Why Amazon Is Winnng the Ebook War

In one word, Software.  More specifically, Whispernet and Whispersync.  Amazon’s own ways of keeping all your ebooks organized and accessible.

Accessibility

Amazon has created a quality and consistent user experience across multiple devices. Once you buy a book it travels with you, not you having to travel with the book.  What do I mean by that?  When you buy an ebook from Amazon, you are free to read that ebook on just about any device thanks to Whispersync technology.  All of your bookmarks and notes will carry across multiple devices.  Start reading on your Kindle, switch to you iPad, then to your desktop, and the entire time never lose your place.  You are not limited by the device.

Compare that to Apple’s iBook Store.  Anything purchased is confined to Apple’s closed network.  You can read on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch.  That’s it.

It’s about more than just the device.  When you get an ebook it should be accessible by any device you happen to be on.  Formats should never be restricted by the device.  Look at the entire music and movie industry with the DRM controversy.  You’re buying a book to read, not a license to that book.

Management

Book management gets very important as you look at ebooks replacing traditional library collection in education.  Students have to  keep track of textbooks and research materials.  Schools and Universities manage thousands of books for entire student populations.

Everything is manageable on the Amazon website.  You can purchase books, push books to certain devices, push to multiple devices, and see every book in your digital library.  This is ideal for the classroom, and the method the RETC used during the ‘Kindles in the Classroom’ experiment.

The RETC was able to purchase books from one master account and send a book to each Kindle device (18 devices in total).  When the kids turned on their Kindle the next morning the book was ready to read.  No handing out materials or keeping track of what students got what.  Everything is done online in an easy to manage system.

Simplicity is what makes this management great.  Amazon only wants to manage your books.  It’s not trying to sync in with any other media or features.  You can’t shop amazon.com, you aren’t streaming movies, and you aren’t syncing your music collection.  It’s dealing with books and reading, that’s all.

Price

First, I’m going to speak from my personal experience.  I have accounts with Amazon, iBook, and Barnes&Noble ebook stores.  I’ve downloaded free books from all of them, but when it comes to paid books I always download from Amazon.  Why? It’s always cheaper.  The past five ebooks I’ve read have been purchased from Amazon.  I searched the books on all three stores, and Amazon came up cheaper or equal every time.  In one case, Amazon was the only store to even carry the book.  This is by no means scientific data, but it’s a good observation.

Criteria for selecting the book prices in the chart below: Prices were taken from the websites of each respective store.  The lowest price found was used.  Prices were taking from September 15, 2010 – October 15, 2010.  The list of books was compiled as a general representation of what a high school student would read.  This chart and comparison should act as a rough guide, not hard facts to build your budget.  For books to be included they had to be downloadable from the site, able to sync with all supported devices, and be formatted for each device, being able to use all the softwares features (i.e. searching, font-size, highlighting, notes, etc…).

*A note on Google Books:  They are scanned copies of the original text.  These books are free and are simply images of the original book on your device.  They are not usually formatted e-books.  Meaning you cannot change fonts, text-size, or manipulate the text in the normal way you would.  Because of these limitations I can only recommend using Google Books for your personal reading, but not in a classroom or library setting.

Small Features, Big Impact

All the little things that Amazon adds to the software amounts to big functionality.

Book Recommendations – The system that helped make Amazon.com a success.  Amazon has taken the same principles and applied it to the Kindle Store.  Users are given recommendation for further reading on the same topic or genre.  This is a plus for students who may have trouble finding books they enjoy reading.  Once they find one, they will be able to find more through kindle recommendations.

Reading Lists – Being able to download samples of a book is a great way to keep a reading list right on your kindle software.  You download the free sample of a book you want but aren’t ready to buy/read yet. Download as many samples as you want to create your list.  When you finish your book you open the next sample you want to read.  Read it, if you like it, you can download the entire book from within the software and continue reading.  A tiny feature that can save you time, and save you from trying to remember all the books you wanted to read.

*I use this functionality constantly.  If someone suggests a book to me, I’ll just download the sample right from the Kindle App on my iPhone.  It’ll be on all my other devices next time I’m ready to read.

Lending books –  Amazon recently announced that they will be adding the ability to lend ebooks to other kindle users.  Once you buy a book, you can send a full copy of the book to another kindle user to read.  Details are still scarce on how long the lending period will be or how many times you can lend a book, but this will certainly be a good addition to the Kindle functionality.

iPad and Education

Since the iPad was first announced there has been a lot of talk about its uses for education. Specifically, the focus has been on college and university students. I would like to take a look at younger grades, elementary and middle school students. Students in these grades have not yet developed the way they take in data or their own study habits. These students would be more open to learning with new technologies and get a greater benefit. A student that grew up learning with technology will be more prepared in the future, rather than just giving them technology in college at the latter end of their academic career.

Continue reading iPad and Education

Weekend With a Kindle

This past weekend I was given a Kindle 2 to test.  For anyone that doesn’t know, the Kindle is Amazon’s e-book reader that has been getting a lot of attention lately for attempting to change the way we read books.  When I first received the Kindle, I had to register it.  If you already have an Amazon account this couldn’t be easier.  After a couple clicks and putting in my Username and password, the Kindle was synced with my account and ready to go.  I was able to do it all through the Kindle itself, I never had to go to my computer.

