Amazon Kindle and the Future of Reading

November 20th, 2007

Amazon released their Kindle ebook reader yesterday. And for a while I was excited: Amazon’s product is one step closer to the ideal ultra-portable super-library that had a user interface close to that of a dead-tree-book – even closer than the sleek ebook reader from Sony. I even was OK with the rather jagged design of the machine because of the cool box it came in and the device’s status as a first-generation device (here are some pictures of an unboxing).

But my interest died when I discovered two things:

1. Amazon is making it very hard for the user to add their own content – and more importantly copyrighted documents not available from Amazon directly. Buried in Amazon’s help site for the Kindle are instructions for getting other documents onto the device – you have to email them to Amazon directly where they will convert the document into a Kindle-compatible format (unless it’s an ASCII text file). The manual even states that Amazon will charge for this service!

2. Even though I haven’t bothered with hacking my iPhone to use third-party apps, I can use my iPhone as an ebook reader. While Safari will only work with web pages, the Mail app can read PDF and Word attachments. Even better, it’ll remember the page you were on and return to it later. So as a test I downloaded an ebook from that was a PDF formatted for the iPhone and emailed it to myself. And it worked beautifully! It even switched to landscape mode when I turned my iPhone on its side. So I’m happy…although I’ll have to get my non-public domain books in a more dubious manner than I’d like.

Despite my successful convincing of myself to not get a Kindle, I still think the device is very important in our march toward an improvement over the book as a technology for the written form. And eink was a brilliant invention – I hope more devices use this technology.

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