Thursday, July 29, 2010

E-readers and Closed Systems

It's no secret that I'm still a geek.  Most of the time that's (barely) kept in the background.  Yesterday's new Kindle model brought the geekiness back to the fore a bit.  The smaller, charcoal, Wifi only Kindle is just $139.  That's almost the price that may push it to mass-market levels, and we're already seeing the first author hit the 1 million e-book mark at Amazon.

The cool factor of a book-sized e-reader with batteries that last for a month (with Wifi turned off), that you can read in the sun, that you can get loads of content for is almost irresistible.  I already read a fair amount of e-pub formatted fiction on my iPod Touch, as I did on the HP TC1100 tablet I used when I worked at Amgen.  Indeed, my comment has often been that an e-reader should be somewhere between the t1100c and the iPod Touch in size - about the size of a trade paperback.  The new Kindle fits that bill.  If it drops to the $100 price level, I may not be able to stop myself.


There's a problem with the Kindle.  It is limited to pdf and Amazon's proprietary DRM'd e-book format.  No e-pub, with DRM or otherwise.  That means you are mostly stuck buying your e-books from Amazon.  Yes, you can transfer .txt, .mobi, .prc, .pdf, and .docx files, along with music and images, but not books from other vendors.  I don't like being stuck with a single source for the content.  Imagine if you could only get music for your iPod via iTunes?

Additionally, getting your personal documents is not perfect, either.  You can transfer Kindle, Mobipocket, Text, Audible, and Music files via USB cable from your Mac or PC for free.  You can email other documents under 5 MB for free conversion, or pay to convert them using Amazon's whispernet service for a fee.  So you can take some work with you, and if you have e-books that are pdf format, you can transfer them to you Kindle.

These may seem like minor inconveniences to some folks.  Maybe, but I want to buy books from whoever has the best price, but with Kindle, I'm mostly stuck with Amazon (Baen sells e-books in a variety of formats, including mobi, which would work on a Kindle).  This tie-in has another downside - Amazon has the ability to remove your books from your Kindle without your knowledge or consent, even if you bought them through Amazon.  This has happened once already, though Amazon claims they won't do it again.  Before accepting their word for it, ask yourself this: how many corporations do you trust to act in your best interest rather than theirs?

Despite Apple's tendencies toward wanting to control everything about iPhones and iPads, at least they aren't able to nuke your stuff.  The more expensive iPad seems better in this respect, if only because you can read anything on it, and Apple can't add or remove things without your permission.  And before you (an)Droid folks say, "Hey, what about us?", Google has the ability to add and remove apps and content without your say-so, and many of the apps in the Android Market will actually steal your personal information.  There's no word on how the Nook plays into this - it runs on Android, can use e-pub books, but is less polished than a Kindle or an iPad.

Don't get me going about DRM.  That's another post, entirely.  Suffice it to say that Kindle DRM is already hacked.


  1. I am asking for an iPad for the birthday, I think. Kindle is cheaper, but I am also concerned about being handcuffed to books from amazon only-- and I love amazon and have owned stock in the company since the IPO. But I like choice, too.

  2. I also believe that once I purchase content, as long as I don't give copies to others, it is mine, and should be usable on any device I have. The problem with proprietary formats is that if something happens to the format owner, the content may be gone forever. That won't happen to my paper books (though they may be lost or damaged in other ways).