03 December 2007

Thoughts on the Kindle

[If you don't know what a Kindle is, use Google to find out.]

Much as I would love to have a widget that can easily store an entire library and spare the hassle of distributing paper, the need for electricity could get pretty annoying, pretty fast. The fact that the Kindle’s fairly useless without a network connection makes it a total non-starter, moreso than its price.

What I like are portability, storage density, and technology that pays for itself, and the Kindle does not appear to offer any of these except perhaps portability (while using the network connection as an opportunity to encourage impulse buying, uh-no-thanks).

Whatever the case, this is what I would want from an e-book reader:

  • lasts an average of 24 hours between charges for the first 150 charge cycles
  • can be used while charging
  • uses interchangeable/replaceable batteries
  • charges from a wall outlet
  • weighs 500g or less
  • occupies a volume of 650cm³ or less
  • runs (under emulation if necessary) various reader software titles
  • contains a 3- or 4-in-1 card reader including support for two USB jumpdrives)
  • requires little or no backlighting given tolerable ambient light
  • costs €125 or less
  • supports titles typically priced in the €3.50-4.00 range
  • allows imaging of a user’s current library for backup purposes, under fair restrictions
  • none of this wireless nonsense
  • simple controls (on/off, next/previous page, next/previous chapter, set bookmark, hard reset)

You’ll notice that I’ve implied high value on reliablity here: I wouldn’t want to buy something that could die unexpectedly and leave me S.O.L. for reading my books until I actually save up money. The price point is also spelt out from a logical bearing; 125 euros fits nicely inside of the amount of the tax refund check someone working at minimum wage would be likely to receive.

What some people might find interesting is that I dislike the idea of wireless, but want external storage support. In tandem with multiple-platform support — which spares the need for multiple devices — the bottom line is simplification: network support is a pain in the ass to implement, compared to the opportunity cost of tacking on external storage; furthermore, someone is forced to pay for an ongoing network connection.

Done right this could even help out traditional libraries:

  1. The patron checks out a title.
  2. The title is uploaded from a central server (or Web-based service) to the patron’s media and flagged as checked out, in addition to being flagged on the patron’s media as a loaned title. The same scheme could also be used to benefit readers who want to loan out their e-books the same way they can loan out their hard copies.
  3. When the loan expires, the user can get a one-time key via phone, post, or e-mail to renew their loan, or the loan will expire, resulting in lockout of the loaned title.

The best part is that the entire evolution just described could be handled easily by an extended filesystem spec.

Given the right circumstances, the investments libraries would forced to make in physical plant would decrease tremendously, the benefits telescoped by the fact that libraries need to be carefully temperature controlled.

…But the Kindle is none of the things I describe; it is specific to Amazon, it requires a network connection, and it’s more than twice as expensive, meaning that it’s an early-adopter toy.

Update, eight hours later:

it occurs to me that a network connection would be nice to have, but I still firmly believe that it shouldn’t be a necessity. Either way, two USB ports — one for the media to which your book is being uploaded, another for a wireless transceiver — would be required for appropriate operation. My initial thought was that firmware updates and books could first be deposited on media connected to a PC and then transferred via sneakernet to the reader, but it doesn’t take much consideration to realize that this is impractical.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Disclaimer: I have not read the manual.

My understanding;

SD card slot on Kindle
-wifi and sd are entwined
cables? piffle!

Kindle has no back lighting,
all bought material can be downloaded/replaced at any time at no additional cost
converted material? well, see the SD card thats how you brought it in the first time.
Ebooks are already available from my library... for eg:
Of course p.d. books are widely available;
It's release one and you are complaining? Take a deep breath.