With the advent of Kindle, from Amazon, a second dedicated ebook reader device has made the news, not counting the press and high hypes of the many preceding, deceasing ebook device contenders. There is a lot to like about Kindle on the face of it: like the Sony reader, Kindle uses the very effective E-Ink display, and few argue that the display lacks sufficient print page fidelity. But, so what? If you want good black type on white, readable only when illuminated by lamp or sun, the book itself has proved a pretty good format.
But, of course, Kindle promises much more, including all the old bromides about ebooketry like storing many titles, interactive index capabilities, bookmarking, etc., but there are some new tricks in Kindle that may indeed spark new interest. The best one is that through cellphone data network connectivity, the user may order new titles anywhere and anytime the cell network works (which, admittedly, is a whole lot more where and when than Wi-Fi, unless one happens never to leave the office or home network, or lives in a Starbucks). Hats off to Amazon for this innovation. Other features include some sort of Web browsing, an online ebook ordering system that should be second nature to Amazon, and, kinda, MP3 playability. But many of the newest features Kindle offers are more disappointment than delivery, and these shortfalls have everything to do with one of the biggest conceptual problems of dedicated ebook readers in the real world: The additional device conundrum.
While readability is a key requirement for an ebook device (and the lack of which helps explains why PDAs have proved to be a poor ebook market factor), the human species has neither physically evolved more hands, nor has human culture fashioned more pockets. Like 99% of people, I have enough trouble making sure that I have my keys with me when they might be needed, and when you throw in the now essential cellphone, it can seem like half of each day is spent performing the mime of pocket swatting. (Thank god I long ago gave up smoking, and now no longer have to also pat myself down to see about matches or the pack.) People sherpa the minimum, and the idea of having a cell phone, and a PDA, and an MP3 player, and a laptop, and an ebook reader doesn’t require a lot of imagining to be seen as unattractive. And that’s before you figure than anyone hitting their forties also has to carry reading glasses, not to mention for some of any age inhalers or secure ID cards, and for many, breath mints, handkerchiefs, gloves or mittens, and the wallet or two. I’m sure that this is all good training if you’re going to be a combat grunt, but for daily living our current list of the things we carry is a burden.
That’s what drives me crazy about Kindle. It has a built-in cell phone, but there’s no option to use it for anything else other than ordering a book. It has the ICs and jacks for playing MP3 files, but no playlist management, nor—absurdly enough, considering that Amazon is set up to sell things like music—any iTunes-like music downloading. The critical assessment of the Web browsing capability of Kindle is not fully formed, but there’s already plenty of complaint about the Kindle’s shortcomings there. Even one of the strong features of Kindle—E-ink—comes with its own drawback; while promotional copy claims that it is just like reading a page, that also means that you can’t read without a light, so better add a booklight to your pack, even as you’re carrying an electrically powered “book.” And with Kindle’s fundamental lack of support of PDF files—without question the single most widespread format for ebooks—you have to wonder, “What were they thinking?!”
Yes, I’d love to have an ebook device with seamless book ordering. But gosh darn it, it better handle phone calls and calendars, text entry and music playlists, and a good enough Web browser before I’d consider it. Throw in a breath mints storage bin, and I’m sold.