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Amazon Should Allow Multiple Accounts on Kindles

I’ve complained about Apple IDs, in a recent Macworld article, as these IDs control the DRM that regulates what content you can use on different devices. But Apple’s not the only company running a DRM ring that limits how you can access your content. Amazon does this as well, with the DRM on Kindle books.

With Apple, you can have content from two Apple accounts on a single device. For example, a husband and wife can each have Apple IDs, and download content with them, and put all of that content on the iPhones, iPods and iPads they each own. So Alice can buy an app, and Bob can also use it on his iPhone. Bob can buy a book, and Alice can read it in iBooks on her iPad. All this requires is each user logging in on the computer that syncs to these devices.

With Amazon, you simply can’t share Kindle content. Sure, Amazon has a way you can lend or borrow books, but it’s very limited; you can only lend or borrow certain books. You need to check each book to find out if you can lend it.

This is a ridiculous system. The nature of books is that we lend and borrow them; it’s how we discover new books, it’s how we share the books we love. If Alice buys a book she really likes, she may want Bob to read it, but, the way the Kindle DRM works, this isn’t possible. The only way to do so would be to de-register a Kindle device or app, then register under another account; this is complicated, and it erases any books that were on the device from the original account.

Amazon needs to allow multiple accounts to be accessed on a Kindle or a Kindle app. I understand the need for DRM, but I also find it unfair that I can’t buy a Kindle book, then lend it to my girlfriend so she can read it when I’m finished. It’s not complicated to allow this. Come on, Amazon, get back in touch with the way the world works. People share books; let them do this easily.

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iPad mini vs. Kindle Paperwhite

I like the idea of the Kindle, and the idea of the Kindle Paperwhite even more. Offering the ability to read both outdoors in sunlight, and indoors with a backlight, it seems like the best of both worlds.

Alas, having received a Kindle Paperwhite yesterday, I’m very disappointed. Not only is the backlight not very bright – not really bright enough to read indoors if there’s a lot of light – but it’s very uneven, with dark spots around the edges, especially at the bottom.

Here’s a photo I took of the Kindle Paperwhite next to the iPad mini, the latter showing a book in the Kindle app. (Click on the image to see a larger version.)

As you can see, even in this small photo, the lighting is uneven at the bottom of the Kindle, and there is a very large difference in brightness (both devices are set to maximal brightness in the photo above). While the iPad mini won’t work in bright light – such as outdoors – I have a Kindle Touch for that. So that Paperwhite is being returned. It’s a good idea, but it’s just a bit cheap and poorly designed. Amazon should really do better with a device like this.

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Why I Want a 7″ iPad

I’ve been an iPad owner from day one; well, month one. The first iPad wasn’t initially sold here in France, but I had a colleague in the US buy me one and ship it to me. From the beginning, I felt that the iPad was the computing device that I never had but had always needed. I had played around with a number of small computing devices over the years. I never owned a Newton, but for a couple of months, in the end of 1996, I used one when translating a manual for some Newton software. I owned a couple of Palm pilots in the late 1990s, but I found them too small. I wanted a device that I could use for applications, but also for reading books.

The iPad is certainly a revolutionary device, and was exactly what I wanted. It wasn’t the first tablet; there were a number of Windows–based tablets before it, but they were big and clunky. Just as Apple revolutionized the MP3 player when the company released the iPod in 2001, the release of the iPad did the same for tablet computing.

There are two things, however, that I dislike about the iPad. First, it is relatively heavy. At 651 grams, plus a bit more for a case, you notice it when you’re carrying it in your backpack. When you think about it, an iPad is roughly the weight of an average hardcover novel. Compare that to the smallest E Ink Kindle; at 168 grams – just 30 grams more than an iPhone – I don’t notice it when it’s in my backpack.

The other problem with the iPad is that it takes a long time to charge. Battery life is decent, but I find that if I play a few games, then read the news or a book for a while, my battery life can go down pretty quickly. Unlike the iPhone, which seems to charge extremely quickly, the iPad really needs to charge overnight to fill its tank.

As rumors circulate about a seven-inch iPad, I realized that this would be the perfect size for such a device. It would be smaller and lighter, and for most of the things that I use an iPad for, it would be sufficient. Not only would it be big enough to read and play games, but with the smaller display, it might have longer battery life (though the smaller size also means a smaller battery).

There are two uses for the iPad: creating and consuming. Many people use an iPad to create content: they write, draw, or edit documents that they or others may have made on a computer. If you’re fiddling with a spreadsheet, you want as much room as possible. If you’re writing an article, you may want a larger screen to see more of what you write. (Though in many cases, you could probably write just as well on a 7″ iPad.) However, if you are simply consuming – reading books, web sites and e-mail, or playing most games – the smaller display won’t be much of a problem. Sure, there are some games that wouldn’t work well on a 7″ iPad, and you may need to zoom a bit more to read web pages, but given the lighter weight, I think this is a fair compromise.

It’s no surprise that Amazon’s Kindle – both the E Ink version and the Android version, the Kindle Fire – are so popular. The people who buy these devices are media consumers, not creators. You don’t need a very big screen to read books. While I feel that the smaller Kindle is a bit cramped for reading, this is more because of the limited number of font sizes, and the poor pixel density. A 7″ iPad with a retina display would be far more practical for reading than an E Ink Kindle.

I think that if Apple releases a 7″ iPad, it will be a hit. It may cannibalize the larger iPad market a bit, but it may also attract owners of Kindle devices, who will see the better display and understand the disadvantages of the E Ink Kindles. I know I’ll buy one. There’s not much that I do on my iPad that I couldn’t do on a smaller model. Given the lighter weight, it would be much better for reading books, which is one of my main uses for the iPad.

