Here's what I use to work remotely with good ergonomics...
Here's what I use to work remotely with good ergonomics...
Back in July 2009, Slashdot published my predictions for the recently announced Apple iPad. How'd I do compared to specs announced this week?
On the money:
Predicted: "The MacPad will be a fantastic device for browsing the Web." Apple: "navigating the web has never been easier or more intuitive"
Predicted iBook store Correct!
Predicted display: 10" Correct!
Predicted iPhone OS Correct!
Predicted bluetooth, headphone jack and microphone Correct!
Predicted cost $599 w/ 2yr data contract, actual $499 - 699 WiFi, $529 - 829 3G
Predicted data plan to cost $19.99 - $29.99 monthly, actual $14.99 for miniscule 250 GB, $30 monthly unlimited
Predicted battery life 8 - 12 hours, Apple says 10.
Predicted 64 - 128 GB, actual 16 - 64 GB
Predicted Actual weight Weight: 12 - 16 oz. weight, actual 24 oz.
Predicted dimensions of 11" x 8" x .33", actual 9.56" x 7.47" x .5"
Predicted fold out stand. Actual - case accessory folds out into multi-configurable stand.
Predicted name: MacPad, actual: iPad
Stylus and note taking: Dead wrong.
Camera for video conferencing. Nope.
What most surprised me?
The iPad is fast. It's based on an Apple chip design which will drastically improve Apple's profit margins and device performance and battery life on many of its future products.
This device is relatively inexpensive. $499 for the basic WiFi configuration.
This device may work great with VOIP e.g. Skype, iCall.
The degree of innovation in the gesture-based user interface and sophistication of first generation iWork applications for the iPad.
Applications I expect to see:
I've been eagerly awaiting the Kindle 2 to try to migrate my New York Times reading habit away from paper delivery. Home delivery prices had increased twice last year and I wanted to enjoy The Times in a more eco-friendly way. This post is for people who might be wondering what the switch to e-newspaper reading on the Kindle 2 is like.
Overall, I enjoyed reading The Times on the Kindle. I don't think Amazon did as good a job with assessing the usability of their device for news subscriptions as they did for books. However, I think with some software updates, they could make vast improvements to the device. I hope they don't leave it as is to work on the third generation hardware.
Kindle Display Scratches and Poor Amazon Customer Service
That said, this story ends poorly. Despite careful handling, my Kindle scratched the day after I received it. I had placed it in a soft bag - carried it a short distance from my car to a coffee house. When I pulled the Kindle out, a tiny piece of plastic on the center of the screen had been carved off at the edge of a 3/8 inch scratch. I think the plastic edge of a snack bar wrapper caused the damage but I am not sure. I made two calls to Amazon customer support. The first took 33 minutes. While not accusing me of lying, they told me their Kindle 2's are robust and don't scratch easily. My experience differs. These devices scratch more easily than the first generation iPod Nano's. Amazon showed no curiosity to see whether this particular device might be defective - Apple later settled a class action related to scratched nanos for $22.5 million.
Despite my long term loyalty as a customer to Amazon, the fact that my device scratched so easily less than 24 hours after delivery was either incredulous to them or something they chose to ignore for business reasons. Instead, they offered me a $100 discount on a new Kindle or to sell me the two year extended warranty which they said I could use to have the screen repaired.
I felt I deserved the benefit of the doubt about whether or not this particular Kindle screen was defective given that the fact that the device scratched so easily in the first 24 hours. I quizzed the Amazon supervisor at length about what the disconnect was between us - I think he must have felt that I'd been reckless with my Kindle but he didn't want to accuse me of this outright.
I called again because I was disappointed with their response - a very helpful support person spent 50 minutes calling the internal Kindle support manager to try to resolve the issue. She said she agreed that I should be given the benefit of the doubt so soon after the product delivery. Ultimately, in the end - they did not budge. I am returning my Kindle on Monday - despite Amazon's repeated threat that the return might not be honored.
Buyer beware: If you buy a Kindle 2, buy a case - and be super careful. I thought I was being very careful.
[Note: I continued using my Kindle after this happened so I could complete this review.]
Subscribing to The Times from your Kindle
Within five minutes, I'd managed to turn on my Kindle and subscribe to The Times. The process couldn't be easier. In most cases, Amazon ships the device to you pre-configured with your Amazon billing account. The download was fast and seamless.
Reading The Times on the Kindle
So how does reading The Times compare? Well, I hadn't even recovered from the shock of discovering the screen's scratch before two people interrupted me to ask about it. One of them said, "Cool but I just like paper." Annoyed, I said, "Then stick with paper." (and stop asking me about my Kindle - I'm trying to read). Rid of them, I dug in.
There are three basic areas of The Times on the Kindle: the front page, the section article lists and the individual story pages. Here is a short video walk through - but you may get more from viewing the hi-res pics below:
The front page is a menu of the day's sections, each linked with a number beside it indicating the number of stories inside. Note: when I use the term click below, I mean press down on the Kindle 5-way joystick.
Clicking on the section name takes you to the first story page inside that section. Clicking on the number takes you to the article list for that section. I prefer browsing with the article list. Unfortunately, this requires an extra joystick movement each time I switch sections.
