Monday 19 November 2007

E-Books: Amazon, Sony and the Rest

Amazon have scored a major bit of Apple style pre release ad placement by getting Newsweek to run a cover story on the Kindle, Jeff Bezos' attempt to launch the concept of the E-Book as a mainstream product.

Engadget have a picture
that may or may not be a mock up.It looks pretty much like the FCC application pictures from last year so maybe it is sort of real but frankly I hope not as it's pot ugly and I can't for the life of me see why anyone would make an ugly consumer device these days.

Anyway apart from that I'm very happy to see a resurgence in interest in the area as I am a huge fan of the e-book concept and I am in the market for one.

To date nothing has beaten the Windows Mobile 5 Dell Axim X51V - it's small enough to carry anywhere I would bring a book and with a 2GB SD card I could carry every book I ever owned if only I could get the damn things. I have a library of about 200 of my favourites that I was able to carry everywhere. It had a great 200dpi full colour VGA screen and the user interface with reader applications like MobiPocket or MicroBook was excellent. The three drawbacks it had were; the lack of available titles, poor battery life (I used to carry two) and a general dependency on a host PC. Dell have stopped making them but I could still buy one off e-Bay if I wasn't so reluctant to buy second hand gadgets.

The new Sony Reader has been looking like a potential buy because I would be able to migrate my library to it (well most of it, I have un-DRM'ed most of the stuff after getting burned repeatedly in the past by DRM expiries and systemic revocations). I held and used the V1 version briefly and it really was quite cool. It's a very nice gadget. It's not very cheap but at Euro 200-230 I think the price is OK so it is definitely top of my list at the moment. It sports an SD-Card slot, can read un-DRM'd material, looks great, loadsa battery life etc etc. It definitely still needs the host PC though and the Sony Book Store is pathetic.

So the Kindle really has my attention but judging by the content of the Newseek article I'm not so sure. Thetech media\blog preview blather has all been very uncritical despite what I see as some glaring issues with the proposed architecture and some very worrying hints from Mr Bezos.
  • It will use a proprietary sounding data connectivity network called WhisperNet that is actually a cellular data connection using EV-DO. EV-DO is a 3G data net only available in the US (more or less). What the Fuck is that about? At least the iPhone made some play at targetting global audiences. And who needs EV-DO (100kbps data rates) for E-Books (the biggest of mine is still <<10mb)>
  • "Classic" books (as in stuff that you can get for free of Project Gutenburg and read on my Dell or a Sony Reader for free) will cost $1.99 each, one off blog articles (cough the content of which is also free!) will chew up 99cent or you can Subscribe! for $1.99 a month (Per Blog !!) or you can cough up $9.99 for new best sellers (that might be OK depending on the DRM).
  • It will be DRM'ed up the ying yang and Mr Bezos is also not averse to using some of the most crap-tastic features of DRM:
    Libraries, though, have developed lending procedures for previous versions of e-books—like the tape in "Mission: Impossible," they evaporate after the loan period—and Bezos says that he's open to the idea of eventually doing that with the Kindle.
  • "it is instant-on and requires no batteries". Translates into no user replaceable battery which would be OK if the radio doesn't tend to flatten the battery in an hour or two of browsing and shopping for books. We'll see.
  • My biggest problem with the whole thing though is the pure 1980's "Multi-media is the future" tone of the Newsweek article. It's full of crap like this:
    "Another possible change: with connected books, the tether between the author and the book is still active after purchase. Errata can be corrected instantly. Updates, no problem—in fact, instead of buying a book in one discrete transaction, you could subscribe to a book.."
I'm reserving judgement at this stage but I am not hopeful that the device will significantly change the (correct) perception that E-Books are crap. Their E-Book marketplace might be good but I doubt that they will allow it to work with other devices which kind of puts us in a bind until they have a good device. We'll see.

1 comment:

Derek Harkin said...

What the hell are you doing up so early on your first Monday morning as an unemployed person?

The kindle really does look ugly in the photos and a blog post defending it - http://www.stevenlevy.com/index.php/2007/11/18/is-the-kindle-ugly/ fails to go in to any detail about why it does not look like the images posted or posts a more flattering image.

Also, is it just me or does that guy in the Newsweek article look a lot like Eddie?