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October 7, 2013 at 12:13 PM
It’s a little odd when a company selling a new gadget says one of the most exciting features is its “help” button.
How many carmakers talk up their new models’ emergency brakes? Do airplane makers call out state-of-the-art oxygen masks?
But Amazon.com tries to think differently about the Kindle tablets it began selling five years ago. It may be on to something with the “Mayday” button that’s a highlight of its new Kindle HDX tablets.
July 5, 2012 at 5:44 PM
Bill Gates plans to do a lot of summer reading – perhaps more than he’s done since he was a teen.
He’s also sharing his reading list and reviews, and inviting people to recommend other books at his personal web site, The Gates Notes.
On the site, he talks about how he’s always used summer to catch up on his reading and used to max out his library card when he was a kid. Now he may get through a book a day on vacations, on which he takes “what is probably a ridiculous number of books along.”
Between family trips and some other travel I’ll be doing this summer, I probably have more reading time planned than I think I’ve had for a very long time, maybe ever since I started work. Still, I’m probably being too optimistic about what I’ll be getting to, because I’m taking a ton of books with me.
Here are some of the books that Gates recommends:
-”The Better Angels of our Nature” by Steven Pinker
- “The Quest” by Daniel Yergin
- “Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China” by Ezra Vogel
- “The Cost of Hope” by Amanda Bennett
- “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” by Katherine Boo
- “Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update” by Donella Meadows
- “Abundance: The Future is Better Than You Think” by Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler
June 26, 2012 at 10:44 AM
The latest whispers about new Kindles from Amazon.com are coming from CNET, which is reporting that the Seattle company will launch a new, higher-resolution version of the Kindle Fire on July 31.
Also planned are new Kindles with black-and-white displays and built-in lights, to compete with Barnes & Noble’s new Nook with “GlowLight.”
That’s according to “a credible source” cited by CNET, which was unable to confirm the tidbits.
I spoke to an Amazon.com Kindle executive a few weeks ago. While he wouldn’t say anything about new hardware, he said the company has been continuously upgrading the Fire software since its launch — to the point that it’s basically a new device inside the same shell.
Still, Amazon has to freshen the hardware line eventually.
Scuttlebutt about new Kindle comes amid expectations that Google will release a Nexus-branded tablet made by Asus this week. Gizmodo reported that it will have the same screen size and base price as the Fire — 7-inches and $199.
Whether the rumors are true or not, there’s clearly a scramble to line up back-to-school options in the lower end of the tablet market, ahead of Microsoft’s debut in the upper end.
September 26, 2011 at 9:46 AM
It’s great news for Kindle owners that they can finally get library books on their devices.
I always thought this was one of the biggest shortcomings of Amazon.com’s device. It also highlighted the fact that Kindles are designed as much for buying books as for reading them.
But, while good for Kindle users, it may not be such a great deal for everyone else using public libraries.
I’ll bet that last week’s announcement that libraries across the country are working with Amazon to offer e-books for borrowing will come to be seen as a turning point, when libraries accelerated their shift toward digital content bound in content-protection software.
The convenience of digital books is compelling, especially to public libraries struggling to manage costs, grow their collections and stay relevant.
At the same time, there are trade-offs that may be overlooked or downplayed as libraries rush to embrace new formats and satisfy the demands of gadget-toting patrons.
For starters, this transformation may erode the democratic nature of libraries.
To meet growing demand from owners of Kindles and other reading gadgets, libraries are shifting more of their budgets from physical books anyone can read to digital copies that require a computer or e-book to consume.
The King County Library System is working on its 2012 budget and expects to dramatically increase its spending on digital copies after digital circulation increased by 150 percent over the past year, according to Director Bill Ptacek.
It now spends about $800,000 of its $14 million material budget on digital and audio books.
“It’s a delicate balance,” Ptacek said. “We want to have a big enough collection and offering that people who do have the devices will come to the library. On the other hand, we don’t want to go so far overboard.”
