Kindle Touch Update 5.1 Adds Landscape Mode, Language Support, and Translation

The Kindle Touch has had its firmware updates in preparation for a multi-national release, it seems.  Version 5.1 actually brings us a number of useful features that users have been vocal about desiring for their eReaders.  While the removal of the physical keyboard may have opened the door for Kindle availability in languages besides English, this is probably the biggest step we have seen so far in terms of making that a reality.

Here’s what we’re looking at right now (Amazon Support Page):

  • Landscape Mode

It is finally possible to switch back and forth between portrait and landscape orientations on the Kindle Touch.  While this has long been an option for Kindles, for whatever reason it has taken until now for the Touch to get with the program.  Good news since there are situations where you can’t reasonably  do without it.

  • Added Language Support

Kindle users can now choose from English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, or Portuguese according to personal preference.

  • Instant Translation

While reading, you can now highlight a word or selection and have it translated for you on the spot.  Translations go through Bing Translator and are obviously going to be imperfect, but this is both fun and useful.  Unfortunately, it won’t work very well if you like to read with the WiFi turned off to improve battery life.

  • Improved WiFi

Connectivity has been improved and users have more options.  Connect with WPS and some WPA2 Enterprise setups.

  • Read-to-Me With Text-to-Speech

This one is restricted to English for the moment, but the Kindle Touch can now read to you, including some magazine and newspaper articles.  Perhaps more robust language support will come later?

  • Expanded Sharing

This will basically just tell people what you’re reading, should you feel like sharing.  It fills in a feature missing in comparison to Nook and Kobo options, but doesn’t excite.

  • Onscreen Keyboard Suggestions

Let’s face it, onscreen keyboards are annoying.  On the Kindle Touch it is even worse because of the refresh rate of E Ink.  Now typing is far more manageable.  Huge improvement!

  • Kindle Format 8

This one was pretty much just housekeeping for Amazon.  If you’re going to try and build a new standard, the least you can do is make sure that the latest generation of the device it is being designed for can handle it.  Might make periodicals more readable, but overall reflowable text is still the biggest advantage of an E Ink Kindle.

The Kindle Touch just plain works better now, really.  They added enough that there should be reason for users old and new to be excited here.  Landscape mode might have just been crossing an essential fix off the list, but things like keyboard suggestions and translation on demand change the experience for the better.  I’m definitely looking forward to the next generation of Kindle now that we have an idea what the innovation it brings to the table will be, but for now I may finally be recommending the Kindle Touch over the Kindle Keyboard for the first time.

Why Amazon & The Kindle Deserve To Be Dominating Bookselling

This is going to be a bit controversial, I’m sure, given how Amazon has gone about using their influence to beat down smaller publishers and other suppliers recently, but when it comes right down to it there can be no doubt that Amazon deserves to be on top of the market right now.  It isn’t a matter of overhead or business ethics or anything like that either.  They are just the only company selling books right now that seems to be good at giving customers what they want.

Let’s think this through a bit.  People like to read.  Even before the Kindle and Nook started their competition, both companies were selling books.  Amazon had the advantage, mostly because they could afford to cut prices more than a company like B&N that had to deal with maintaining a storefront.  When the Agency Model was imposed by Apple and the Big Six Publishers, then, surely B&N should have taken off again, right?

This is admittedly an oversimplification of a complex situation, but when you throw in the common and intense criticism that Amazon faces from all quarters these days you have to wonder why nobody else has been able to attract attention as a superior alternative.  The Nook Simple Touch eReader is possibly the best hardware out there, for example, so why is the Kindle dominating the space?

The answer is that they know how to give customers what they want.  Not just in terms of free shipping, discounts, and other such monetary inducements.  Shopping for book on Amazon, Kindle Editions or not, is simply a better experience than anybody else offers.  Barnes & Noble provides customers with a site that is comparatively hard to navigate and that seems to openly privilege business agreements over anything else in how it presents potential buyers with suggestions.

