An article by Ezra Klein in the Washington Post caught my attention because Klein has caught on to the elegance of the Kindle app, especially its synched uploading of highlights and notes, that I’ve written about. I have found few other people who are talking about what a game-changing capability this is, so Klein’s giving it such an important place in his discussion of the potential of eBooks stands out (boldface added):

I don’t think we have any clear concept of how good eBooks are going to become. I wasn’t at all impressed with the first generation of eBooks, or eBook readers. When asked to review the first-generation Kindle, I reviewed it poorly and sold my device as soon as I’d finished the article. But now? I have the Kindle application on my home computer, my work computer, my iPad, and my phone. Wherever I am, my books are there, too. My place is always saved. My highlights and notes are automatically uploaded to a central Amazon server that I can access from any internet connection. I get more out of my books now, can read them in more places, can search back through them with more ease, can integrate them into my job with less hassle.

Klein doesn’t mention the Amazon tablet that’s been widely predicted to be coming out sometime in the next several months. Amazon’s dominance of eBook content combined with a strong tablet rival to Apple’s iPad, and leadership in “The Cloud” would put Amazon in a strong place in the eBook market.

Surprisingly, in the talk I’ve seen about the presumed Amazon tablet, it hasn’t been connected to the existing Kindle app. But the elegant tricks that Amazon has bundled with the Kindle app will certainly be carried over to the tablet. So if you want to see the future of eBooks, try out the Kindle App on your PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or Android Phone.

Related articles:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

In January I wrote articles about the wonderful way Amazon’s Kindle app works on non-Kindle devices to allow cross-platform reading of Kindle eBooks. Using the Kindle apps on other devices (iPad and iPhone have been especially popular) has advantages over using the Kindle device, such as easy highlighting and note-taking. It was ironic. then, that it was just a week after I wrote that news came out that Apple would be putting restrictions on the use of the Kindle app on the the iPad and iPhone. While it’s not clear how much this will restrict use of the app on Apple devices, it seems likely to diminish their use.

With a relatively small number of titles available on the iBookStore, Apple is not in the business of providing content, unlike Amazon, with its KindleStore, and Google, with the Google eBookStore. So, with so few books of  its own, it’s surprising that Apple is putting restrictions on Kindle app users, instead of encouraging them — Hey, Apple, it seems like Amazon is helping you out!

Kindle apps on the iPad have been immensely popular, as described in my previous article, and the reaction to the new Apple policy has been strongly negative. A tweet by @fienen on Feb 15 highlights this (boldface added):

The content wars continue. Apple may have played the wrong card here. Big time. Official: Apple locks down the Kindle app http://ow.ly/3WVcP

On the same day as this tweet, an article in CNNMoney reported recent remarks by AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, in which he called Amazon’s Kindle e-reader app the best business decision of the past decade, which made Amazon “‘the poster child’ of the cloud computing movement” — I don’t know about that, but I’d say the Kindle app certainly showed Amazon’s astuteness about the eBook cloud environment.

I think the future of eBooks is going to belong to the one who can bring together the devices & computers with the best collection of books. Right now, Apple has the devices and Amazon has the most books. So get with it, Apple — Amazon has opened up it’s books to play with your devices, so how about reciprocating?

What will Google do?

Looming over the spat between Apple and Amazon, of course, is … Google. As I said in concluding my previous article about the Kindle app ecosystem, “imagine the possibilities if Google puts their attention to doing something like this for their collection of public domain eBooks” — Bringing together the devices (Android tablets) and the books (Google eBookstore) in Google’s one big house.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I wrote in my last article about using Kindle apps to capture highlighted text on a web page so it can be pasted to other applications. This seems like a major advance in eBook reading to me. Surprisingly, I’ve found few other people who have given this the importance that I do, with one notable exception — After discovering that I could use the Kindle app to capture text, as I described in the previous article, I finally did discover an article that I’m excerpting here by education writer Will Richardson, in which he describes having the same Aha! experience with the Kindle annotation capture that I did.

The only comment I have about Richardson’s narrative is that he writes of his experience with the Kindle app on an iPad, and doesn’t mention being able to do the same thing on the Kindle PC and Mac apps. I don’t have an iPad, and I imagine he didn’t try using the PC and Mac apps, as I’ve done, but from what he describes, it certainly sounds like the Kindle app works equally well on all of them. Here are Richardson’s words (boldface added):

Last year, I put the Kindle app on my iPhone and downloaded a couple of books to read. … But non-fiction wasn’t so great. If you look at most of the non-fiction books in my library, you’ll see they’re totally marked up, underlined, annotated and messy … On the Kindle, I could highlight, and take a note, but it just wasn’t as useful. The notes were hard to find, and the highlights just weren’t feeling as sticky. I wasn’t impressed; in fact, it was frustrating.

