While the news of the week is certainly focused on the Kindle Fire media tablet and all of the wider implications for tablet computing that go along with it, this week also brings us the release of the new Amazon Kindle Touch eReader. It does a few things right that other companies haven’t quite caught on to yet, but overall it’s just another iteration of the line. Once you reach a certain point, there is a limit to how much excitement can be mustered over fractions of an inch in dimension reduction, fractions of an ounce in weight reduction, or fractions of a second in page refresh rate. It was all pretty much great in the Kindle 3 (Kindle Keyboard) and the trend continues in the fourth generation here.
What is really important here aside from the touchscreen implementation, which I’ll talk about another time, is the way Amazon has managed to add extra value for users beyond the simple reading experience. That’s not easy when you’re talking about something as basic as a book, and most attempts to do so up until now (i.e. video embedding, hyperlinks, etc.) have been at least somewhat obtrusive during the act of reading.
The new X-Ray feature is, at first glance, an extension of the search function. It will find what you need in an intelligent fashion using Amazon’s own predictive algorithms to determine what the most important parts of a book are. The name is meant to imply that by using the Kindle Touch you can see through to the “bones” of a given book. This information is stored on your eReader, having been downloaded alongside each eBook you picked up, so it remains accessible even if you keep the WiFi turned off consistently. Accessing X-Ray will get you things like a list of proper names in the book, how often those names appear and where, as well as other extrapolated information about the form of the book’s content.
While this isn’t generally going to be a feature of major importance, it will come in handy to many. For students and reading groups the applications are obvious. It serves as a reference point. Even during a casual reading, however, it will come in handy to be able to pull this up on the fly. Forgot where you last saw a character earlier in the book? X-Ray. Not sure if it’s worth looking up a historical figure to understand a reference? Check X-Ray to see if they keep coming up during important passages. That sort of thing might not be a day to day need, but it’s nice to have handy.
In handling things the way they are, Amazon is effectively providing paying customers something that pirates don’t have access to. Even if people figure out a good way to side-load this content, Amazon is presumably improving how the X-Ray feature determines what is important. This means that each time you sign online with your Kindle Touch, the information potentially evolves and improves. It’s a neat system and manages to avoid restrictive content control while giving users an incentive to stay honest.