Shopping for Nook Books, you get long lists of Bestsellers, anticipated releases, and other such predictable content.  It is just like what one would see when walking into a book store.  Interesting in some ways, but far from an organic series of recommendations based on what people are really enjoying right now.

In the Kindle Store, Bestsellers and Editors’ Picks are categories that have to be clicked through to.  Customers have an extensive list of potential categories for book browsing presented to one side and a completely fluid list of top selling titles on the other.  The only product placement is for the Kindle eReader itself.  On top of this, once moving into one of the many categories, the first thing you see is a list of books generated based on your own reading habits.  All Barnes & Noble gives you is their Booksellers’ picks.

Is Barnes & Noble doing something bad here?  Not at all.  But they are trying to maintain the sort of model used in their physical stores.  They are trying to act as gatekeepers and mediators, telling customers what they should want rather than presenting customers with something they may want.  This, more than anything, is what gives the Kindle user the superior overall experience.  If somebody is able to provide a similar sort of service, helping their customers rather than advertising at them, it will be the biggest blow Amazon has taken in eReading since they stepped into the field.  So far, it doesn’t seem like anybody has caught on.

Kindle Fire Apps: Game Recommendations

Tablet PCs are neat devices and the Kindle Fire is no exception.  While they’re great for watching videos on, and even pretty good for reading and listening to music in a pinch, I’ve not found games to be all that functional before now.  Maybe it was just the fact that my iPad is a bit too large and heavy for comfort, but anything more complex than Angry Birds gets old pretty quick.  In this respect, the smaller form of the Fire makes a huge difference.  It’s been a lot of fun to play with the past couple weeks, so I thought I would share some of my new favorites.

Plants vs. Zombies (Kindle Fire Edition)

Plant flowers quickly and strategically in order to protect your house from a zombie invasion.  You get a variety of stages, loads of seeds, and hordes of zombies who just can’t wait to pick your brain for a minute or two.

I’m sure this one doesn’t surprise many people.  It’s available on pretty much every platform in existence, yet it always manages to impress.  The Kindle Fire edition is particularly well done, in my opinion, and will provide hours of fun to new players and old fans alike.

Dabble HD

A while back I picked this one up for the heck of it when Amazon offered it up as a daily freebie.  Word games are neat and it looked essentially like a Boggle clone, so why not?  It turned out to be incredibly addictive.

You are given five rows of what are basically Scrabble tiles, each row slightly larger than the one above it (ranging from 2-6 letters from top to bottom).  From these, the goal is to use all your letters.  Rather than simply finding all possible combinations, you need to find the one combination that will allow all lines to be filled.  There are elements of strategy that enter into it, particularly if you’re having a very good game and can be picky about which row gets your highest scoring tiles, but even when you can’t figure out that last piece in the puzzle it is hard to put down.

Quell

Quite possibly the most highly rated game in the Amazon Appstore at the time of my writing this.  It’s a fun little puzzle game that’s so simple to learn how to play that you almost don’t realize how complex it can become.

The controls are simple, and the concept is likely to be familiar.  You swipe in the direction that you want to go and then move in a straight line until you hit a wall.  The idea is to achieve the highest possible efficiency while achieving your goals.  Definitely not as flashy or fast paced as many other options you’ll find in the store, but sometimes a simple, elegant option will be more appealing.  Supposedly a sequel is right on the horizon as well, just in case the 80 or so boards you have to solve in this version don’t do enough for you.

 

Let The Book Seer Choose Your Next Book

bookseer

Have you already gone through everything on your Kindle?  Don’t know how to fill up that 2 gigabytes (or the whopping 4 on DX)?  Let The Book Seer come to the rescue!

The Book Seer is really just a combination of several recommendation engines, including Amazon’s.  Sure, you could just let Amazon give you their recommendations, but you would lose out on the dramatic presentation and woodcut graphics.  Plus, the Book Seer gives you a lot more results than just Amazon’s suggestions alone.  It’s also kind of interesting to see how Amazon’s recommendation algorithm compares to the others.

At the very least, The Book Seer will provide you with a time waster for a couple minutes.