Last week, when I downloaded my first book to my shiny new iPad, things improved. The larger screen made a big difference, creating highlights and typing in reflective notes was a breeze, but I was still feeling the same frustration with the limitations; …  I kept searching for a way to copy and paste sections of the book out into Evernote … My searches didn’t come up with anything, and I finally turned to Twitter and asked the question there. Ted Bongiovanni (@teddyb109) came to the rescue:

@willrich45 – re: iPad Kindle cut and paste, sort of. You can highlight, and then grab them from kindle.amazon.com #iPad #kindle

Turns out my iPad Kindle app syncs up all of my highlights and notes to my Amazon account. Who knew? When I finally got to the page Ted pointed me to in my own account, the page that listed every highlight and every note that I had taken on my Kindle version of John Seely Brown’s new book Pull, I could only think two words:

Game. Changer.

All of a sudden, by reading the book electronically as opposed to in print, I now have:

  • All of the most relevant, thought-provoking passages from the book listed on one web page, as in my own condensed version of just the best pieces
  • All of my notes and reflections attached to those individual notes
  • The ability to copy and paste all of those notes and highlights into Evernote which makes them searchable, editable, organizable, connectable and remixable
  • The ability to access my book notes and highlights from anywhere I have an Internet connection.

Game. Changer.

I keep thinking, what if I had every note and highlight that I had ever taken in a paper book available to search through, to connect with other similar ideas from other books, to synthesize electronically? … Others might not find this earth shattering, but this is a pretty heady shift for me right now, one that is definitely disrupting my worldview.

As I mention in the previous article, Amazon doesn’t quite have the process perfected, but when they do, I think this will, indeed, be a Game Changer for scholarly study … And imagine the possibilities if Google puts their attention to doing something like this for their collection of public domain eBooks …

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I don’t have a Kindle device, but I’ve recently started reading Kindle books with Kindle apps. The thing I like most about this is being able to capture highlights and notes as text. As I discuss below, Amazon doesn’t quite have this process fully perfected, but it works well enough that it gives an exciting glimpse of the future of eBooks.

Several other eReading platforms support highlighting and note-making, so I suspect doing it on Kindle doesn’t seem like such an outstanding feature to many users. But I think many are not aware that all highlighted text and notes are synced and put on a web page in the user’s account, where it can be copy/pasted anywhere — Voila! Instant saving of highlighted text and notes!

Most of my reading is non-fiction, and I’ve done a lot of hand-annotating — underlining, highlighting and note-taking — in my print books over the years, so capturing these kinds of annotations in an ebook seems like a great advance. Having all highlighted text instantly copied on to a web page, from where it can be pasted as text to another application, is especially valuable.

The screenshots here show the steps in reading, annotating, and capturing text. I usually read on the iPod Touch, with the Kindle app, which works fine for highlighting, as shown in the screenshot. The app also allows the addition of notes (indicated by the little blue box after “1855), but I usually save note-taking for the desktop app.

I’ve used the Kindle app for PC (shown below) and for Mac. These both support highlighting and more flexible note-taking than the iTouch app, so I do most of my note-writing here. Both the PC and Mac Kindle apps are notable for their elegant, smooth interfaces, with an option for two-column display and flowing text wrap — Maybe a foreshadowing of HTML 5 tricks that will soon become common in eReaders.

And, finally (below) the account-specific “Your Highlights” page at kindle.amazon.com that brings all highlights and notes together, and allows them to be copy/pasted to other applications.

As I mentioned above, the process I describe above is not quite perfected by Amazon, and that may be why they haven’t publicized it more — The process does work as described, but the syncing is not always timely. Sometimes it takes a day or two for annotations done on one of the apps to appear on the “Your Highlights” web page.

Another, more basic, hurdle in the “text capture” process, that Amazon doesn’t say much about, is the whole question of copyright implications — How much text can be highlighted and copied from a book? I haven’t found any general statement about this from Amazon. I’ve heard/seen that it’s generally 10% of the book’s text, but I’ve also heard that some publishers allow up to 40%. Before the process can be widely publicized and encouraged, Amazon and publishers will have to be more up-front about this.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

I don’t have a Kindle device, but I’ve recently been learning about the advantages of using the Kindle apps for PC, Mac, and iPod Touch. A great weakness of the Kindle device is that it doesn’t display color, so color pictures on the Kindle apps open up a whole new world.

All Kindle books have a free sample that can be downloaded to the device and to the apps. I’ve downloaded samples for several books that seemed likely to have pictures, and have found that the sample is often from a portion of the book that has only text. I’ve found some cases, however, in which the sample does have pictures, in the list below. To look at these free samples, sign in with an Amazon account, download the appropriate Kindle app, follow the links below, and view samples.

