Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Kindle in Higher Ed

Inside Higher Ed reports on research from US Universities that provided students with kindles. I have a memory of earlier research which was overwhelmingly negative, but the latest data seems more upbeat. Apparently:

For students who were given the Kindle DX and tried to use it for coursework, the inability to easily highlight text was the biggest lowlight of the experience.

And overall it appears that kindle has some way to go as a study aid, but works well as an ereader:

Whereas 75 percent of Darden students said they would not recommend the Kindle for other aspiring M.B.A.’s, about 90 percent said they would recommend it to family and friends for casual reading


Now that Apple has thrown down the gauntlet and embraced LCD screens, here’s Liquidvista’s colour e-ink screen. Still a demo devkit, but there’s some promise…

Paper vs e-ink vs LCD…

And the jury is still out. Despite everybody’s insistence that paper is better than e-ink which is better than LCD for reading, it seems that there is much more to the story than meets the eye (sorry!). Confession – I haven’t read the primary research, so am guilty of a farily superficial analysis, but a piece in the New York Times suggests that accepted wisdom may not be all that wise (as is almost always the case). Witness:

First of all: doctors say that reading on a screen won’t cause any harm.

“Most of what our mothers told us about our eyes was wrong,” said Dr. Travis Meredith, chair of the ophthalmology department at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. “Sitting close to a television, or computer screen, isn’t bad for our eyes. It’s a variety of other factors that can cause physical fatigue.”

But every seven year old kid persuading his/her parents for more screen time has always known that. As far as e-readers is concerned, here’s the rub:

Michael Bove, director of the Consumer Electronics Laboratory at the M.I.T. Media Lab, says different screens make sense for different purposes.

“It depends on the viewing circumstances, including the software and typography on the screen,” said Mr. Bove. “Right now E Ink is great in sunlight, but in certain situations, a piece of paper can be a better display than E Ink, and in dim light, an LCD display can be better than all of these technologies.”

Granted, Dr Bove is not an opthalmologist, so I’m not sure of the basis of the argument. One day I’ll dig a little deeper! In my experience though, he’s right. I prefer my iphone in the evening, when it’s fairly dark (probably because I don’t need a reading light) and on balance probably like my Sony a little better on a lazy Saturday afternoon on the sofa. Watching my other half (not) use her kindle, it’s pretty clear that both are good enough for reading ‘long-form-texts’. And it’s availability of content, not screen technology that’s currently driving usage. At least at my place 🙂

it disappears…

I posted about invisibility a couple of weeks ago. It seems that David Carr from the New York Times gets it too. In a PBS chat about the iPad, he makes the following point:

On the iPad: “One thing you have to understand about this gadget is that the gadget disappears pretty quickly. You’re looking into pure software.”

And as the app store has shown us, the only limit to the software appears to be our own imaginations…

(via Daring Fireball)

Now he’s convinced…

There’s been lots of nonsense on the web in the last week or so about whether the iPad will fly – and I’ll add to the hubbub shortly, but for the moment, here’s a link sent to me by a sceptical friend with the words “now I’m convinced…”

Kindle Thoughts

So I bought a Kindle a couple of weeks ago. It’s a birthday present for my partner, so I had to keep it wrapped up for a few days (after Amazon very efficiently got it across the world in 3 days, and then the local courier couldn’t find my office for 3 more…). Anyhow, she unwrapped it to great excitement on Monday and whilst I’ve only had time for a quick play, here are some thoughts…

The Good

  • The bookstore. Finally an easy way to buy books without having to fuss with USB connections etc. And I *love* the idea of invisible international 3g connectivity. Not sure what network its roaming on here in Oz, but it’s fast enough and seems to work transparently.
  • Combined with newspaper subscriptions, I can see a terrific way of keeping up with English language news when travelling. Pity there’s no Oz newspapers, but when we spend our (planned) time with the in-laws in France, I can read the Guardian without having to track down the international print edition or paying huge data roaming fees to read on the iphone.
  • The Screen is pretty snazzy. All the attributes of e-ink, and it *seems* snappier than the Sony. The screensaver book cover images are pretty neat too…

The Bad

  • The bookstore.The browsing experience is not amazing. Not only is the Australian list less than comprehensive (it’s amazing how quickly you get to the project gutenberg type PD titles) but the slowness of the screen (and probably the connection) make the experience a bit clunky. And unbelievably, the recommended title thumbnail illustrations are impossible to decipher. I mean impossible.
  • The interface is better than the sony – it seems a more natural device to hold (even if the keyboard is a waste of space most of the time). But I’ve hated mini-joysticks since the first of the thinkpads and I haven’t changed my mind. It always feels like I’m selecting rather than navigating or vice versa, which is especially disconcerting in the store.
  • And the screen is still too slow. It’s OK for reading, but it’s still way too slow for interactions any more complex than mere page turning…

I have to admit these impressions are based on a grand total of ten minutes of fiddling and there’s lots more to consider. So why buy one? Well, the partner had been using kindle on the iphone since the app went international and she seemed to be pretty happy with the range of kindle titles in her favourite genres. And I needed to find *something* to get her for her birthday. With the price of paperbacks in this country on the wrong side of $30, the kindle hardware doesn’t cost much more than 8 or 9 books. Or a dinner for two at Rockpool !!? (warning: pdf link)

I think the kindle will come into its own when we travel – having a bookstore in the backpack is a killer app. But the jury’s still out the rest of the time…

MacMillan v Amazon update

It appears that Macmillan titles are available on Amazon again. From the kindle community blog:

We have expressed our strong disagreement and the seriousness of our disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles, and we will want to offer them to you even at prices we believe are needlessly high for e-books. Amazon customers will at that point decide for themselves whether they believe it’s reasonable to pay $14.99 for a bestselling e-book.

As Gruber says on Daring Fireball:

Just me, or does it seem like an Apple device that won’t ship for another 53 days already upended Amazon’s Kindle business? What kind of sense does it make to accuse a publisher of having a “monopoly” over its own titles?

Lot’s more commentary on the topic at Techcrunch, GigaOm, Silicon Alley Insider, Boing Boing, Unqualified Offerings and via John Scalzi and Charles Stross.

(Disclaimer: I bought my partner a kindle for her birthday today. More on that later…)