This balancing act is tricky in part because Amazon — the leading e-book company — doesn’t disclose how many Kindles it has sold. Libraries are constantly asked for Kindle material, but nobody knows the size of this audience.
Ptacek estimates 10 to 20 percent of its 900,000 cardholders have e-reader devices.
Seattle’s library system has seen digital circulation double every year since it began working in 2005 with OverDrive, a Cleveland company that runs the digital lending websites of most U.S. libraries.
Last week, OverDrive added Kindle to the list of devices supported by its service.
Libraries don’t have to buy special Kindle editions of digital books. They just buy a digital copy from OverDrive, which serves the copy in whatever format the patron chooses at checkout.
Amazon’s arrangement also adds a new layer of commercialism into the public service that libraries provide.
Unlike digital books offered in other formats through library websites, Kindle versions require you to complete the checkout process at Amazon’s website. The process ends with a pitch from Amazon to buy more books, and the system feeds Amazon’s database of customer interests.
It’s still early days for digital books. The next step will be applications that let library patrons borrow digital books directly from their e-reader, Web tablet or smartphone. This will appear on a Sony reader coming in October, and could be on the new color tablets that Amazon’s expected to unveil Wednesday.
“There is a road map where we’re going to be able to do more of the experience within the app,” said David Burleigh, OverDrive director marketing.
At the Seattle library, digital consumption reached a “critical mass” in 2010 with the proliferation of e-readers, smartphones and tablets, said Kirk Blankenship, electronic-resources librarian.
Blankenship expects circulation of downloadable books to triple this year from 100,000 to 300,000 checkouts. Overall circulation has been steady at about 11 million.
That doesn’t necessarily mean there’s been a major shift in reading habits. Budget cuts forced Seattle to dramatically cut library hours, reducing access to printed books and skewing circulation patterns.
Blankenship and Ptacek both see digital copies as additions to the printed collection, rather than as a replacement. But they are having to make decisions about where to spend their limited budgets.
What will the mix looks like two or three years from now? “We’ll have a much more robust e-book environment and alongside that we’ll have the print collection we’ll be doing just as well,” Blankenship said. “When you get a little beyond that … that’s much more of a gray area.”
In the meantime, I’d argue that libraries should be pushing for ways to share the gains that e-book companies are seeing.
For instance, Amazon pays commissions to websites that refer shoppers to its online store. Why doesn’t this “affiliate” program extend to the 11,000 public and school libraries now channeling book lovers to Amazon.com.
The elephant in the room, though, is the tax question.
Amazon is not only the leading e-book company, it’s also become the nation’s most notorious evader of local sales-tax collections.
While it’s fighting to avoid local taxes across the country, tax-funded libraries are going to extraordinary lengths and paying a premium for content to satisfy Amazon customers.
These public institutions are making the Kindle more appealing, and helping to usher in a transformation in which Amazon may be the largest beneficiary.
Maybe it’s time to pay the fees.
July 13, 2011 at 3:51 PM
It’s getting harder for Amazon.com to sidestep reports that it’s going to release a color tablet device this fall.
Reports seem to surface every few weeks with new details about the devices, including stories about which manufacturers are producing the various components.
Today, the Wall Street Journal weighed in with a story saying that the color, Android-based tablet will go on sale in October with a “roughly” 9-in. diagonal screen.
It also reported that there will be two new Kindles, including a cheaper model and one with a touchscreen like that used on the new Kobo and Nook e-readers.
The Journal cited people familiar with the devices, including people who had seen the lower-priced Kindle. I wonder if the sources were book publishers or people developing news applications for the new hardware in advance of the launch.
Amazon didn’t respond to a request for comment on the Journal story, but the company earlier announced a new ad-supported version of the Kindle with 3G wireless connectivity. AT&T is the device “sponsor.” The “Kindle 3G with Special Offers” will cost $139. An ad-free version of the device will continue to sell for $189.
