Amazon’s Updating the Kindle Web App

So TODAY Amazon announced an update to their pitiful Kindle Web app (which previously wasn’t worth mentioning, as it just offered single chapter previews of some of their books). The new version will allow users to read entire books in their web browser without needing to install any software. It looks like Google’s bringing the heat that Sony and Barnes & Noble couldn’t.  Hooray, competition!


Kindle vs. Google eBooks

Google has released its eBooks store. While the marketing is convincing and inspiring and its selection and prices appear to be on-par with Amazon, its biggest selling point is flawed and its improvements over Amazon are in fact (so far) singular.

Google’s marketing its eBook store as the best way to access your digital book collection from across a wide range of connected devices. While they’re doing a better job advertising this function than Amazon, they’ve barely done a better job of implementing it.  They’ve added a slick web-based eBook reader (no need to install Kindle software on your Windows PC or Mac, or wrestle with WINE to get it working on Linux), but your progress on a given book in the web reader or an iOS/Android device doesn’t carry over to or from your reading of that book on a supported eInk device (such as the Nook or Sony Reader).  Google really touts this ability to pull out your phone in-line at the DMV and pick up where you left off in your book from when you were at home… but they leave it to the fine print to explain that you can’t have this if you’re using an eInk device anywhere in the mix.  Amazon doesn’t have this problem.  Read a book on your Kindle, iPhone, PC… you can pick up where you left off no matter what (the only catch being that the book was purchased and not side-loaded from a DRM-free source).

Amazon could (and should) copy Google’s eBook web reader. I expect they will eventually.  Google can’t copy Kindle’s progress syncing on ePub devices like Nook or Sony Reader unless those manufacturers allow them to publish an app for those devices that ties them into the Google eBook store (which is very unlikely).

Amazon’s continued refusal to add ePub support to the Kindle still disappoints me, but they HAVE created apps for a wide range of platforms (iOS, BlackBerry, Android, Windows/Mac) and they’ve made all of their features sync across those platforms.  The only downside to no ePub support is that I mostly have to buy from Amazon. But their competitive prices and unparalleled selection make this a non-issue.  The only Google eBooks feature I covet as a Kindle owner is the web-based eBook reader, and I expect Amazon to copy it in the near future.

The Google eBook Store doesn’t make me regret owning a Kindle. But if I were a Nook or Sony Ereader owner, I’d definitely consider buying my books from the Google eBook store from now on.


FIY: We Have a Kindle 3 (WiFi)

My mother bought a Kindle 3 (WiFi edition) for my wife and I and gave it to us as an early Christmas present. She had intended to buy us a portable GPS for our cars, but I suggested she spend her money on the Kindle instead.  My wife was more excited than I was when we actually had the device in hand, but I’ve been using it more than her so far (though this is mostly due to her enjoying Sondheim’s autobiographical coffee table book, Finishing the Hat, which isn’t available digitally).

More on my thoughts on the device and why I caved (despite my problem’s with Amazon’s anti-ePub model) when I compare it to Google’s new eBooks store in the next post!

My Biggest Firefox 4 UI Annoyance

I’m impressed with how much better than Firefox 3 the Firefox 4 betas look (especially on Vista/7 Aero).  However, when compared to Opera, Firefox’s UI (user interface) still has a major flaw.

When the Firefox window is maximized, those fancy tabs they finally placed at the top aren’t pushed all the way to the top like they are in Chrome. Instead, there’s a strip of useless, wasted screen real estate that doesn’t work well or look good.

Click a cropped screenshot for an un-cropped version.

Firefox 4 Beta 3:

Google Chrome:

Thankfully, since Firefox is so customizable, users can change this a bit and make Firefox’s UI a little better by editing their userChrome.css file as detailed here and here.  However, the hacks I’ve seen all still leave some ugly quirks behind.

If the Firefox UI devs don’t improve this before they make a formal release, I hope some crafty theme developers make some slick versions that look even better than the userChrome.css hacks.

