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.
The Kindle — Amazon.com’s e-book reader and fledgling entry into the consumer electronics market — seems like a good concept. It certainly looks good, and there appears to be some interesting technology under the hood. But there are some puzzling choices being made by Amazon here as well. I’m not buying one, and I think I’m not alone.
What I could see myself — and by extension, other academics and college students — using a device like this for would be to read and annotate documents on the go without the physical burden (and relatively poor battery life) of my Macbook. And when I say “documents”, I mean PDF’s. The PDF is the hydrogen atom of the electronic document world — the most commonly occurring element and appearing in all different platforms. I have mountains of e-documents I have to read and take notes on in all areas of my profession, and they are almost all PDF’s. If I had an electronic device that was light, small, didn’t get hot when I used it (like the Macbook still does), has a nice display, allows me to read and annotate PDF’s easily, and was priced around $150, I’d snap it up in a minute.
The Kindle gets all of these right except the last two, and these are deal-breakers for the academic market. A $400 price tag for a “document reader” that won’t let me read the format which 90% of my documents are in? It makes me wonder if Amazon truly understands the concept of the “electronic document” if they think the Kindle is marketable to all but the have-everything early adopters in its current state. (And yes, I’m aware that there are third-party workarounds for the PDF issue, but really, this is like saying that it’s OK if a car only runs on kerosene and not gasoline because there are third-party solutions to convert one to the other.)
Update: Scobleizer unloads on the Kindle. There’s video. I think he makes too much of the lack of social networking capabilities, but his UI criticisms are hard to deny.
I’ve been noticing since upgrading to Leopard last week that PDF’s that are made using LaTeX do not always look right in Preview. Here’s the same PDF made using LaTeX (TeXShop, to be exact), opened three times in immediate succession using Preview (click to enlarge each):
The third one (rightmost) finally looks like it’s supposed to, but the other two have this strange-looking font substitution for text, and the math is just completely out of whack.
Again, this is the same PDF opened up, then closed, then opened again right after that, then again. No additional LaTeX builds were done. Also, the PDF viewer that comes with TeXShop had the same problems with fonts.
Anybody have a thought as to what’s going on here?