The Kindle makes me switch from the joystick control to the Next Page buttons too often and for no obvious reason. This is something Amazon could improve with a software update.
Reading The Times on the Kindle gets it closest to elegant when you navigate to the first section article list, then use the Next Page button to "scroll" through all the stories in that section - and then on to the next section. Once you get used to this, you can browse The Times in a way that is more graceful than paper and more enjoyable than an RSS feed reader. However, for some reason, Amazon doesn't make joystick right do the same thing as the Next Page button here. The random need to switch between the Next Page button and the Joystick directions is annoying and difficult to get used to.
However, once within a favorite section, browsing through the first page of each story with the joystick right button is also graceful. Just click Next Page when you want to read more deeply, joystick right when you want to skip to the next article.
Story pages are easy to read. At the default text size, you only see a few paragraphs per page - I found this frustrating. Dropping down to the smallest text size is a bit harder to read but provides more of the traditional newspaper-like column reading experience.
By far, the most confusing thing getting used to the Kindle is wanting to scroll down on a device that is designed to encourage me to click Next Page for books. Using the Web so much has trained me to want to scroll. Scrolling on the iPhone with gestures and software acceleration is a breeze. But the Kindle is designed for books and incremental page turning. For some very annoying reason, joystick down doesn't "scroll down" to the next page. This too could be improved with a software update.
Without ads, The Times is surprisingly compact and browsable - might also be those newsroom cutbacks :(.
For news subscriptions, the Kindle needs something like the Apple iPhone Home button and perhaps a Section Home button. Or, the software needs be changed to make its existing buttons work better for newspaper subscriptions. For example, the redundant Previous Page and Next Page buttons on the left could be made to work better for reading news subscriptions. When reading news, Kindle Back button sometimes gets me back to where I want - but it's not as determistic as a Home and Section Home button would be.
I really enjoy holding the Kindle. It's easier to grasp and lighter than a book. There's no flapping, unwieldy news pages - and I'm unlikely to set a restaurant on fire reading too close to the candlelight (which I started to do once).
I enjoy reading The Times on the Kindle and it provides some additional break from reading news at my laptop. I have to spend so much time on my laptop these days that any chance to read about current events from a healthier postural position (or just a different postural position) is welcome.
Kindle has several features for clipping content to text files and taking notes. Clipping takes 3 clicks, when I want it to take only one. Furthermore, I'd like to clip the URL and abstract of stories - then have an RSS feed on my computer that I can read my clips from. Ideally, I'd like to be able to post clips to NewsCloud, Del.icio.us or other bookmarking services directly from my Kindle; the Net Newswire iPhone application allows this. Unfortunately, the clip feature doesn't seem to work like this at this time. I hope they improve this in future software updates.
It seems with some slight software enhancements, you could create a list of email addresses of friends at Amazon.com that the Kindle could then allow you to email article links to quite easily. Good luck typing a note to them though...
The keyboard on the Kindle is terrible and I wasn't very comfortable making notations. The interface for this seemed awkward. My sense is that trying to overload these features into the joystick button controls has made the interface more confusing and more difficult than it needs to be. Amazon would have benefited with Apple's less is more approach, leaving out the keyboard but putting in better navigation buttons.
In the absence of better hardware keys, it would be fantastic if Amazon provided the ability to customize the behavior of the standard keys when reading The Times and other news subscriptions on the Kindle. Perhaps doing this through Amazon.com's Web site (like the Logitech Harmony Remote) would be easier than building this into the device. I've placed some suggested key mappings at the end of this post.
The text to speech capability is decent. I could imagine letting the Kindle read The Times to me while I drive - but I think I'd want the ability to navigate with my voice e.g. skip (article), home, sports, next (article), next section, etc. Kindle has a male and female voice.
The Kindle Display
The gray scale quality of the photographs is just fine for me. Zoomed photographs look great. Wall Street Journal readers will feel pleasantly surprised. When you turn the Kindle off, it loads a photo of famous authors from memory and is quite attractive left on a coffee table. I'd really like to be able to upload some of my travel photos to the Kindle for its sleep mode - not sure if I can do this with jpgs that I download to Kindle.
I love the visual quality of the display and found the text quite readable. For The Times, I prefer seeing more of the story on a single page - so that requires minimizing the text size. At the smallest text size, readability isn't quite as good. When you change pages, the electronic paper display does flash a bit. Occasionally, especially behind photos, you can see remnants of text from the previous page. Mostly, this is a very minor issue.
How delicate is the Kindle 2's screen? Sadly, it makes the legendary scratchable first generation iPod Nano surface seem hardy. I had no sooner pulled the Kindle 2 out of a soft bag (carried a short distance from my car) for my first reading as I noticed a 3/8th inch permanent scratch in the center of the display. I hadn't had the Kindle for 24 hours. I hadn't used it for more than 30 minutes. I've asked Amazon for a replacement. Word to the wise: buy a case and be very careful with yours. I thought I was being careful and I scratched it. It is so easy to scratch this screen that I am surprised Amazon doesn't more clearly inform people of this on the packaging.