What do you think? Would you buy a 7″ iPad? Vote in the poll in the sidebar to the right, and if you have any comments, feel free to add them to this post.

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Apple, Amazon and Others Look Over Your Shoulder When You Read Ebooks

I guess it had to happen. There should be a new rule: If content providers can collect analytic data about anything, then they will. Or, to put it more crudely, If they can watch you, they will. Welcome to the digital panopticon.

An article in the Wall Street Journal explains how Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble collect analytic data when you read ebooks. How far you get in a book, how fast you read it, whether you buy a sequel, and which search terms or highlights you use when reading a book.

Analytics is a technique that is used on the web, and with some software – notably that on mobile devices – to track what users do. You can see how long users stay on a web site, which links they click, where they come from and more. But for books? Do publishers really need to know how fast people read books? Or whether you read them straight through or flip back and forth between books?

Two things worry me here. First, that this data is collected without users being aware of it. It is said that this data is anonymous, but we know that this anonymity is not something we can take for granted. I checked on my iPad and my Kindle and saw no options to turn off this data collection. While I expect Amazon to follow my purchases in order to recommend other books or CDs, I find it annoying that they may be checking on how I read ebooks.

The second issue is more fundamental. Once you have analytic data, you want to do something with it. In order to justify the cost of crunching this data, and paying for people to analyze it, you need to have an objective. You need to be able to translate this data into actionable tasks. And what could the goals be? To go back to writers and tell them to write differently? Granted, for some mass-consumed books and genres, writers might be willing to adjust their styles, or the length of their books if they think they’ll sell more. But I think this is a red herring. Good books sell; bad books don’t. If a book is good, whether it is long or short, people will tell others about it. Gone With the Wind is a huge book, nearly 1,500 pages in the mass-market paperback edition. Should an author be prevented from telling the story they want because some metrics geek thinks it’s too long?

I think this is none of their business. The way I read should be private. I can’t see how this information will help me as a reader, or me as a writer. If this metrics collection is going to continue, readers should at least have an option to opt out.

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Kindle Ad Shows Better Reading in Sun: But What About in Darkness?

The new Kindle ad is clearly taking on the iPad, showing two people sitting by a pool, one with a reflective device (which isn’t actually an iPad), and the other with a Kindle. The latter, a curvacious young woman, is happy with her Kindle in the sun, but pool-dude-in-a-t-shirt isn’t so happy with his reflective device. So be it.

What they don’t say, though, is that if you’re not in the sun, reading a Kindle is much more difficult than reading an iPad. I’ll grant that the Kindle has some advantages: you can read in the sun, or under a bright light (in fact, you had better have very good lighting), and it’s lighter. But for all-around reading, unless you’re going to read by a pool or on the beach, the iPad wins out.

Here’s the Kindle ad:

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Kindle Prices Plummet

Amazon has introduced another new Kindle model, and this time the prices are starting to get low enough that this device may, indeed, become a commonplace appliance. The 3G version – which lets you get books almost anywhere, over the 3G network, is $189. But the real news is the wi-fi only model, which, for most people, is more than sufficient. Since Amazon has to pay for the 3G access, this allows them to offer a much cheaper wi-fi model: only $139. I’ll predict that there will be a $99 Kindle by Christmas, and the future of these devices will begin. At less than $100, people will easily buy ebook readers.

However, the iPad is still going to keep on selling like gangbusters, because of the many things it does. Will Apple release a smaller iPad designed more for ebook reading, at a lower price point? Time will tell.

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New Kindle with Better Contrast: Third Time Lucky?

Amazon has announced a new version of its ebook reader, the Kindle, which touts, among other things, “50% better contrast” than the current models. I’ve written about my experience with the Kindle, which was a second-generation model, and which suffered from headache-inducingly poor contrast. Amazon has clearly had enough complaints about this issue – even if many people don’t find the contrast to be a problem – to come up with this new model.

However, at $379, this is only $120 less than an iPad, which does so much more. I’m convinced that the Kindle won’t last, unless it eventually ends up costing less than $100, or unless it’s given free with a certain number of book purchases. While it has some advantages over the iPad – better in-the-sun readability, lighter weight, longer battery life – the iPad clearly has a thousand other advantages. Amazon is fighting a tough battle, and competition is good for everyone. At least for those who buy Kindles, they’ll know they can read their books on other devices when the Kindle dies – Amazon has Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch; for the Android phone; and for Macs and PCs.

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Amazon’s Kindle App for iPad vs Apple’s iBooks

One of the main reasons I wanted to buy Apple’s iPad is to use the device as an ebook reader. I’m a big reader, and have thousands of books, but would like to be able to read some books on a portable device. Aside from any discussion of the merits of this, I thought I would look at the two main apps for reading ebooks, Amazon’s Kindle and Apple’s iBooks. (I’m leaving aside the many other apps that allow you to read free ebooks, or those which offer limited catalogs. I’m just looking at the two that let you read the broadest selection. And I won’t discuss selection here either, because the iPad is too new to have the selection that Amazon offers.)

First, Amazon currently has the edge in device ubiquity, with a Kindle app for the iPhone and iPod touch, as well as for the iPad. Apple’s iBooks will, however, be available for these devices in the fall, when the company releases a new version of their software. Amazon also, however, lets you read ebooks on their own device – the Kindle – or on a Mac or PC, with a program that that works on those platforms. Apple will presumably follow suit, with a Mac version of iBooks in the fall, and perhaps even a Windows version.

But the main question remains that of display. Reading an ebook, you want the broadest range of display options, so you can get the maximum reading pleasure from the books you buy.
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