This follows the April launch of an ad-supported version of the WiFi-only Kindle that sells for $114, compared with the $139 ad-free version.
Amazon needs to do more to refresh the lineup. Barnes & Noble, which has color and touchscren versions of its Nook, overtook Amazon’s Kindle for the first time in the first quarter, according to a recent report by research firm IDC.
IDC’s release said Amazon’s “lack of a color offering has clearly impacted the company’s previous dominance in the eReader market.” The firm expects e-reader sales to grow 24 percent this year to 16.2 million units.
June 27, 2011 at 4:42 PM
Ownership of e-reading devices doubled over the past six months, from 6 percent to 12 percent of U.S. adults, according to a Pew Research Center survey released today.
Pew found that adults age 50 and older are buying e-readers faster than the population in general, and Hispanics are buying them faster than other ethnic groups.
Its survey concluded that 15 percent of Hispanic adults own e-readers, compared with 11 percent of whites and 8 percent of African Americans.
The survey also found that wealthy people are far more likely to own an e-reader. The devices are owned by 24 percent of households with income over $75,000, 13 percent of homes bringing in $30,000 to $74,999 and 4 percent of those earning less than $30,000.
College graduates are also more likely to own an e-reader, with 22 percent of them owning one in the U.S.
So far, there’s just a little overlap in households with just 3 percent now owning both e-readers and tablet devices such as the iPad, but I’ll bet that will change over the next year or two.
Here are some charts from Pew’s report, based on a survey of 2,277 adults in April and May:
June 23, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Get ready for the digital “Harry Potter,” including branded versions of Sony’s portable devices that could appear later this year.
The strength of the Harry Potter brand could help Sony get traction with its Reader devices, which are overshadowed by Amazon.com’s Kindle and even Barnes & Noble’s Nook, not to mention the iPad.
A Harry Potter tie-in could also give a lift to the Android-based Web tablets that Sony plans to release this fall.
Sony is partnering with J.K. Rowling on the first digital versions of the Potter series and a new interactive website called “Pottermore“, which was unveiled today in London.
Pottermore will be a sort of exploratory social network for Harry Potter fans. It will offer immersive, online reading of the Potter books, supplemented with new material written by Rowling and animated features developed by U.K. digital agency TH_NK with input from Sony. It will be free, but have an online store where eBooks and digital audiobooks will be sold.
Here’s an excerpt from the release:
In the new website, the storyline will be brought to life with sumptuous newly-commissioned illustrations and interactive ‘Moments’ through which you can navigate, starting with the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s (Sorcerer’s) Stone. On entering, you choose a magic username and begin your experience. As you move through the chapters, you can read and share exclusive writing from J.K. Rowling, and, just as Harry joins Hogwarts, so can you. You visit Diagon Alley, get sorted into a house, cast spells and mix potions to help your house compete for the House Cup.
The site’s going to conduct a limited beta test starting July 31 and open to everyone in October. The first million people to register on July 31 will get early access during the beta period “and help put final touches to the experience.” The site was accepting early email signups today until it was overwhelmed by visitors.
Rowling’s quote in the release:
“I wanted to give something back to the fans that have followed Harry so devotedly over the years, and to bring the stories to a new digital generation. I hope fans and those new to Harry will have as much fun helping to shape Pottermore as I have. Just as I have contributed to the website, everyone else will be able to join in by submitting their own comments, drawings and other content in a safe and friendly environment — Pottermore has been designed as a place to share the stories with your friends as you journey through the site.”
At first I wondered if the site would be connected somehow to Sony’s Playstation Network or Sony Online Entertainment sites, but a spokeswoman said they aren’t connected to Pottermore.
Sony will, however, be releasing new products tied to the site.
When I asked if that means Sony will produce a special Pottermore version of its Reader digital book, spokeswoman Lisa Gephardt was encouraging.
“I cannot confirm that, but that might be a logical asusmption to make,” she said.
How about a Pottermore reading application for Sony’s upcoming handheld Vita game device?
