelling as Mr. Dale; others are just fine read by a Kindle. There's a part of me that feels "Dude, if your performance can be replaced by a Kindle, you deserve to be."

In any event, it looks like Amazon will leave it up to authors and publishers as to whether the text-to-speech function is enabled on a given work on a case-by-case basis.

Kindle App for iPhone


The biggest news, though, is that Amazon just released a free reader application for the iPhone. This app lets one read any book in the Kindle library without having to buy a Kindle.

This is huge.

I've had a Kindle reader for over a year now, and read from it daily. However, the iPhone is always in my pocket, and follows me places that the Kindle never will. In general, the app works really, really well, with only minor syncing bugs.

I'll give a more in depth report on the iPhone app in later post, particularly on how it handles gray scale images (short version: great!).

Several pundits (1, 2) have pointed out that by releasing the iPhone app, Amazon is giving away the razor but hoping to make a zillion dollars selling razor blades. I agree. No one outside Amazon really knows how many Kindles have so far been sold (possibly up to 500,000). However, this number is dwarfed by the millions of iPhone now out there. In one swell foop and with minimal marginal cost, Amazon has multiplied its potential customer base for books manyfold. Brilliant.

I also enjoyed a recent review of the Kindle iPhone app by Glenn Fleishman of TidBITS.

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