Since buying my Droid phone a few months ago, it’s really chapped my hide that I haven’t been able to access my Kindle books on the thing. Don’t get me wrong, my Kindle 2 remains a hearty and beloved companion for most of the places I go, but there have been more than a few occasions where I found myself alone with my phone that I wished I had access to my latest literary conquest – at the doctor’s office, waiting for a table at a restaurant, yes, even the bathroom at work. Why do those stinking iPhone and Blackberry users get all the fun!?
As indicated by Amazon’s new splash page, they’ve finally jumped on the burgeoning Droid bandwagon. Unfortunately, it’s not quite like the iPad announcement, where they revealed their plans to release the app and then pushed it out to the public in basically the same breath. The best they could offer Droid owners was a nebulous release date sometime this summer and a field where you can submit your email address to be notified when the thing goes live.
Unfortunately, they seem to be ignoring the features that were also missing from the Apple versions of the app – namely the built-in dictionary and the ability to write new annotations. I suppose I can understand excluding the dictionary, given the challenges that go with implementing a feature like that on limited hardware, but these phones are practically built for writing text and it still baffles me that they’re unable to include that standard.
One feature they DID pick up on that I’m happy about though is the ability actually purchase books from your Droid itself. It was one of the most vexing omissions from the other mobile versions of the Kindle app – sometimes you just want to quickly grab a book based on somebody’s recommendation and up until now the store itself hasn’t been accessible. It’s one of those tiny details that you never pick out of a press release but that has an ability to affect your experience in a substantial way.
With this last platform conquered, the Kindle’s reach now extends to the Kindle, Kindle 2, Kindle DX, iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, PC, Mac, and Blackberry. There are rumblings about Amazon releasing their next generation of eReader this year lately based on some job listings, but for the time being it looks like the media retail monolith is content to just cast their shadow over every multimedia device in the market. Will they last in the face of a Google onslaught? Only time will tell.
In a recent publishing-industry panel hosted at Random House’s New York offices, Google’s manager for strategic-partner development Chris Palma announced her company’s plans to unveil a new service early this summer. Called Google Editions, it will represent Google’s attempt to break into the book-selling business by offering a cross-platform marketplace for the written word. Google hopes to use their considerable industry bulk to push publishers of all shapes and sizes into their new store, where users can then purchase titles that will work on any device you can imagine.
It’s a bigger competitive advantage than you might think. Amazon sells books in their proprietary AZW file format, which doesn’t work outside of the Kindle and Amazon’s select software suites for the PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Blackberry. It’s caged content. Even Barnes & Noble utilizes a DRM version of the EPUB standard, which is much more portable than AZW, but still protected. Google is promising to lower the gates for consumers, tying books to a customer’s Google account, making them available on any device with a web browser. Oddly enough, Google hasn’t actually said how they plan to sidestep the biggest problem of an open marketplace like this – sharing and piracy.
Whatever Google is planning, it’s managed to assuage the major publishers, most of whom have already climbed onboard, according to recent reports. Google plans to have as many as four millions books, more than half out of print, available from Day One. When you stop and consider the long, hard slog that Amazon has had to go through to try and keep the prices of eBooks at reasonable levels, it’s interesting that Google has been able to just walk into this industry and lay down the law. They’ve convinced these big companies that it’s in their best interest to support a platform that seems to totally break down the copyright measures that they’ve fought so hard to put in. And they did it without Amazon’s retail track record OR having sold a single unit. I guess the pubs just took Google’s corporate motto “Don’t be evil,” as a promise in good faith.
However much this ends up taking away from the book industry’s bottom line, this is good news for readers. Barnes & Noble currently sets the industry standard for sharing, and even they only allow you to lend a book to a single person for a short period of time. If Google’s platform is really as share-happy as it’s been made out to be, you’ll be able to give anybody access to your entire library for free. Given the option to buy the same book in two different stores, are you going to buy the version from the store that you can only read on your authorized device or are you going to buy the version that you can share? I don’t think there’s any question.
With Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, and now Google in the book-selling business, eBooks are taking it big, and competition on this scale usually favors the consumer. More than ever though, it’s important to be aware from whom you buy you media. The best way to get companies to lower their prices and drop draconian rights-management measures is by voting with your wallet. That’s the only way they’ll listen.
The lack of a real commercial presence in brick and mortar retail stores has long been on a knock on the biggest eReaders in the market – the Nook and the Kindle. With the Nook largely relegated to Barnes & Noble retail outlets and the Kindle lacking even the most basic of demo units in retail space, prospective buyers were often relegated to tracking down friends and acquaintances who owned one of these sanguine devices. And when your ability to sell a device relies largely on the satisfaction of its tactile feel, that can throw a real wrench into your operations.
That’s why it was big news in April when Barnes & Noble announced that they’d brokered a deal to give the Nook bona fide shelf space at Best Buy’s 1,070 retail outlets across the country. Best Buy had previously been the exclusive home of Sony’s line of eReaders, but customers can now check out kiosks that promote the virtues of the dual-screened Nook.
Not one to be left behind, Amazon immediately turned around and inked a deal with upscale value retailer Target. You have to imagine my shock when I actually saw one of the Kindle’s kiosks at a local Target store several days before I saw a press release announcing the deal. I like to think I’m top of all the latest eReader news; to have something that big snuck under my nose seemed like a major coup. In actuality, my local store just happened to be one of the 102 South Florida stores that they chose to be among the first of what will eventually be a nationwide sweep.
It’s evidence that, despite the launch of the highly-lauded Apple iPad, the Nook and the Kindle are still slugging it out for market share in the dedicated eReader category. In fact, recent reports for both companies involved have been encouraging.
Amazon reported a 68% increase in net income for the first quarter this year, a shockingly high increase given the unemployment rate and general (ill) state of economic health. The Nook had a slightly more direct validation of its popularity, with a report out of Digitimes Research indicating that, of the 1.43 million eReader units that shipped to retail in the month of March, as many as 53% of them were Nooks. The sheer fact that Barnes & Noble hasn’t sent out any press celebrating this fact seems to indicate that there is a disconnect between units shipped and units sold, but the overarching point is that the eReader market is every bit as robust to start this year as could have been expected.
Am I the only one who is going to feel at least a little sad that carrying my Kindle 2 around in public won’t make me a mini-celebrity? With so many people purchasing eReaders and the major eReaders now freely available in big stores for people to try, nobody is going to stop me in the coffee shop or the airport to ask if they can try my Kindle! I guess the phase of the early adopter is finally ending…
Twitter and Facebook Posts – This feature gives you the ability to share passages you’re reading on Facebook and Twitter from your Kindle.
Popular Highlights – See what other Kindle users think are the best passages from the books you’re reading.
Collections – Organization for your books and documents.
Larger and Sharper – The addition of two new larger fonts and overall sharpening on all fonts.
Password Protection – Add password protection to your Kindle while it’s not in use to keep others from getting access to your books.
PDF Pan and Zoom – Zoom and pan around PDFs to view smaller print or detailed graphics.
It’s hard to ignore that Amazon is trying their best to provide more interaction with the content on your Kindle and make it more online-friendly. Give them credit for trying to keep up with the competition.