Waaay Off Topic, But…

Amazon.com has released its new Kindle e-book reader, which does a lot of stuff right, but also disappoints in two important areas.  Accessibility and price.  But it has the form factor just about right.

I think it’s all about form factor, and the standard size and shape of the traditional book is pleasing. The book evolved to its present shape and form because it works well with the size of our hands, has a page width our brains comfortably scan, and a range of text size that suits our eyes when the book is comfortably readable in a resting-armed position, etc. On the other hand, books have some serious drawbacks that have always bothered me, ever since I was a kid. You have to wrestle them to keep them open, sometimes cramping your thumbs…or you have to practically break the binding of them to get them to lay fairly flat in your hands so you can read all the way to the inside of a page. They age, yellow, get musty, store poorly, take up amazing amounts of space if you have a lot of them, and weigh a ton if you have to tote them around. Their covers wear, their bindings fail, and their pages wrinkle. You can stop to scratch your nose, accidentally close your book, and lose your place. Some books are printed with squintingly-small text, which gets annoying as you hit your middle-ages. Books also have the unfortunate quality of being fairly linear and difficult to search. How many times have I read something in a book and later wanted to refer to it, or tell someone about it, and spent ages trying to find the passage again.

I think the form factor and features of Kindle and some of the other book readers that have come out of late seems just about right. I can imagine snuggling up in a chair and reading from one, just like I would a book. It’s the right physical dimensions and page size (I have difficulty picturing myself curling up with a nice PDA), can adjust its text to my eyesight, holds a whole library of books in a 10 ounce package, is just as clear to view outdoors on the patio as it is in the den, will undoubtedly remember what page I’m on if I get distracted, will let me mark my place without having to use a comb or whatever’s within reach, and will let me skip around in it rapidly, leaping to chapters rather than flipping and thumbing a lot..

While I haven’t learned all the features of Kindle yet, I have to assume that if it can search Wikipedia, it may also be able to search its own contents, meaning the reader should be able to rapidly find something he/she read earlier. That’s a real plus.

To me, the larger question isn’t whether this type of device is valuable; it is to me, definitely. I’ve wanted a paper book substitute for a long time. It’s whether Kindle is the right one. Amazon is playing Apple here. It wants to lock readers into a format and force them to buy their books and publications through them. They’re so protective of their book reading format that you can’t even read a PDF unless you first submit it to them for proprietary conversion to Kindle format. If I’m going to spend that sort of money on an e-book reader, I want it to be universally useful. There’s something a little insulting to be about being told, “We’re going to sell you this at a premium price, and then charge you for the privilege of only being able to get your content for it by purchasing it from us.”

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