Kindle Books with Color Pictures:

In searching for books with color pictures, I found some that have only black and white. Here are a few for comparison …

Kindle Books with black & white pictures:

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Keith Peters used his new USB microscope to take pictures of magnified text, snips of which are below. His article on this included the pictures and a discussion of iPad and Kindle. He says little about the book and magazine pictures, and they’re far down in his article. I thought they added an interesting comparison with the iPad and Kindle …

The voluminous comments to Peters’ article, mostly on iPad vs Kindle, are interesting, with many heated opinions and citing of tech issues like dpi, bit depth, resolution and contrast. The arguments give an indication of how little scientific proof there is on what makes text readable/legible — Seems to be a case of who can shout the loudest! Not only is it difficult to define clear criteria to judge text on computers and eReaders, it’s also surprisingly difficult to find evidence about text on print vs computer – Googling for subjects like readability screen and readability screen print turn up little that’s relevant (Please email me if you’re a better googler than I am!) In Wikipedia, the most relevant subject seems to be Typography, but it also doesn’t speak much to the issue of print vs computer.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

A big part of Steve Jobs magical mobile revolution has been the advent of the App, which greatly simplifies using a small mobile-device screen. As popular as iPhone Apps have been, though, iPhone’s Safari browser has also been a great success, showing the practicality of using a Web browser on a small screen.

Safari has shined even more on the larger-screened iPad. With its interface being so similar to the iPhone, it seemed when it first came out that Apps would play the same role on the iPad as on the iPhone. But with its larger screen, people quickly realized that the Safari browser does a fine job in presenting information, and that separate Apps are not nearly as important as on the iPhone. And of course the Safari browser has the great advantage that it lives on The Web.

So the trend, going from iPhone to iPad, is the growing importance of Safari on Apple devices. But this goes well beyond Apple, because Safari is just one of the large class of “WebKit” browsers. I became aware of the importance of this with news in the last month that the Kindle and the Blackberry are both getting WebKit browsers (Thanks to Mike Cane for giving a shout about the significance of this).

So, what’s a WebKit browser? WebKit is the “layout engine” for Safari, Google Chrome, and almost all mobile browsers (Android, Blackberry, Kindle et al). It’s especially good for mobile browsers because of its nimble code and advanced HTML capabilities. And WebKit is open-source, which is why it’s being used on such a wide range of platforms, beyond Apple.

Learning about WebKit has given me a whole new way of seeing the mobile Web world — The varied and interesting implications are many …

  • The iPad’s big splash – Desktop computing is fading fast, and mobile is booming. Until the iPad came out in April, “mobile” meant cellphones and other hand-held devices. Now with the iPad, the definition becomes fuzzy, and will get fuzzier, with smaller versions of the iPad rumored to be in the offing, and Android tablets with a variety of screen sizes certain to come out soon. The whole mobile tribe, from cellphones on up, are certain to have WebKit browsers.
  • Apple’s influence spreads – The first implementation of WebKit on a widely-used browser was when Apple developed Safari and made WebKit as a “fork,” or variation, of the existing Unix rendering engine KHTML. Although Apple made WebKit open-source, and usable by anyone, it’s come to be strongly identified with Apple. So isn’t it interesting that now WebKit, which is widely thought of as an Apple standard, is being used in the browsers of Google and Amazon — Is there any precedent for that? For anything that’s Apple-flavored being adopted by Google and Amazon, which may be Apple’s two biggest competitors in the near future?
  • Apple’s Unix roots are deep, going back to Unix based Mac OS X. WebKit deepens these roots, having been developed by Apple from the Unix KHTML layout engine.
  • WebKit & eBooksWebKit is used for many eReaders, because they have so much in common with web browser technologies, so it will become increasingly important for libraries as the use of eBooks grows.
  • Firefox is fading – Instead of WebKit, Firefox is built on the Gecko layout engine, which was designed for the bulky Windows environment, and it shows its age on mobile systems with more compact code.
  • The growing irrelevance of Microsoft – With very little mobile or tablet presence, their claims to be embracing cloud computing (which is closely connected to mobile computing) seem doubtful — Especially since none of their current or planned browsers are WebKit-based.

I’m often surprised in reading commentaries about the iPad and its competitors that WebKit isn’t mentioned — John Martellaro touched upon the sense I have of “seeing the leaves but missing the branches” in a recent such commentary — He talks about “the advanced technologies that Apple has been nursing along for a decade (unnoticed)” [boldface added] — YES! Exactly! — People see the effects of Apple magic but don’t notice the things that create the magic (Martellaro himself doesn’t mention WebKit!).