Some Thoughts on the 3rd Gen Kindle

Now that Amazon’s released its first new generation of Kindle devices since the iPad, a lot of people are criticizing the device for its lack of color and touch screen.  I too was a little underwhelmed, until I learned a little more about the improvements (or refinements) Amazon’s made:

  • smaller size body but same size screen with higher contrast
  • a Wi-Fi version that’s $50 cheaper than the 3G version
  • a new open source browser based on WebKit (just like Chrome, iPad, etc), which includes a button to remove content surrounding articles (like the Readability bookmarklet)  (I have a cell phone for browsing the web on the go. The web browser on my ebook reader should be for locating sites that I can then strip down to just the content and enjoy.)

When I showed the knew Kindle to a co-worker, he dismissed it as soon as he learned it didn’t have a touch screen.  I explained how a touch screen decreases the visibility of non-backlit screens, but he then just added the complaint that it’s not backlit. I showed him this quote from Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, but he wasn’t as impressed as I was:

“There will never be a Kindle with a touch screen that inhibits reading. It has to be done in a different way. It can’t be a me-too touch screen.” [emphasis mine]

I was also happy to see I’m not alone in appreciating Amazon’s commitment to a simple, quiet, e-reading device.  A commenter on a BoingBoing article on the new device said:

I’m glad to see that Amazon’s not trying to bloat the device with silly features like touch screen and color in a misguided attempt to compete with the iPad–instead, they’re improving its base functions, and lowering the price. They know their product and their market.

The Kindle is a specialized device for comfortably reading [digital] books without eyestrain brought on by backlighting and glare. In that limited scope, it excels, and far surpasses the iPad and other devices that use non-eInk screens.

The biggest (dare I say, only) problem I have with the new Kindle is that is still only accepts Amazon’s DRM. Adding the ability to buy from other e-book sellers (which would simply mean accepting the e-Pub standard) would be a huge step towards eliminating DRM altogether. Amazon has fallen far from the days when we applauded them for championing the DRM free music transition. I still hope they’ll be the ones to bring us DRM-free e-books, but this proprietary “nobody else plays on our device” garbage isn’t any less repulsive then when Apple does it.

So yeah, e-books are still heading somewhere and the value of e-ink hasn’t been swallowed up by flashy LCD tablets like the iPad and Archos. Hooray! But DRM (and even limited e-book availability from some backwards publishers and authors) is still forcing me to stick with buying and borrowing paper books for now.

Off-Topic: Installing an Aftermarket Stereo in a 2001 Mitsubishi Mirage

This post isn’t very relevant to the usual (if you can even call these sparse posts usual) subject matter around here, but I wanted to get this information out on the Internet to hopefully save somebody else the trouble that I went through today.

If you’re planning to install a 3rd party, single DIN car audio head unit (CD player stereo/radio) in a 2001 or 2002 Mitsubishi Mirage, you probably don’t need to buy a dash kit.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that most Asian designed cars (because they use single or double DIN factory stereos) don’t need dash kits to install an aftermarket, single DIN stereo.

Read more…

Why I’ll Probably Never Own an E Ink Device Again

E Ink is good stuff.  Gone is the eyestrain of staring in to a glowing screen for hours. Gone is the battery sucking LCD display.  E Ink makes sense.

But when E Ink devices are only now starting to dip down to reach the $199 price point (unless you look at used/refurbished devices), Mobile Internet Devices (MIB) like the SmartQ are starting to make a lot more sense.  For almost the same price as an E Ink device, you can buy a device with a bigger screen that’s in color and capable of playing video, as well as supporting a variety of opening systems and third party software.

Sure, being a jack of all trades, such a device is not a master of reading e-books.  But I suspect it’d be good enough.

And for the record, I’d prefer to have a smartphone like the iPhone or Droid and carry my my e-books around in my pocket at all times, but I can’t justify the monthly charges for a fancy data plan.