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On e-Reader Tech News we track down the latest e-Reader news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great e-reader tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest devices and accessories.

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Tablets Help Visually Impaired Readers Read More Quickly

Before e readers and tablets came around, blind and visually impaired readers had to rely on braille, large-print, or audiobooks.  Now, the visually impaired can use a Kindle or other e-reader or tablet to enlarge the font right in the screen.  I can attest first-hand that reading a Kindle is much less tiresome on the eyes than reading print books.

That is definitely a huge step up from lugging large books around.  No more bulky travel bags.

The font adjustments in the Kindle are very helpful for creating a less tiresome reading experience, not only for the visually impaired, but for people who don’t have any vision loss.  That in turn enables us to read for as long as we want to.  As long as time permits, of course.

The latest studies show that people who have central vision loss can benefit from reading on a tablet such as the iPad or Kindle Fire.  The level of contrast between the text and background helps speed up the reader’s reading levels.  The sharpness and clarity of the text on the background is important.  On tablets, you can use either black on white, or white on black.  There is also a more neutral setting that doesn’t create such sharp contrast.  So, the added customization can fit the needs of more readers.

Overall, e readers have a lot of potential for opening up a world of reading and literacy for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.

With that said, the technology still has a ways to go to meet the needs of all readers.  Text-to-speech is currently a controversial service, and isn’t offered on some Kindles.  Including audio menu navigation and the ability to read books via audio on the Kindle go a long way for those who can’t read print at all.

 

Kindle Paperwhite thoughts

Out of this year’s Kindle lineup, I am the most excited about the Kindle Paperwhite.

Other than the light, it looks just like the traditional e-ink Kindle that is compact and easy to carry around in your purse or bag.

The front-lit screen is the major draw for me.  I am a voracious reader, and often wish I could read my Kindle in situations where it is dark, like night time car rides, etc.

It will be interesting to see how this new lighted Kindle will impact the book lights that are currently out on the market.  My best guess is that they’ll hold their own for awhile since so many people still own the older models or the basic Kindle.

The other major reason is a much needed upgrade for the touchscreen technology.  The Kindle Touch had issues with trails from previous pages.  The text is crisp, but it could use a tune up.

A few more notable features include:

  • Two month battery life even with the light, which is impressive considering most LCD tablets and phones are battery hogs
  • Time to read feature that measures your reading speed and lets you know when you’ll finish reading a chapter
  • Better pixel resolution and sharper contrast
  • New, hand-tuned fonts

The complete list of features can be found on Amazon.  The Kindle Paperwhite comes with or without Special Offers.  It also comes in a 3G or Wi-Fi only model.

After light, there is only one major upgrade: color.  At least, that we can think of.  Technology changes almost daily.  Next year perhaps?  I would like to see a tablet that can use both LCD and e-ink, or something that fulfills the purposes of each.  That way, I wouldn’t have to tote a bunch of difference devices around.

The Kindle Paperwhite ships October 22nd just in time for the holiday shopping season and should give the Nook Glowlight a run for its money.

The new Kindle Fire didn’t make July 31st, but signs point to an impending release

All of the rumors seemed to indicate that July 31st would be the day we finally heard solid details about the new Kindle Fire release.  Obviously that didn’t happen.  That’s not necessarily a bad sign though.  While things might be taking slightly longer than fans, speculators, and analysts had expected, there are plenty of signs that Amazon has something big planned right around the corner.

The update to Amazon’s music management is a strong indication that something is going on.  Amazon’s emphasis on media service integration with their devices is well known.  They might not have the most powerful hardware on the market but Kindle Fires are the easiest way to get at any of the digital content the company sells that can be reasonably run on a small, modestly powered tablet.  The existing model isn’t exactly at its best with music playback thanks to the speaker configuration, but the interface makes use simple enough.

Now that you can import existing music selections rather than uploading them individually, including files downloaded through other services, the appeal of that option should be increased for any interested user.  As far as Kindle Fire specifics, though, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon has been working on docking stations for their next tablet, which reports indicate will have a very distinct form compared to its predecessor.

The recent release of the Amazon Instant Video app for iPads is also, paradoxically, a fair indication that the Kindle Fire 2 is nearly ready.  Even if a larger model of Amazon’s tablet is ready right away, there is no way that they want to be entering into head to head competition with Apple at this stage.  Plenty of rumors say that Apple ‘s already taking things in that direction with an impending iPad Mini, but that rumor has been cropping up repeatedly for two years now and the reasoning doesn’t seem to have improved much in the meantime.

By creating a convenient way for Apple’s customers to access their Amazon video purchases, the need for confrontation is somewhat negated.  It’s important to remember that Amazon gains very little by way of income for selling the Kindle Fire.  They’d be just as happy to have an iPad user locked into using Amazon services thanks to the closed ecosystem being developed, since content is where the money is anyway.  The app release here might look like a lack of confidence in the Kindle Fire, but it’s really just paving the way for a deliberately niche product.

