Tag Archives | E-Readers

No Color Kindles for Years Might Mean No Kindles

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos says that a Kindle e-reader with a color screen won’t show up any time soon:

The Amazon CEO also said a color version of the Kindle was not imminent.

“I know it’s multiple years. I don’t know how many years but it’s years,” he said.

“I’ve seen the color displays in the laboratory and I can assure you they’re not ready for prime time,” Bezos said.

Bezos’s stance sounds like it’s based on the assumption that the Kindle will continue to use a power-miserly E-Ink screen, or at least that Amazon is unwilling to consider the possibility of an LCD Kindle with a battery life measured in hours, not days. I persist in the stubborn notion that we live in a color world, and that the Kindle might have trouble competing with a cool, multipurpose tablet device in a similar form factor from, oh, say, Apple–even if the tablet had a traditional LCD display with traditional uninspiring battery life. I’m also intrigued by alternative display technologies such as that offered by Pixel Qi, which may bridge the gap between the benefits of E-Ink and LCD.

Maybe Bezos is being less than entirely forthcoming–hey, if Amazon is working on color right now, it’s not going to tell us–but if I were him, I’d be formulating plans to have some sort of color Kindle out in months, not years…


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Another Plastic Logic Preview

plasticlogic1When I first saw Plastic Logic’s big touchscreen e-reader aimed at businesspeople back at the DEMO conference last fall, I was impressed. When I saw it again at CES in January, I remained impressed. Today, the company’s founders showed off their brainchild yet again at another major launchpad for new tech gadgets, the Wall Street Journal’s D conference. If I was there, I’d probably be impressed all over again. But also maybe a little impatient.

When Plastic Logic first appeared in September, it was strikingly different than Amazon’s Kindle: larger and more corporate, with built-in tools for reading office documents. Then Amazon announced its Kindle DX earlier this month–a Kindle variant that’s larger and which includes PDF support, at least. It’ll also ship months before the Plastic Reader, which is at least seven months away (the company says it’ll show up in 2010). .

The Plastic Logic folks assured D’s Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher that their e-reader is different and better than Kindle’s DX–as well they would, and as it may well be. But I think you can only demo an unreleased product so often, over a certain length of time, before it stops feeling fresh and exciting and runs the risk of being perceived as vaporware. I’ll bet you we’ll hear more news about Plastic Logic as it signs up publishers to distribute their wares on its platform. But if the next major demo of the gizmo didn’t come until it was ready to ship, I wouldn’t object at all…


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The iPhone App Censorship Madness Continues

eucalyptusEucalyptus is an iPhone application that that lets you download and read books from the expansive Project Gutenberg library of free public-domain works. Judging from its Web site, it’s more or less comparable to Amazon’s Kindle application–except all the content is free, and the interface looks to be prettier. The asking price is $9.99–steep for an iPhone program, but I’m tempted.

Except Apple won’t let us buy Eucalyptus: According to developer James Montgomerie, it rejected the program for including material that is “obscene, pornographic, offensive, or defamatory.”

The material in question is the Kama Sutra, which has been offending (and intriguing) people for centuries. It’s not included with Eucalyptus–no book is–but it’s available at Project Gutenberg, and you can therefore use Eucalyptus to read it.

The thing is, you can also use multiple approved iPhone e-readers to peruse it, including the Kindle app, Stanza, and Bookshelf. If Apple has previously banned any e-reader because someone might use it to download and read a dirty book, it’s news to me. Apple clearly isn’t forcing Amazon to censor books that are available on the Kindle app–a search for “sex” in Amazon’s Kindle bookstore is, well, downright revolting (NSFW, or anyplace else tasteful) in spots.

If the mere fact that an app could be used to download something dirty was enough to ban it from the iPhone, of course, Apple’s own Safari would never have made it onto the phone: The Web is bursting at the seams with items that are obscene, pornographic, offensive, and/or defamatory. And I still haven’t seen a good explanation as to why Apple is willing to sell music whose very titles are nasty, as well as some pretty earthy movies–but wants stuff on the iPhone to be inoffensive.

My guess is that Apple’s policies don’t really ban Eucalyptus. It seems far more likely that the app fell victim to an overzealous and underinformed member of Apple’s staff who simply twisted the intent of the App Store’s rules and applied them in a way that nobody ever meant to enforce them. At this point, the biggest problem with Apple’s iPhone App store policies isn’t that they’re unreasonable: It’s that they seem to be applied in an utterly random fashion. It’s crummy for developers of worthwhile software–and, more important, crummy for iPhone owners. Longterm, it’s also crummy for Apple, since it’s one of the few major black marks against an otherwise extraordinary platform.

