I’ve had my Kindle since September, and it’s one of the few electronics devices that, even several months later, I’m completely satisfied by. (That’s rare for me. Usually I fall in love with a new gadget for about a month before I start wanting something later and greater. See also: Vibrant, Nexus S, etc.) I’ve been positively hyperbolic in my praise, really, but I can’t stop using it, which means I can’t stop talking about it.
Right now, I’m reading Frank: The Voice, a biography of Sinatra. I like reading about Frank when he was my age, and it’s a good book, written by James Kaplan, who’s usually a novelist, apparently. Which I suppose helps the dramatic build of the story.
Last week was the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, which is a major event in which myriad companies display what will hopefully become next-gen technologies. New 3D LED televisions. Better wireless speeds for networks like T-Mobile and Verizon. New phones from just about everyone, including Motorola, Samsung, and even a new iPhone to work on Verizon’s wireless network.
Electronic readers–ereaders–are becoming trendy in gadgets. The category used to be niche, with little selection, but basically Amazon’s Kindle changed that. Not right away, of course, but now that Kindle’s on its third generation and selling strongly, pretty much everyone is getting in on the action. Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. Sony’s been updating their line to match Amazon, and the devices are becoming more common. Apple’s iPad isn’t really in this category, though it can fulfill the functions of said category; as more companies release more tablet computers, we may see some decline in ereaders.
Which would be a shame. The nook color is in the same category as a Kindle–a dedicated digital reading device–and it’s got some impressive features, but it’s least good at the one thing it’s supposed to be for; it uses an LCD screen, and that sucks. One of the great features of the Kindle is its gorgeous screen, which uses e-ink for display.
Now, the Kindle doesn’t do any color whatsoever. And it’s merely adequate at pictures. And if you want to read a magazine, you’re probably better off, you know, buying a magazine.
But for reading books? It’s almost perfect.
The form factor’s terrific. It’s smaller than most trade paperbacks, and about the same thickness when you factor in the lighted case you’re going to want, because–as with a regular book–you can’t see it in the dark without illumination.
I’d change the keyboard. The third generation Kindle has the best one so far, but that’s not saying much. If I were Amazon, I’d seek out whoever designs the keyboard for Blackberry phones, which have a reputation for being the best in the industry. It’s not like Blackberry has anything better to do at the moment. Its cell sales are tanking, and it’s losing market fast.
The screen could use another inch or so, but I don’t think that’s necessary. It does the job, and it really is great for simple black-on-white text, which is what most trade books are, be they novels or non-fiction. The screen is never fully, completely white, but I think that’s best, actually; I think a higher contrast might be distracting and add to eye-strain.
Honestly, what Amazon needs to improve is not the device but the Kindle experience overall, and there are a couple ways for Amazon to do so:
–A better shopping experience. Across platforms. The Kindle app is always the best reading app on whatever device you’re using (even, now, on the nook color), but it’s not a great shopping up. It’s not very intuitive, and there are a lot of clicks and choices and etc. Amazon pioneered the one-click purchase, and I can’t imagine why it’s not translated here.
–A better store. The Kindle store, on the actual Kindle, sucks. The best way to shop for a book on Kindle is to go to Amazon and send whatever you want to your device, because good luck finding it otherwise. The search is adequate, but the filtering options are terrible and the sub-categories never go deep enough. Want to sort your results? So far as I can see, you can’t. That means you often get 400 pages of results you can’t change the order of, and you can’t filter from, say, lowest price to highest price, or any other way. It’s totally annoying, given that the website experience is better.
There’s one other thing Amazon needs, but it gets its own discussion, rather than a bullet. Because big news lately has been that Google’s doing ebooks now, too. Everyone’s doing ebooks now.
I think Amazon needs to do two things to absolutely kill; buy Goodreads, and integrate better with Facebook.
Reading is solitary, but books and stories are communal. The power of a good book is not merely the words on the page but rather how those words affect the people who read them. Good ideas change the world, but they do so by virtue of being shared within it.
Right now, there’s a bit of a function to highlight passages in a book, which can then be shared; if you really want to use the feature, you can make it so the device shows you, as you read, what other people have highlighted. It’s pretty unobtrusive; just an underline beneath the passage in question. At first, I’d shut it off–just more distraction–but then, as a writer, I’ve discovered I rather like it. It shows me what passages have caught people. It shows me what sparks people’s enthusiasm enough to click buttons, and to share. Most of the passages are pithy; almost all are brief–just a line or two.
There’s an option to click and share a highlight to both Twitter and Facebook. Which is pleasant enough as a diversion.
But now that Amazon is allowing both people to both gift and lend books on a Kindle, it is acknowledging a greater community, and I think it needs to help host that community. Buying Goodreads–a reading site, where people can friend each other, and recommend books, and participate in groups–would, I think, be the way to go.
The people who use Goodreads–those readers whom reading excites, and who buy multiple books per year, and read those books, and talk about those books–are precisely the people who will use Kindle. Kindles aren’t a device for people who read only a couple of books every year. Kindles are for people for whom reading is not casual–like Goodreads users.
Now Facebook is a different story. I’m not entirely sure how the integration could be implemented, but I know pretty much everyone I know is on it, and uses it, and I feel like there could be a Kindle app akin to Ruralville or whatever–so many people spend so much time harvesting virtual crops and filling virtual aquariums (aquaria?).
What I think would be awesome is if Amazon could sycn Kindle the way Google syncs Android with Gmail and its other services. I don’t need to browse Goodreads on my Kindle, but it would be neat if, when I got to the end of a book, there was an option to rate it, and that rating would sync over to Goodreads. It would be neat if all the books I purchased on Amazon–for Kindle or otherwise–simply showed up in my Goodreads library. It would be really neat if there were a ridiculously easy way to lend a Kindle book to one of my Goodreads friends.
I think it’s a match made in Heaven, and I think it’s a golden opportunity for Amazon and Kindle. The corporate publishing industry is failing because it forgot what it exists to do, and what business it’s in; it’s not in the book business. Books are merely vessels for the stories and ideas contained within. Publishing is, and has always been, and will always be, in the community-building industry, and its service is the delivery of information to readers. For too long, corporate publishers ignored readers to sell to booksellers, brick-and-mortar stores the two largest of whom are quickly failing and likely about to shutter doors.
Amazon doesn’t have to make that mistake. Amazon’s never been in the bookselling business, or in the publishing business. It’s always been in the business of delivering to customers exactly what they want, and its customers only tangibly want books; really, its customers want information and the means to share it.