Most importantly, and most obviously, Amazon has started selling off refurbished Kindles at ridiculously low prices.  This has happened before.  People who use an Amazon.com Rewards Visa can pick up a basic Kindle eReader for just $47 now through August 15th using the coupon code KINDLE40.  It’s pretty obvious that something is on the way to replace that Kindle.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re looking at an August 15th release date.  In fact, people have largely stopped trying to guess at when Amazon will be ready.  It will be here when it’s ready, but it’s safe to say that time is not far off.

Can Microsoft Surface Inspire Kindle Interface Enhancement?

The introduction of eReaders into the portable electronics world immediately led to prophetic statements declaring them irrelevant in a world that already had access to tablets.  The Kindle vs iPad debate was long and monotonous, but over time people have generally come to accept that there is a distinction between the two types of device.  While most tablet functions would be more or less ridiculous to add to a dedicated reading device like the Kindle, however, Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablet has introduced a useful concept that may have important implications for the future of electronic reading devices.

The Surface will incorporate technology that separates general touch recognition from stylus recognition, making it possible to take notes conveniently on the screen of the tablet without having to worry about where your fingers are positioned.  As anybody who tries to write naturally on a tablet for the first time will likely be immediately aware, it can be quite difficult to manage without either setting the device down or letting a thumb wrap around onto the screen.

Amazon has already done something great for Kindle users with Whispernet.  Having all of your annotations saved, along with bookmarks, page position, and so on, regardless of where you are loading your content from allows the Kindle platform to be device independent and convenient for just about anybody.  Unfortunately, taking notes on an actual Kindle eReader is a huge inconvenience.  Even with the keyboard provided by the Kindle Keyboard (or the virtual one on the Kindle Touch), it’s a slow and annoying process that will usually result in there being few such notes taken.

While it would definitely mean a slightly higher production cost, and would probably require a greater expense as far as data transfer and storage in concerned due to the increase in use, Amazon would be wise to adopt a similar option in their next Kindle upgrade.

The last remaining hurdle for eReaders at this point is their inability to match the convenience of paper books when it comes to direct interaction.  Annotation is part of that.  This would not make it any easier to flip rapidly from place to place in your favorite book, but that is not a sensation that can be replicated on a screen.  The pleasure of making one’s own contribution to a personal copy of a book is far simpler to bring to the new medium.

There is no indication that Amazon is going to make this sort of change.  This is merely speculation about what could eventually become a major selling point.  Until color E Ink style screens advance to the point where they are worth integrating, there isn’t a lot that can be done to make the Kindle a better reading tool.  The screen is already offering basically the same reading experience that you get from paper.  It’s not easy to find ways to make paper replication an exciting new thing once you reach this level of sophistication.  Improved writing inputs could be just what the Kindle needs in that respect.

Kindle Fire 2 Interface Improvements

While the Kindle Fire’s interface is one of its biggest selling points, there are a number of things that might be done to improve the user experience further.  It would be silly to make things more like the stock Android environment given the extent of Amazon’s breaking away from Google’s ecosystem, but there are still other directions that things could easily go.

The things that would be nice to see in Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet are plentiful, but here are a few that would be especially nice on the software side of things:

Better Appstore Integration

Overall the experience of shopping for and downloading apps is quite nice.  What would be nicer is the ability to install an app you own without being redirected to the Store Page.  In the Apps tab’s Cloud display, installable apps have the option to “Install” right in their context menu.  Unfortunately, selecting this does nothing more than selecting the icon does.  There is no need for the extra step.

Expanded Codec Selection

The Kindle Fire is a video consumption device, at its core.  While there is little local storage compared to some tablets, there is more than enough available to carry around several movies at a time.  Finding video that will play on the tablet is more problematic, thanks to the currently limited selection of video codecs.  This was likely an attempt by Amazon to get customers used to using the Instant Video service, but if somebody is going to the effort of side-loading their own videos then it’s not really worth the inconvenience caused by preventing the viewing.

Menu Bar Controls

It’s often a gamble as to whether the thin black options menu at the bottom of the Kindle Fire’s screen will disappear when I want something to be full screen.  While it is understandable that Amazon feels the need to keep this available on a device that lacks physical controls of any sort, the option to completely hide it rather than simply minimizing it would be more than welcome.

Expanded Parental Controls

The more recent firmware updates have added in a fair number of parental control options.  It’s a good start.  There are still cases, however, where more could be done.  It would be great to see Amazon put some more effort into this and release a set of more intricate settings.  This is especially important now that we’re finally seeing in-app purchasing, social gaming, and other such features that will appeal to younger users.