What’s next? Eucalyptus developer James Montgomerie says he’s decided to “rent out” his soul by creating a version of the program that manually blocks the Kama Sutra. It’s unclear whether Apple will give the go-ahead to this variant. And it looks possible, at least, that the parental controls planned for the iPhone 3.0 software will render the issue moot by allowing iPhone owners to determine whether or not questionable stuff can be downloaded onto the phone.

Neither of those solutions is entirely satisfying, though: It’s ludicrous for Montgomerie to have to censor one of the most widely-published books ever printed when it’s available in other iPhone e-readers, and it would be silly if Eucalyptus was hobbled with being labeled an adults-only app when and if it makes its way to the App Store. I’m writing this post in part because I hope that this whole fiasco gets enough attention to prompt Apple to fast-track Eucalyptus through the acceptance process. And I’m optimistic enough to think that’s a likely scenario.


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It’s the Kindle–Only Larger! And the Plastic Logic Reader–Only Sooner!

Kindle DXAmazon has unveiled its new, larger Kindle, and it’s pretty much what you’d guess it would be–a device that looks a lot like today’s Kindle 2, with more screen real estate. The Kindle DX has a 9.7-inch screen (that’s twice the space of the 2’s 6 inches), costs $489, and is shipping some time this summer. It’s got the built-in capability to read PDF files, and the larger, 1280-by-824 display means it can show magazine pages without reformatting.

Like an iPhone, the Kindle auto-rotates the display when you flip the device into landscape orientation. And it’s got 3.3GB of available memory, good for storing up to to 3,500 books (the Kindle 2 stores 1,500).

The screen uses the same E-Ink technology as the Kindle 2; Jeff Bezos’s letter repeats Amazon’s mantra that it “looks and reads like real paper,” and says that text and images are “amazingly sharp.” But even though the DX will be able to show photos and other art at a comfortable large size, E-Ink’s sixteen shades of gray will have trouble making anything that was originally in color look “amazing.”

Besides the newspapers and magazines that are already available in Kindle format, a bunch of textbook publishers have signed on to produce tomes for the new Kindle, and several colleges say they’ll distribute Amazon’s new gadget to students. Sounds good to me: I still wince when I remember lugging my backpack full of books, and wince even more when I recall how absurdly expensive many textbooks were.

And here’s something a little weird: If you sign up for a long-term subscription to the New York Times, the Boston Globe, or the Washington Post, you can get a discount off the DX’s somewhat intimidating pricetag–but only people who live in areas where they can’t get home delivery of the dead-tree versions of the papers qualify. Sorry, tech-savvy locals!

Plastic LogicThe Kindle DX would seem to be a great big Amazonian shot across the bow of Plastic Logic’s similar reader. Plastic Logic announced its device last September, but doesn’t plan to ship it until early 2010, which gave Amazon plenty of time to steal some of its thunder. It too has a big E-Ink screen and PDF capability (as well as support for Microsoft Office and other formats); it uses a touchscreen instead of buttons and a keyboard, and has Wi-Fi instead of the Kindle’s EVDO. It’s still an intriguing device, and I don’t think it’s aiming at precisely the same audience as the Kindle DX–Plastic Logic envisions businesspeople loading up their reader with Word documents and PowerPoints. But it’ll be the second one in its category when it shows up, not the first. I wonder if Amazon would have come up with the DX if it didn’t know that the Plastic Logic device was in the works?


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Coming This Week: A Giant Kindle?

Giant Kindle[UPDATE: Amazon’s announcing something on Monday–it’s sent out invites to journalists for a press event in New York.]

The New York Times is reporting that Amazon.com is about to introduce a larger-screen version of its Kindle e-reader, tailored for magazines, newspapers, and, possibly, textbooks. If so, it would be an early entrant in what’s shaping up to be a bustling race of new e-readers that set out to save the magazine and newspaper industries. But my guess is that any Kindle variant that’s imminent isn’t going to be an industry-rescuing breakthrough.

Dozens of magazines and papers are already available on the current Kindle, and while that’s a good thing, the presentation and navigation are disappointing. You don’t get the original color layouts of the printed page or the interactivity of the Web. It’s hard to hop around between stories in anything but sequential fashion, and the Kindle’s sixteen shades of greenish gray can’t compete with the full color of the printed page.

If I had to make a call on which was the superior way to read magazine content–on the Web or in print–I’d need to think it over. But I do know that Kindle magazines, in their current form, lag behind both of those options.

A big-screen kindle that displayed magazine pages in their original layout at something close to full size would be an intriguing device, but without color, it wouldn’t be an exciting one. And there’s no way that even a large Kindle is going to show magazine pages in their traditional layout (although it’s an entertaining idea–maybe the screen could fold in half so you could fit the thing into a briefcase)?

