$80 Kindle 4 Might Be Problematic For Amazon’s School Penetration

It is no secret that Amazon has its eyes on getting Kindles into schools.  That was pretty clear even before the Kindle DX pilot programs and Kindle textbook rentals.  The best part of that for them is that many students and teachers would just love to adopt the new technology.  Unfortunately the issue of accessibility has gotten in the way of such efforts in the past and seem likely to intrude even more so now with the release of the $80 basic Kindle.

The initial efforts to get students and teachers to adopt the Kindle met with some complications.  There are objections to the eReader in general, based on the idea that, since students are trained from early on to highlight and annotate their books while reading actively, they will find themselves less engaged than usual in non-paper books.  This isn’t unreasonable, but it basically amounts to the argument that things shouldn’t change because things have always been this way.  A bit circular.  At best, this side implies that early adoption is essential.

We also get people concerned that a Kindle will be a bad long-term investment due to the stranglehold of the Agency Model on pricing, which results in less substantial savings than seem reasonable.  This was more of a concern in the past, and will probably come up rarely now that an $80 Kindle is available.  The fact that students now have an extremely cheap option open to them that can borrow library books and rent texts from Amazon will likely be a big draw.

Official endorsement, and the potential for textbook replacement that that would provide, is still unlikely.  The legal complication regarding accessibility remains a large one.  Since eBooks cannot provide equal access for the visually impaired, they can’t replace textbooks in most school systems.  The Kindle seemed to be on its way to addressing these concerns with features like Text to Speech, but even that isn’t quite there yet.  It doesn’t help that publishers can turn the feature off, of course.

With the new Kindle’s complete lack of audio capability, the existing objections gain even more traction.  Now even if Amazon did find a reasonable way to address the conversion of print to audio that satisfied opponents, there would still be the problem of it not being applicable to the most affordable level of the price tier system.

If I had to make a guess, honestly, I would say that Amazon seems to have given up on the idea of formal adoption by the school systems.  The new approach, which definitely seems to have more potential, is a direct marketing to the students and parents of students.  It avoids bureaucracy and still manages to save everybody money in the long run.

As eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular become ever more common, it won’t be too hard to get educators to be a bit more open to their presence in the classroom.  Lots has been done to make it more possible, from real page numbers to shared annotation, to make the Kindle more appealing in this market.  They’re not going to abandon it entirely.

eReaders in the Classroom: Kindle vs iPad vs Nook Color

I spend a lot of time thinking about the potential uses for eReaders beyond the simple enjoyment they are so well suited to providing.  It’s an interesting pursuit, really.  What it always comes back to, however, is that reading is rarely something people do for anything beyond pleasure in the quantities required to justify something like a Kindle.  Except if you’re a student!

See, students will always have more to read in a given week than they will have any interest in carrying around.  Which makes something like a Kindle an advantage.  At the same time, in many disciplines the mediocre PDF display capabilities, small screen, and lack of color do have the ability to hinder the eReader’s usefulness.  Recently, however, we have the iPad and the Nook Color as more expensive but potentially more versatile additions to the student equipment list.  It made me curious: We can theorize all we want about what should or shouldn’t be the most useful in a professional or academic setting, but what do the people actually using the devices in these situations think?  So I asked.

I talked to 43 students who had all used their eReading device for at least three months.  I then went down the list and found the common complaints and praises to share with you all.  Here’s what we got:

Amazon Kindle

Pros:

  • Battery that lasts forever
  • Glare-free screen
  • Storage aplenty
  • Built-in Dictionary
  • Wide selection of books, both academic & pleasurable

Cons:

  • No color for diagrams
  • No functioning microphone
  • No way to easily take notes during class
  • Awkward pagination
  • Slow text searching
  • Hard to read faculty-scanned articles

Barnes & Noble Nook Color

Pros:

  • Color Screen
  • Very Portable
  • Easy to hack
  • Runs Android
  • Can play games and watch video after hacking

Cons:

  • Poor Battery Life with WiFi turned on
  • Can’t read outside
  • Complicated to install things on
  • Underpowered for full tablet use

Apple iPad

Pros:

  • Runs everything
  • Good screen
  • Can take notes with proper keyboard
  • Fast
  • Lots of apps, no hacking needed

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Feels breakable
  • Expensive
  • Disliked by some instructors
  • Very easy to spend too much money through

Now, I’ll start out by saying here that not one person I talked to lately was unhappy with their current purchase.  A few of the Nook Color owners had iPad envy, but that was about it. I am also not trying to claim that any of the pros and cons listed for one device do not apply to one of the others.  These were just the things that those I talked to felt was important.  Everything listed was mentioned by at least five eReader owners.

Surprisingly, of the 12 Nook owners, 10 had rooted their eReaders to make them more functional and most of them said that they enjoyed the tablet functionality more than using them for reading.  iPad owners were very happy with their devices, but frequently had trouble with instructors who were wary of potential abuse of the tablets during classes(presumably the same instructors would be anti-laptop as well, of course).  Kindle owners were the most satisfied in general but tended to be students in the Humanities, while some of the color tablet owners, in business students, mentioned having been converted away from the Kindle in favor of something that better displayed charts and graphs.

I wouldn’t say we have any clear winners on this one.  It’s all a matter of what you want to do and how much you want to pay.  If you’re a student in the market for an eReader, you might want to look at some reviews and give these factors some consideration.

For any of you I happened to talk to for this, the responses were appreciated!

What We Know About the Kno

While it’s ridiculously early to be talking much about a product that will, in the best possible case that they’re claiming, not be available until late fall(December has been mentioned), the Kno is an interesting take on the eReader market and might address some of the reasons that the Kindle is having trouble taking off as anything but a library resource at many universities.  While the Kindle is far more pleasant than any LCD for leisure reading, eye strain is usually a lesser concern for a student hitting the books.

Here’s what we know so far:

  • It’s HUGE.  Two linked 14″LCD touchscreens meant to accommodate a full sized textbook with note-taking capability and integrated annotation functions for textbooks
  • It’s expensive.  They’ve not released much information about pricing yet, but most sources and interviews about the device tend to focus on the range of $1,000
  • WiFi enabled.  Enough said.  It’s for students and if you can find a college student without regular internet access these days, you’re likely going to a lot of trouble for it. 3G would be overkill
  • Deals with McGraw Hill, Pearson, Wiley and others already in place for textbook distribution
  • SDK entering Beta this year.  More options are always better and it’s a safe bet that the application selection on this one will be essential

That’s about it.  The size and weight will be off-putting for a lot of people.  This is clearly not a leisure device for most.  For students already used to carrying around multiple textbooks each the same size as and nearly the same weight as these devices, however, it makes a lot of sense.  The ability to display textbooks with natural pagination, little to no scrolling, and annotation by the student has the potential to make the Kno a must-have for students.  Overall, the news is cautiously optimistic.

Yes, this is simply the new incarnation of the Kakai device we reported on a while back.  We’ve gotten more details and they’ve gotten more interesting since then.  A second glance was merited.