The Kindle Fire 2 is going to be a strong product.  We know that Amazon has put some real work into the redesign and can hope that the software side received similar attention.  With the competition breathing down their neck, now is the time to really impress potential customers.

Are there any features that you would like to see added or improved for the upcoming release?

Kindle Library Lending Off to a Slow Start

Kindle Library Lending debuted last year, and has shown modest growth, but has a ways to go before it really takes off.  The number of libraries that offer the service has grown tremendously, but the selection of books offered has not.

My local library offers access to e-books for the Kindle, Nook, and other electronic devices.  But, I rarely find anything I like.  If I do, it already has a waiting list a mile long.

One of the biggest barriers to the program is reaction from publishers.  The Big 6 are having a hard time relinquishing their books for borrowing because they’re afraid that it will make a big dent in sales.

I read an article earlier today that got me thinking more about this dilemma, and I began to mull over ideas suggested in the article that might help them get over their fears.

E-books are easier to get and transport than regular books.  So publishers are afraid that book sales will go the way of music sales did about 10 years ago.

I think with careful handling through licensing, a compromise can be reached.  The result would be a benefit for both libraries and publishers.  By adding e-books to their collection, libraries can shake their old stereotypes and offer something that is new and exciting.

For publishers, the benefit is the exposure to books that can lead to a purchase.  There are people who borrow books from a library, like them a lot, then purchase them to read again.

Another option is to join Amazon Prime and use the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  It has a much broader selection, but you can only check out one a month.  I have checked out a lot more books from there than from my library.  I am currently waiting very impatiently until the next month to download the third book in the Hunger Games Series on my Kindle.

I think it is important to still get the word out about e-book borrowing in libraries.  Increasing the demand for books can’t hurt.  Just remember, it is the publishers not the libraries themselves, that are setting the book limits.  I hope to see a future where both print and e-books will be readily available to library patrons globally.

 

 

 

Could a Kindle Phone Really Redefine the Smartphone Market?

Interest in a potential Kindle Phone has been rising ever since Bloomberg reported that Amazon was in the middle of testing said phone.  The logic behind the move is arguably sound for Amazon, which leaves people fairly certain that it will happen.  After all, if there are customers to be gained and the sort of 24/7 connection that many people have with their smartphones can be tied into Amazon services then the hardware line is worth it even if it doesn’t generate a dollar in sales on its own.  What is especially interesting about all of this speculation, however, is the idea that Amazon is on the verge of upsetting the smartphone market in a major way.

To really understand the potential impact of a Kindle Phone, we have to look at what they have already done with the Kindle Fire.  Users get access to an affordable, functional consumption device that is tied into Amazon.com.  There are no major optional features, none of Google’s default Android services, and no efforts are being made to pretend that it is anything more than what it is able to be.  All the designers cared about was how to get people the best access to Amazon’s media at the lowest price.

Let’s carry that through to a phone.  Obviously we would be talking about something highly affordable.  That is how the company defines their products.  It would have to be exclusively connected to Amazon’s own services, which means no Google interaction.  In a market increasingly pushing for universal access to turn-by-turn directions, calendar alarm notifications, and constant digital communications access, this could be slightly problematic.  Even the Email app that shipped with the Kindle Fire didn’t quite work right at first, so it is hard to imagine them solving every possible problem with a new, more complex Android implementation so soon.

This doesn’t rule out an Amazon phone, but it does place it in a certain bracket.  Just as the Kindle Fire doesn’t try to directly compete with the iPad, perhaps a Kindle Phone would avoid trying to compete with the iPhone.

There is a great deal of exposure to be gained if they choose to go with a “pay as you go” device.  A Kindle Phone with the ability to connect to WiFi networks could be sold cheaply to millions of budget-conscious consumers.  Even if they didn’t need it as a phone, the iPod Touch has demonstrated in the past that there is a level of consumer demand for such hardware.  The ability to add prepaid minutes to a calling plan would just add a level of functionality to make it marketable while avoiding many of the hassles inherent in dealing with a normal carrier.

There is too little information to go on so far, and it is still definitely possible that Amazon will come out with a whole array of new services to make up for the lack of Google integration by the time a Kindle Phone sees the light of day.  It might even turn out to be a high end device that puts every Android smartphone on the market to shame.  The Kindle Fire set the tone for Amazon’s Android hardware, however, and the theme there has been one of simplicity and affordability.  I think it is unlikely to see that change just yet.

Did the Kindle Start a Trend Toward Paperless Living?

A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live.  One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper.  This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.

They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case.  The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper.  Who would have thought?

It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions.  We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful.  It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public.  It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.

Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle.  What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store.  Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books.  They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself.  With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store.  It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.

Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen.  The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now.  Convenience has reached an extreme.

Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to.  Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times.  Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.

None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear.  We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference).  What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up.  Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools.  Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from.  Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.