I received the Kindle, fully charged, on Thursday after work and did not have to charge it until Monday morning when I returned to work.  Downloading books (reading one in its entirety), browsing wikipedia, and having 3G on the entire time, I didn’t run out of battery (it probably could have made it through the rest of the day if I really wanted to push its limit).  One strange thing was even when the Kindle was “off” it still drained a little power.  Sliding the off button on the Kindle will generate the screen to go to a picture of a famous author with a message telling you to slide the power switch to turn the Kindle on.  The screen never completely went blank.  Not a big deal for a device that lasts days on a single charge, but if you want to conserve battery in a pinch it doesn’t help that there is no real way to turn it off completely.  *UPDATE* In the comments Paul mentioned that the screen does not require power to display an image, only to change the image.  So the screen is not what drains power when the device is switched off.

An added power saving feature, is if the device is not used for an extended period, it will power off automatically.  I haven’t found a setting to turn this on or off or to change the time it waits.

The device would also restart on random occasions.  I couldn’t find a good explaination for this other than a software glitch.  It only happened twice in the 4 days I used the device for testing.

Hardware

The Kindle has a very solid feel.  It seems a bit dense, and makes it feel heavier when you’re holding it than it actually is.  It feels heavier than your average book at first, but I got used to the weight pretty quickly.

The screen is amazing for reading.  Very clear and natural looking.  You forget you’re on an electronic device sometimes.  Page turning is a little slow due to the fact the entire screen has to refresh.  Its nothing really annoying though and you get used to it pretty fast.  The screen stays static though.  Whenever you move the curser or change the page, the screen needs to refresh.  This was really only a problem when browsing the Internet and sometimes on the Home Menu.  When reading an actual book though it wasn’t a factor.

Pictures were surprisingly clear.  The 16 shades of grey were able to get a good amount of detail into the images.  They were slow to load for the most part though, since it seemed to push the screen to its limit when they were displayed.  On my Kindle there was a light grey bar of discoloration that would show up on the images.  It wasn’t very distracting but went to show that the Kindle wasn’t made for images.  Its a text only device.  Don’t think you’re going to store a photo collection on there any time soon.  Any books with illustrations or diagrams run into the same problem.

The five-way controller was easy to use to navigate the Kindle menus.  I would have liked there to be a way to navigate with your left hand, since I am left handed, but you can’t have everything.  The Kindle has about 1.5gb of free space available for storing files.  This is more than enough if you are just doing books, when you start getting into pictures and music, its not much.  I wouldn’t plan on being able to use the kindle as and mp3 player even though it has this feature, the space is just to limited and there is no expansion card slot.

Software

Amazon says any book in under 60 seconds, in my experience the books took much less time.  10-20 seconds tops.  I downloaded a couple books from the Kindle Store.  I could see myself really using the store to find new books.  It was very easy to navigate and offered some good suggestions of books I wouldn’t have found on my own.  A drawback, I was surprised to find, is not all the books are formateed correctly.  I downloaded the book Prodigal Genius: The Life of Nikola Tesla by John J. O’Neill.  This  book appeared in a very different font than everything else on the Kindle.  The pages looked like scans directly from the book itself.  Some of the words were unreadable and overall made for an unenjoyable reading experience.  This was the only book I found that had this problem.  I downloaded several other books from the Kindle Store and they all displayed correctly.

A great feature I found, was the ease at which I could access public domain books and download them directly to the Kindle.  I opened up the browser to Google, typed in “free kindle books” and was taken to freekindlebooks.org, a site made for viewing on the Kindle browser.  I downloaded the classic Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll.  The book downloaded in a few seconds and appeared right in my home screen, same as a book purchased in the Kindle Store.  I download several free and public domain books from freekindlebooks.org and Project Gutenberg.  All the books worked perfectly with the Kindle.  I never had to attach the Kindle to the computer once to get books onto it.  Everything was done through the Kindle browser.

The Internet on the Kindle was very good considering the device.  It is not made for heavy internet use, but it is manageable in a pinch.  On the train ride home, I was able to browse imdb to settle an argument about a movie.  I also was able to get on Gmail to read a couple emails I had. I wouldn’t recommend extended use of the Kindle browser, but its there when you need it.

Miscellaneous Stuff

Some final notes about my experience with the Kindle 2.  The signal strength indicator fluctuated a lot.  According to the indicator I was going in and out of coverage pretty consistently.  However this never effect the actual use of the device.  I was always able to get online and download books at the same speed no matter what the signal strength said.  This could be just a quirk of the software, but it didn’t seem to have any real effect.

Amazon has been in the news for its text-to-speech functionality on the Kindle.  Many book publishers don’t like it.  It’s hidden in the Kindle’s experimental menu (along with the browser and mp3 player).  I played around with the feature.  It does exactly what it says, it reads the book to you over headphones or the Kindle’s speaker.  It’s a very metallic sounding voice though, nowhere near like the old Mac voice, but its not enjoyable for extended periods of time.  I couldn’t really use it.  I found it more annoying than helpful.

There is no clock on the device. Because the screen is static it makes sense that you can’t have an always changing thing like time be displayed constantly. I would have liked to see a keyboard shortcut to quickly display the time when I was reading. While on the train I had to check my phone for the time to make sure I didn’t miss my stop. Would have been convenient if I could look on the Kindle while I was reading. It’s a minor detail that would make the use a bit more enjoyable.

Overall the Kindle 2 is a great device for reading books. I highly recommend the device for anyone that enjoys reading. It makes getting books easy and cheap, and could even save you some money in the long run. Don’t get this device if you think its going to be an all-in-one device for you to carry. It can do multiple things in a pinch, but not reliable or easy enough to use regularly. Its not an mp3 player, not an internet device, and not for viewing pictures. This is an e-book reading with some nice added features to play around with.

If you’ve got any experience or opinions on the Kindle, leave a message in the comments.