Writing and publishing for the Kindle
Because reading the "paper" on the Kindle is such a different experience, my habits are different. I noticed that I only read the first graphs that fit on the display - and often clicked ahead to the next article if the reporter couldn't capture my interest. So, writing the first few paragraphs well becomes even more essential on the Kindle than on the Web.
Web site publishers should seriously consider providing Kindle friendly content. As the Kindle 2's web browsing software improves, this may be increasingly valuable to building your audience.
I'm not sold on Amazon's blog subscription fee. I do like reading blogs on the Kindle, but it seems a bit pricey given that there are easy ways to get the same content for free e.g. the Web, KindleFeeder.com. I guess you could say the same thing about The Times. Perhaps that's remnants of my MSM-bias coming out. However, the lack of ad space on the Kindle requires that blogs earn revenue somehow. $1.99 per month for some blogs seems a bit high.
Comparing the Costs
Once your promotion expires, seven day home delivery of the New York Times costs $58.06 per month or $697 annually. A Kindle 2 sells for $359. The New York Times via Kindle costs just $13.99 per month or $168. You can buy a Kindle 2 with a one year subscription to The Times for only $527. Then, you can use the $169 savings to take your friend out to a very nice dinner - the one whose sister has the dogs who get their waste dumped in your blue plastic Times delivery bags (I guess I'll find out soon if she reads my blog when she asks about that dinner).
BusinessInsider mused that it costs The Times twice as much money each year to provide home delivery than it would to buy every subscriber a Kindle: "What we're trying to say is that as a technology for delivering the
news, newsprint isn't just expensive and inefficient; it's laughably so."
Having been startled awake by the thud of the Sunday Times on my porch a number of times at 3 am, I have to say I'm looking forward to the future with my Kindle.
I was awake writing this blog post and the Sunday Times arrived on my kindle (silently) shortly after 2 a.m.
I think switching to The Times on the Kindle 2 is a fantastic way to lessen your impact on the environment, reducing tremendous waste from paper, print, delivery and plastic bags. Perhaps saving a forest. However, it's not for everyone. You'll need to be willing to commit to the form factor and accept changes in the reading experience.
Overall, I give the Kindle 2 with the New York Times a B to B+. If Amazon makes the software updates I mentioned above, this would raise the experience to an A-.
I love my iPhone and I've used both the NetNewswire application and the New York Times application on it - but reading The Times on the Kindle is better in enough ways to make me carry both...before even considering the Kindle's blog and book reading capabilities.
I'm impressed with the Kindle as a device but surprised that Amazon didn't do a slightly better job with the interface. Perhaps they optimized too much for books and didn't think so much about news. With software updates and Web configuration, they could greatly improve the Kindle 2 - and make me a much more satisfied user. Making software and Web improvements to the clipping features would also be a great improvement.
Kindle 2 won't be for everyone, but the Kindle 3 could prove to be a game changer.
I fully expect to see multiple form factors in the future including a clipboard size which allows students to read textbooks and take notes. While Jeff Bezos said that electronic paper won't permit a touch sensitive screen for a while, a larger Kindle would provide space for a pen and touch sensitive track pad where you could make your notes below the display (kind of like an old Palm Pilot). A touch pad might also allow for gestures for scrolling and section navigation.
I'm very disappointed in Amazon's customer service and the fragility of these displays. I'm curious to see if other users end up with similar problems.
Related Info and Links
I highly recommend reading The Seattle Times' interview with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos after the Kindle 2 launch.
Some people have complained that Amazon charges ten cents per document you email to your Kindle for reading. This is they say because you aren't paying for the 3G wireless connection. The user guide explains that you can email your kindle address with the subdomain free e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org and this bypasses the fee - but you have to sync your Kindle vs. USB. Nice alternative if you're sensitive to this.
I've played with the web browser and mobile gmail on the device and it's very difficult to use. Amazon calls this feature experimental - and I would say that is generous.
Suggest Key Mappings for Amazon
Here are some suggested key maps for news reading:
Home key maps to Front Page. Home key double-click goes to Kindle Home. Joystick click on section name should default to article list (like the # of stories does). Because joystick navigation is used pervasively when reading The Times, joystick left and joystick right should mimic Previous page and Next page. e.g. On a section article list, joystick left and right should also map to Previous and Next page. On the last page of a section article list, joystick right should map to next section article list (like Next page does). This would make browsing through sections faster and more intuitive. Always having to switch these controls is annoying, seemingly unneccessary and hard to get used to.
Ironically, I have been so busy with my new media journalism grant project, that I needed to discontinue my New York Times subscription the past few months. There was no way to keep up. I have seriously missed it.
I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of my Kindle 2 in early March so that I can subscribe to the The New York Times in a greener, more eco-sensitive, economical format. That will be the first thing I do with the Kindle.
The price difference between the paper and the Kindle subscription is upwards of $40 per month. And there are no trees or gas-powered delivery vehicles involved. No blue plastic wrappers either (my friend's sister's dogs are no longer going to have their sh*t wrapped with the New York Times' brand).