Amazon Domain Grab Could Signal Kindle Feature Expansion

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is basically the company that controls how things are named on the internet.  They decide whether a country has its own unique extension or not.  They spent years working out the details for the controversial “.xxx” extension.  Now, in a move that has a lot of people shocked, they are opening up quite a bit.  Adding to the fewer than two dozen generic top-level domains to choose from (.com, .net, etc.), new top level domains are being made available for purchase.  The big names in internet media are obviously excited about this and Amazon is no exception.

Amazon has filed for 76 different domains.  Considering these are selling for $185,000 up front and another $25,000 per year to maintain possession, this is no small investment.  Some of the choices are obvious, such as “.AMAZON”.  Others are clearly defensive.  They can’t afford to let the competition control “.BOOK” uncontested while running the world’s largest eBook store.  The ones that are the most interesting are the unexpected choices that hint at future developments.

For Kindle lovers, my favorite choice here is “.AUTHOR”.  It would seem to hint at new features for the Kindle Store.  Most likely, this would allow for greater self-promotion opportunities among KDP authors.  Unlike the “.BOOK” extension, it is not currently contested.  This means there is a good shot that Amazon will get to run with it, assuming they actually have plans and aren’t just preemptively acquiring it for later possibilities.

Since this sort of opening up of web naming hasn’t happened before, it is hard to say what it will mean for future applications.  Obviously it would be helpful to have access to this sort of domain naming, but there is no precedent to draw on.  If we have Amazon controlling “.KINDLE” then what will they do with it?  There is no point in controlling your own registry if all you do with it is host a single page, but nobody really expects Amazon, Google, or most of the other applicants for these names to change their minds about maintaining closed registries.

Obviously we’re looking at the introduction of new organization scheme for the Kindle Store and Amazon in general.  If they win even half of the names they are trying to get their hands on, things are going to get really interesting.  Innovation is likely, and may come in unexpected ways.  Some people are expecting little more than shortened product names that redirect to existing Amazon.com pages but that would hardly be an intuitive choice for browsers for a lot of these choices.  ICANN has indicated that they have plans to deal with companies who purchase and don’t make any use of a top level domain in order to limit squatting, so even defensive acquisitions can’t be left idle.

If nothing else, it is easy to imagine this drastically changing the future web interface for Kindle devices.

Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire: Should Amazon Really Be Concerned?

 Hardware specs aren’t everything when it comes to tablet performance.  If they were, the Kindle Fire never would have gotten off the ground.  Still, the Nexus 7 from Google is far enough ahead in that respect that if you are buying a $199 tablet right this second the choice is clear.  People invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, or interested in choosing what is quickly becoming the leading provider of digital media, will still grab the Kindle Fire.  Everybody else would want the Nexus 7.  It is just better at being a general purpose tablet.

This doesn’t mean that Google has won, though.  They are in the lead for the moment, but we have months before sales spike again and in the meantime Amazon will be releasing their new hardware.  Even if it doesn’t stand out as completely superior to Google’s device, the next Kindle Fire will draw a crowd for any number of reasons.  Nothing else in the Android market has managed to compete on the same level so far and it isn’t just because Amazon dropped prices.

There was a time when I would have predicted that Google of all companies would be quick to adapt to the competition.  The delays surrounding the Nexus 7’s release tend to indicate that this is not the case.  The company had trouble getting the power they needed to make this an ideal showcase for Android 4.1 while also keeping the price down at $199.  With Amazon clearly being willing to subsidize their hardware to bring in media customers, that price will almost certainly not be rising.  The Kindle Fire’s hardware will be improved nonetheless, though.

Right now, as I said, it is a clear choice.  If you truly want a tablet right now and can’t afford to wait, the Nexus 7 is the best thing on the market and you will not be disappointed.  Nobody else is going to release such an affordable yet functional general purpose Android tablet right now.  By the end of the year things will be more chaotic.  Customers will be facing holiday choices involving not only Kindle Fire vs Nexus 7 or Android vs iOS, but Everybody vs Windows 8.

All of the hardware looks like it is going to be impressive and tablet sales numbers are expected to be higher than ever.  Google will have had their tablet in peoples’ hands for longer than any of the major players besides Apple by that point.  It allows a lot of time for interest to have cooled in the meantime.  They are rumored to be trying to offset that by scheduling a later release of the Nexus 10, but the same rumors mention setbacks due to manufacturing difficulties so that may be off the table for a while.

Realistically, I think it is fair to say that Amazon will continue to be a major player (possibly THE major player) in Android tablets for the indefinite future.  The only thing they really have to worry about is the downfall of Android if Windows 8 tablets take off.  Google’s devices are going to be better at running stock Android builds, but Amazon has never tried to pass the Kindle Fire off as the most powerful device on the market.  As long as they can keep the comparisons from going too far in favor of the competition, the integrated media services will carry the sales.