“I think you are probably much more along the lines that we’re thinking of,” she said.
Details of any Harry Potter gadgets will come later — probably closer to the October launch of Pottermore, which is probably when we’ll also hear about Sony’s new tablets.
For now, Sony is announcing only the partnership.
“We have committed to offering Sony products and services to Pottermore customers,” she said.
“Today was really just the announcement of the relationship. It’s going to really promote reading to a whole new generation of readers.”
Here’s Rowling’s announcement video, followed by a few more screenshots:
June 22, 2011 at 1:46 PM
Component manufacturers may have spilled the beans on the tablet computers that Amazon.com is expected to release later this year, giving the company an iPad-like gadget to sell alongside its Kindle.
The devices will launch in August or September, in time for the Black Friday holiday sales kickoff after Thanksgiving, according to a report from Taiwan’s DigiTimes.
Amazon’s device will be assembled by Quanta Computer and have processors from Texas Instruments, touch panels from Wintek, LCD drivers from ILI Technology, according to the report.
It said 700,000 to 800,000 units are expected to ship per month and noted that the device will play movies streamed by Amazon.
I’ve asked for comment from the company next door but haven’t heard back yet. Most likely it will decline to say anything at this point.
Speculation about Amazon producing an Android-based tablet has increased since the company began operating an Android app store in March.
In Monday’s column, I wrote about how Amazon is likely to take a path similar to Barnes & Noble, which started out trying to add computer-like features to its first e-reader but has now decided on a two-tiered approach with its Nook, offering a low-end black and white model and a higher-end color version that’s morphed into an Android tablet.
June 20, 2011 at 9:45 AM
Newer, faster phones and tablets are appearing every month, even every week, it seems.
But if you spend too much time grazing through this multicore, high-def smorgasbord, everything blurs together on your plate. The phones look like tablets, the tablets look like each other, and they all have the same basic set of apps.
Maybe that’s why I like the new Nook reader from Barnes & Noble, a squarish puck of an e-reader that went on sale earlier this month for $139.
For starters, it doesn’t look like yet another touch-screen Web tablet.
It’s a single-purpose reading device with a stripped down interface, which is kind of refreshing. It also helps stratify the jumble of tablets available nowadays.
The Nook is among a batch of high-quality, $100 to $130 reading devices with 6-inch screens and Wi-Fi connections. Others include Amazon.com’s latest Kindle and the Kobo eReader Touch that’s allied with Borders.
From $180 to $380 are readers with larger screens and 3G wireless service. Then from $499 to $900 are color Web tablets like the Apple iPad and Android-based devices. By fall there should be more glimpses of tabletlike Windows 8 PCs that will probably cost $700 to $1,500 when they go on sale.
As these categories and device capabilities become clearer, people won’t wonder as much about whether they need a Kindle or an iPad. They may decide they need both — an e-reader for books on the go, and a color tablet for magazines, the Web and other digital media.
That’s what Barnes & Noble is counting on, at least. Its lineup now includes the $139 Nook and a $249 color version that runs Web apps.
“We think people are going to have a Nook Color and a Nook,” said Michelle Warvel, creative director at Barnes & Noble.
That influenced the design of the new Nook, which has fewer features than the original, which tried to do everything at once. Released in 2009, it was a hybrid with an e-Ink display above a narrow color touch-screen.
Now, “our goal is to have a portfolio of products,” Warvel explained. She said the simpler Nook was designed for the “pure reader.”
Amazon probably is going in the same direction. It’s expected to release color Web tablets based on Google’s Android software later this year. They’ll tap its Kindle bookstore and online music and video services, and complement its black and white Kindles, which will continue to have superior battery life and readability.
This must be what it felt like to be car shopping 100 years ago. At first there were all sorts of crazy horseless carriages, but soon it settled into sedans, coupes, trucks and motorcycles.
The new Nook is a cycle in this lineup. It’s about the size of an outstretched hand, weighs 7.5 ounces and has a ridged, rubberized back.