So for me, seeing things through the lens of WebKit has been like “pulling back the curtain” on current developments and power struggles in the Web world — In reading anything about competition among Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and various eBook competitors, it’s invaluable to think about how WebKit affects things. I think it’s likely that as things progress (and especially when Android tablets start coming out in the next few months), WebKit awareness will certainly grow fast.

I use a Windows desktop at work and a Mac desktop at home. I’ve been a confirmed FireFox user on both of them for several years. But in doing research for this article, I’ve switched to WebKit browsers — Safari on the Mac and Google Chrome on Windows. I like both of them a lot, especially Chrome — I’ll certainly be staying with it.

Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Last week I ordered a book by Kurt Vonnegut. He’s one of my all-time favorites. When the oversized brown package came in the mail, it was so light weight, I thought maybe Amazon had made a mistake and forgotten to enclose the book. But it was there – A tiny little paperback, hardly bigger than … well … my iPod Touch …

Seems like this says something about the economics of publishing — Doing the math — The cost of the book was $7.99 + 2.99 shipping, total $10.98. The Kindle version costs $7.19 (I didn’t buy it, the screenshot below is from the free sample ;-)) … Hmmm … How to compare the prices? Paying more for an insubstantial paperback, much of what I pay goes for the process of producing and transporting the physical thing, and these sorts of costs are certainly going to continue to go up in the future. Compare this with the Kindle eBook version, for which there’s no “physical stuff processing” involved, and the price is likely to drop, especially with competition for the eBook market. … The digital future of publishing looms …

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Eric Rumsey is at: eric-rumsey AttSign uiowa dott edu and on Twitter @ericrumsey

Ben Lorica’s excellent post at O’Reilly Radar (Waiting for the Billionth Download) is full of details about iPhone apps. A bit overshadowed is the growth in the Books category. I’ve done some clipping and rearranging on one of Lorica’s charts to bring this out — Note that the Rate-of-Change for books in the last 3 months is at least double the rate for all other categories except Travel.

Another notable growth category shown here is Medical — Though its share of all apps is still small, it’s the third fastest-growing app, behind books and travel.

Here’s Lorica’s text on books:

Measured in terms of number of unique apps Books remains the fastest-growing category: during the week ending 4/12/2009, 11% of the apps in the U.S. store were in the Books category. Books has surpassed the Utilities category and may soon overtake the Entertainment category. Over the past week, Kindle for iPhone was the top app in the Books category.

Here’s the whole chart from Lorica’s article, with all 20 categories of apps:

Thanks to Twitter stars @adamhodgkin and @mtamblyn for highlighting Lorica’s article.

A couple of recent commentaries, excerpted below, suggest that the best sort of books for eBooks are ones that are intended to be read linearly, navigating through pages consecutively (i.e. most notably fiction). Both observers say that books whose usability is increased by flipping back and forth from one section to another do not make good eBooks.

Writing about the Kindle, Jakob Nielsen notes the problem with non-linear content:

The usability problem with non-linear content is crucial because it indicates a deeper issue: Kindle’s user experience is dominated by the book metaphor. The idea that you’d want to start on a section’s first page makes sense for a book because most are based on linear exposition. Unfortunately, this is untrue for many other content collections, including newspapers, magazines, and even some non-fiction books such as travel guides, encyclopedias, and cookbooks … The design decisions that make Kindle good for reading novels (and linear non-fiction) make it a bad device for reading non-linear content.

Later in the review, Nielsen broadens his comments to eBooks more generally. In addition to the issue of linearity, he also mentions that books that depend on pictures are problematic:

11 years ago, I wrote that electronic books were a bad idea. Has Kindle 2 changed my mind?– Yes — I now think there’s some benefit to having an information appliance that’s specialized for reading fiction and linear non-fiction books that don’t depend on illustrations and don’t require readers to refer back and forth between sections.

Paul Biba, in comments on using a cookbook on the Kindle, says:

The concept doesn’t work. This is not the Kindle’s fault, but the fact that some things are just not meant for an ebook format. When using a cookbook one likes to flip through it browsing for recipes. You look at one, go back and compare it to another … see if you can’t combine the ingredients of [recipes] … You simply can’t do this flipping back and forth with an ebook … Going back and forth from the table of contents to the index is a time-consuming process. The ergonomics of the whole thing is just not set up for cooking and recipe browsing.

This is really the first time I have come across a complete failure of the ebook medium. I can’t see how it is possible to make any change in the hardware that would alleviate the problem. There is simply no substitute for flipping pages and marking them with bookmarks … The ebook format is, by its nature, linear and this linearity is not adaptable to serious cooking.