Amazon’s not about to reveal that the E-Ink technology used in the Kindle can now do color, and my guess is that the company is unwilling to release a color-screen Kindle that can’t run for days on a battery charge. So any almost-here big Kindle likely uses the E-Ink screen, and does at least some reformatting of material. If it’s essentially the same Kindle 2 that Amazon sells today except that it crams more words onto the screen, it’ll be a relatively minor edition to the Kindle lineup. (I have a pretty long list of criticisms of the Kindle 2, but the amount of wordage per screen isn’t one of them.)

Maybe Amazon has come up with a way to make moving through issues and stories less of a plodding, front-to-back affair. If so, that would be a more significant step forward than any hardware it’s likely to announce–and I hope it would brings it to us owners of small-screen Kindles, too.


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Amazon Buys Itself Another iPhone E-Book Reader

Amazon.com, whose Kindle for the iPhone is an iffy application with impressive content, has bought Lexcycle, whose Stanza is a much better piece of iPhone software whose content offerings, while diverse, don’t compare with the profusion of big-name best-sellers in the Kindle catalog.

Commenting on the deal at Lexcycle blog, Lexcycle’s honchos say:

We are not planning any changes in the Stanza application or user experience as a result of the acquisition. Customers will still be able to browse, buy, and read ebooks from our many content partners. We look forward to offering future products and services that we hope will resonate with our passionate readers.

I hope that the above does mean that Stanza won’t become a Kindle-only proprietary reader. But I do hope that Stanza adds the ability to access Kindle content, or the Stanza developers redo Kindle for the iPhone–in other words, that Stanza and Kindle get mashed up in a way that preserves the virtues of both. And I assume this will happen in one fashion or another. Why else would Amazon invest in an impressive piece of e-reader software?


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More on Plastic Logic’s Reader

I popped by Plastic Logic’s booth here at DEMO to get a closer look at its thin, full-sized e-reader and ask a few questions. What we saw this morning was unquestionably a very early sneak peek at a product that’s still under development: The Plastic Logic folks haven’t named the reader, won’t say how much it will cost, and aren’t disclosing anything about its price.

Once of the nice things about DEMO is that attendees usually have the opportunity to try out the new stuff for themselves. But the Plastic Logic reader was sitting inside a glass case where neither attendees nor Plastic Logic staffers could touch it. I can’t think of another instance of product at DEMO being presented in such a hands-off manner, though it did remind me of the iPhone’s unveiling at Macworld Expo in 2007.

With the reader cased away, I could get a sense of the general form factor–it’s nice and thin. But I couldn’t hold it and gauge its weight. And the exhibition wasn’t of much use at all for judging the screen quality, since the reader was sitting under lighting in what was presumably an ideal setup. (One of the issues with the e-ink technology used by the Plastic Logic reader and the Kindle is that the grey-on-grey text becomes hard to read in less-than-optimal lighting.)

The Plastic Logic reps I chatted with talked about business people being excited about doing presentations on the reader. I can see the form factor appealing, but I’d think that the grainy black-and-white graphics would discourage most people from doing that in most instances.

Oh, and they said that the reader will have Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and built-in software for converting documents into the appropriate format for reading on the device.

It seems inevitable that it will someday be possible to build a reader in a size similar to the Plastic reader with a really good color screen and marathon battery life–I just don’t know if it’s a year or two away, or a decade or two. I do know that I’d like to have one right now…


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Plastic Logic’s Reader: Electronic Paper That’s the Size of a Piece of Paper

The first morning of demos here at DEMO has begun, and the second product unveiling of the day looks potentially cool: A company called Plastic Logic previewed an e-book reader that uses electronic paper technology similar to that of the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader–but in a larger, thinner form factor with a full touchscreen.

Plastic Logic says that unlike the Kindle and Sony, its product is aimed at folks reading business documents and magazines (the demo involved a copy of The Economist). The reader includes markup and annotation features that leverage the touchscreen, and the 8.5″-by-11″ screen size obviously makes sense both in terms of providing more real estate and mimicking the typical size of business documents printed on plain old paper.

I have and enjoy using a Kindle, but I’m still something of an electronic paper skeptic: The displays are monochrome, with gray text on a gray background, and there’s not enough grayscale to do decent photos. (I remain baffled by hype for electronic paper that touts it as looking like real paper or being wonderfully legible.) And while the Plastic Logic reader has some advantages over a notebook–it’s a third the weight of a MacBook Air and the electronic paper technology lets it run for days on one battery charge–I’m curious whether the business types that the company wants to cater to will buy and carry both a notebook and an electronic reader.

So far, I’ve only seen the Plastic reader from my seat in DEMO’s demo hall; I’m looking forward to seeing it up close. The company didn’t mention a price or a shipping date–actually, even the product name is TBD.


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