You turn pages by tapping a side of the screen, by using a swipe gesture or by pressing hard buttons on either side of its rubbery frame.
The Nook is easy to hold and feels tough enough to toss into a bag or a backseat. I found that it didn’t suffer after I carried it in a back pocket and sat upon it repeatedly.
The trade-off for this portability is that the screen is pretty small. It displays only a few paragraphs at a time, which is OK for books but awful if you’re trying to get through a newspaper or magazine.
For reading books, it’s on par with the latest Kindle, which has the same e-Ink “Pearl” display technology and screen size. Both claim battery life of up to two months on a single charge.
A key difference is the Nook’s touch-screen. Amazon executives have said in the past that they haven’t used touch-screens because they require extra layers of material, which obscures the text a bit. I bet, though, Amazon will eventually add it.
The Nook’s text quality was fine, but sometimes letters seemed a bit raggedy, creating a pulp-fiction effect that I kind of liked.
Warvel said B&N extended the number of pages displayed before the screen refreshes itself, a process that creates a flashing effect.
Users of the first Nook were distracted by flashes between pages so the new model, with standard text, flashes every five or six pages.
Having a touch-screen means the Nook doesn’t need a physical keypad like the Kindle — it just displays one on the screen when needed — and can have a smaller case.
But it takes a little getting used to the Nook’s mix of controls. It’s also not obvious that you can do things like tap the center of the screen to call up controls for font size.
It’s also easy to hold or tap too long and zoom past multiple pages. A few times I also had trouble unlocking the device, which you do by sliding a finger across the bottom of the screen. During a week of testing the device froze once; I had to reboot by holding the power button on the back.
There’s no browser, but the Nook has social-networking features so you can share quotes from books with friends on Twitter and Facebook. There’s no camera, so it’s probably safe for randy politicians. You can also “lend” certain books to friends with Nooks.
The device is compatible with digital books loaned by some libraries, including Seattle’s. But it’s a multistep process — you connect the Nook to a PC and transfer books via a USB cable. I tried this with several books and never found them on the Nook.
Another concern with e-readers in general is how they lock you into a particular service. If you’ve bought digital books for the Kindle, you can’t read them on the Nook and vice versa.
Frankly, I still prefer actual books. It’s easier to flip back and forth through real pages, which are also more relaxing after working with a screen all day.
But the avid female readers in my house took to the Nook like none of the other tablets I’ve brought home. And pretty soon I was able to lose myself in a novel on the little gadget — so I stopped wondering where the library books went.
May 23, 2011 at 10:06 AM
Kobo today announced a new touchscreen version of its reader that will go on sale for $130 in June.
The device uses an E Ink display like Amazon’s Kindle, which has yet to introduce a touchscreen version, and has Kobo’s “Reading Life” software with social sharing features and a gamelike reward system.
It has a 6-inch diagonal screen, a software keyboard, a quilted back and a single “home” button a la the iPad. It connects to the Web and Kobo’s bookstore via WiFi or a USB cable.
Kobo has been selling e-readers since May 2010 and initially allied itself with Borders. The company has extended its software platform, which is now bundled with tablets from Samsung and Research In Motion. It claims to have 3.6 million users in 100 countries.
Kobo is based in Toronto, Canada, but it established a Seattle presence in 2010 when it hired Todd Humphrey, a former Amazon.com director of business development, as its executive vice president of business development.
The company recently raised $50 million in funding and is now planning to open a full office in Seattle. Humphrey said it should be established by the end of the year.
“Whether it’s five or 15 or 20 people, we’ll see,” he said.
Humphrey said the new Kobo eReader Touch Edition will be a serious competitor to e-reader made by his former co-workers at Amazon and the Barnes & Noble Nook.
“I think this device puts us ahead of them from a device standpoint,” he said.
Humphrey said major retailers are very interested in selling the touch reader and it will help the company as it begins an expansion in Europe.
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