Friday, November 30, 2007

The future of reading?

"The vision is that you should be able to get any book—not just any book in print, but any book that's ever been in print—on this device in less than a minute"
Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Oh yeah. There's a vision...but sorting out the implications will take awhile. What does this mean for libraries? for newspapers? for bookstores?

The device in question is, of course, the Kindle, the latest and far away the greatest thing in ebook technology. It represents a quantum leap forward, marrying convenience in use with convenience in purchasing.

Simply put, take the best ebook device yet marketed and virtually hardwire it into the world's largest bookstore and you have an unprecedented knowledge distribution tool. Questions of how electronic books will affect library services are not new. But they just became a bit more real and pressing, because at first blush, the Kindle is that good.

After a quick straw poll of library staff, I decided we needed to purchase, and play with, a Kindle of our own. After a couple days of using it, I'm reluctant to pass it on. While some things are still clunky -- this is an imperfect technology -- the core experience of reading a book sure works well for me.

Quick and dirty reactions:

  • ability to quickly purchase from the Amazon store, using search and browse features -- 88,000 titles does not include everything I'd like but it's a lot -- the time from wanting a book to having & reading it is very short
  • the screen -- easy to read electronic paper
  • the user interface -- big "next page", "previous page", and "back" buttons, and a pretty intuitive and fairly sophisticated click-wheel menu system for most other things
  • light and easy to hold
  • you're online all the time, via a cellphone not wifi, connection
  • Amazon answers reference questions, and not too badly, via their nownow service
  • battery life - quite decent and charges pretty quickly
  • automatic daily delivery of newspapers
  • newspapers are awkward to read, with the click-wheel menu feeling more intrusive & less intuitive
  • annoying screen flash when you turn a page
  • no backlight
  • grey scale is 4-bit -- photos look like poor photocopies
  • menus & content manager system are a bit clunky & non-intuitive
  • more difficult to share information with others (from the bookseller's viewpoint, this might be a positive)
  • $399 is steep (but they said iPods were too expensive to succeed in the mass market, too)
It's too early to understand all the technological, economic and educational implications and impacts, but the Kindle deserves our attention. Now I've got to stop writing about it and let somebody else try it. More later!


Terry Dawson said...

Tailrank has aggregated some blog comments and reviews, pro and con.

jdscott50 said...

Hey, how did you get one already? I have been trying to add something like this to our tech garage. I can't even get a reader. Very cool.

Terry Dawson said...

We just ordered one on the first day they came out. Everybody on the staff who had heard about them thought it was worth the money just to take a first-hand look. I guess they got back-ordered, but we got in quickly enough.

Now that I've given it up for the weekend, I miss it ... I was in the middle of two books. Back to paper, books on CD and the Treo for now!