Nine ways to fix the Amazon Kindle

I panned the Amazon Kindle yesterday, so it’s only fair that I give some constructive ideas in return. Amazon, Jeff Bezos, whoever is reading this, if you want your Kindle to sell like iPods among college students and faculty, do the following:

  • Include native support for reading, annotating, and syncing PDF documents with our computers. Imagine the ability to download a PDF of a homework assignment,  PowerPoint slides, research article, or whatever, from the internet or a course management system; move it to the Kindle; then read and annotate the PDF; then sync your annotations back onto the computer for archiving, later viewing, or presenting. The ability to do this in a lightweight, high-storage capacity device would make it very compelling — possibly irresistible — to faculty and students, those of us who traffic in electronic documents.
  • Make the screen touch sensitive and include some kind of handwriting recognition. This isn’t hard or expensive. Palm has been doing a pretty good job of this for years on relatively inexpensive devices and you can, too.
  • Listen to Scobleizer’s comments about the user interface, particularly button locations and sizes.
  • Did I mention native PDF support?
  • RSS. First of all, learn what RSS really does; unlike what you say on the Kindle main page, RSS provides a lot more than “just headlines”. Kindle can deliver full blog content — but it’s only for select blogs, and for a price. Baloney. Include an RSS reader with the device, and then let users subscribe to whatever RSS feed they want, and as many feeds as they want. What’s it costing you to allow that option?
  • Give the option to have WiFi. The world doesn’t need “Whispernet” or any other new-fangled proprietary system. If you want to charge an extra $100 for WiFi capabilities, fine. But give the option.
  • Make the buttons a little less cheap.
  • Before I forget: Native PDF support.
  • Drop the price — big time. $400 is way too much, particularly when you consider that that’s only the beginning of the expense of owning the thing. You have to pay for subscriptions to blogs, for the ebooks you can read on the thing, even for the privilege of moving a file you created from your computer to the device! With all the above improvements made, I’d consider paying as much as $199 for it — the same price as an 8 GB iPod nano, because I would be equally attracted to both devices. (And let me tell you, that iPod nano is really calling out to me these days.)

You’re welcome, in advance. Email me for where to sent the royalties.


Filed under Technology

11 responses to “Nine ways to fix the Amazon Kindle

  1. virusdoc

    bought carrie the 8GB nano for Christmas. She loves it. (I’m lousy at waiting to give gifts). Obey the urge!

  2. virusdoc

    If you pay with paypal, you can get your 8 GB ipod from newegg for $160:

  3. virusdoc

    nevermind. The TUAW post seems to be incorrect–the paypal promotion does not apply at newegg any longer. sorry for the unverified false alarm.

  4. Well, trust me, right now anything that’s > $100 that isn’t absolutely necessary probably isn’t going to happen, so no need to worry about false alarms! I’ll just keep on window shopping a little while longer.

  5. Pingback: Nine Ways to Fix the Amazon Kindle :

  6. Alex

    Here’s one my mom asked for: ability to purchase books when out of cell phone network range or out of the USA.

  7. As far as I can tell, no. The wireless connectivity of the device is limited to linking up with and Wikipedia. It uses a cell phone network for data transmission, so in theory I suppose somebody could hack it to install an email client.

  8. The Trouble with PDFs

    Why can’t Amazon Kindles display PDFs in Native mode?

    Unfortunately, PDFs and the Kindle format are inherently incompatible, so what this question really asks for is a quick and easy way to decode the PDF format and translate the information into a variety of XML/HTML.

    Adobe would probably object, since along the way one would have to break Adobe’s proprietary security schemes aimed at preventlng that very activity. To their so-so credit, Amazon does try to do this during their translation process, with mostly bad results, precisely as Adobe intended.

    Adobe PDFs are designed to display *exactly* what the designer of a paper or book wants each and every page to look like, and are mostly set at the “standard” paper sizes for a given region, which generally use too much screen real estate to be readily accessible on a Kindle without some mechanism for scrolling the page up and down and from side to side, all of which “windowing” schemes are a pain in the neck to actually read. So PDFs on Kindle would be *either* too small to read with any facility or too awkward to use without the occasional urge to hurl it against the wall. Precisely as Adobe intended.

    XML/HTML, on the other hand, is designed to display content very flexibly on multiple devices at multiple resolutions, which is exactly what a device with the ability to resize text on the fly requires.

    Apples and oranges.

    The people to complain about are Adobe, and it’s important to remember that PDFs are really a Digital Rights Management scheme designed to frustrate people who wish to capture text and use it in other ways, so flexibility and adaptability was never a design feature.

  9. Quinn

    The Trouble with PDFs

    Fair point that the Kindle is too small to read PDFs which are designed to accurately represent a full sheet of paper. May I then suggest a tenth way to improve the Kindle: Make a version with a screen large enough to view a standard sheet of paper. It is not just students and teachers who would be interested. You would tap into the non-price sensitive, expense account armed bankers and lawyers. Trust me, this group buys a lot of books…

  10. If you had a portable device with a proper web browser built in, you could use a web service like our to annotate PDFs in the browser – I don’t think that epaper devices like kindle can refresh the screen fast enough for this though.