Saturday, September 8, 2012

Apple kills Star Trek

Whispersync for voice, cool but US only, of course

Amazon's new service for a limited number of books (15,000 at the moment I think), Whispersync for voice, syncing an audiobook with an ebook, or using both at once, seems to work only in the US.
Also this one. I've used ten minutes so far trying to find out.

It's not just the "secondary citizen" feeling one gets from this kind of thing that gets me, it's the fact that they almost never tell you up front that this is the case, so you get excited and disappointed, and you use a lot of time trying to get the caca to work, when it won't.
Why don't they just say right up front: "this service is for US only so far"? Let's have some honesty and let's have some precise, helpful communication. They know that half their customers are outside the US, so why do they continue to act as though we don't exist and don't watch their announcements or read on their site?

It's not just Amazon either, it's quite typical. If I could get the time back I have wasted on these things, I could probably take a week in the hammock.

By the way, just found this, which many had been asking about: Amazon says:
"A single charge lasts up to eight weeks, based on a half hour of reading per day with wireless off and the light setting at 10."

Half an hour? The Kindle customers are dedicated readers, they say, how many of those only read half an hour a day? Real readers read books instead of watching TV, meaning several hours of reading every day.
Sure, the battery life is still impressive, but why do they insist on tweaking the stats so much, to make it seem even more impressive? Who cares if you need to plug in the Kindle every four weeks or every eight weeks?
And why hide the "half hour" base of the computation if it's nothing to be ashamed of? (The same with the ad-supported prices of the Kindles. Why hide that fact in the small print if they don't think people will mind?)

Friday, September 7, 2012

A solution to the ereader-holding problem

Hardly any ereaders/tablets are very easy to hold with one hand, this especially applies to touch-screen models where you don't want to touch the screen accidentally, so you have only the narrow bezel for your thumb. A precarious grip.

I solved it to my own satisfaction after two years' research (well, not continual!). It's not a pretty solution yet, but it's just a prototype, and it works.

See how I hold the Nexus 7 with the thumb just on the edge, with the fingers on the ridge I've made on the back:

I can even hold it upside down (though not for long, eventually it'll slip):

I simply put a ridge-shaped object under a self-adhesive rubber sticker. (The other stickers around the side are earlier improvements, and are not needed now.) The rubber part of the equation is of course essential, and you have to find the right kind. I found these pads after trying many types which did not have enough friction.

The grip is really effortless.

The sticker holds on pretty well, but not perfectly by the ends of the ridge, I'll work on that. But nevertheless this is very workable, and provides the best grip I've had on any tablet or ereader.

(updated) Kindle Fire has ads. And other Kindle stuff

The new Kindle Fires will have ads on the lock screen and home screen. This applies to US and UK.
The big deal is that you can't turn them off, and you can't even pay more to get a model without ads! I think this is going to cost them some sales, not a few people are adamantly allergic to ads. (I'm more or less so myself. I don't have a single ad-supported app on my iPad for example.)

And like I wrote below (in the post updated several times), I think it borders on the disingenuous that they promote the new low prices without mentioning that they are subsidized by advertising.

Like I blogged above, Amazon has made a U-turn on this thing, surely prompted by my article. (OK, maybe including others too...) You now can opt out for $15. (Very cheap, if the ads are not worth more, I wouldn't include them at all.)

I have to say though, re the "Paperwhite" model, I am getting impressed by the front-lighting technology. It may be what non-backlit e-reading devices have been waiting for. It turns out that only four LEDs are lighting that whole screen, totally evenly. Very complex and delicately tuned technology it seems.

See the full Bezos presentation.
I had been almost ashamed to be sitting with my tiny clan in my corner (like the man in the Didn't-like-Dances-With-Wolves Club), bitching about how the e-ink screen was too dark. But now Amazon is touting loudly that everybody will want the light on all the time because it makes it so much more readable, so I feel vindicated.     :-)
(I'm doing Grace's song from Will&Grace: "Told-you-so, huh-hh, Told-you-so, huh-hh, told-you, told-you, told-you so, dadadidada...")

The PaperWhite with and without the light on:

(That was from this video. BTW, why do some people give a "demo" without saying a word? Odd.) 

Sadly it seems that the new e-ink Kindles don't have any audio output (see "compare Kindles" low on linked page), neither speakers nor headphone plugs. That is a great pity, text-to-speech is important, even more so to sigh-impaired people. And what with the newly highly-touted audiobook/textbook syncing? That's only for the Fire models? That sounds too dumb to be true.

I took a look at the Kindle Fire for UK, since the movies and films are the main attraction on it, especially the free ones which come with our Prime membership.
... Oh, I'm sorry, their memberships, because it seems we still don't get such a service in this country.
And: the movie service from Amazon UK is not from Amazon, it is from LoveFilm, a service you have to pay for separately, and which I have had for 12 years now and which I already can use on my iPad and my Apple TV. (Mainly via disks though, because the streamed films are mostly old and marginal like on Netflix.)

So I'm honestly not really sure what important things buying a Kindle Fire would bring me that I can't already get on Nexus 7 or iPad. OK, it sounds like the speakers are better than the one on my iPad. But I already have my iPad connected over wifi to my Harman Kardon Soundsticks II, nothing portable beats that sound.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ripped off...

I have no reason, it seems, to worry that "nobody" reads this blog. Because somebody just ripped off my whole post about the Paperwhite rumors and greyness! I guess he liked it!
... And it's not the only one he has 'acquired' by a long shot.

New Kindles, fall 2012

Amazon today announced new Kindles in a big event:
The small model is now ten bucks less, and has a bit higher screen resolution, and finally you can select more than one font. (This goes for the other new Kindles too.)

Journalist's photo of the Paperwhite model
The one I was most excited about based on rumors: the Kindle Paperwhite*, has a front-light like the Nook Glow (though said to be even more even, as it were), and higher screen contrast, thus the "paperwhite" moniker. I am torn though, is it really as revolutionary as they said? Because a slide on the presentation said "25% higher contrast", and 25% is really not a lot, and a long way from from getting the background up what I would call "white", especially since they also say the blacks are now blacker. Also on the pictures taken by journalists (example shown), it still looks rather greyish to me. I guess I'll do my usual thing though and buy it on hope. [Update: this review gives me a bit more hope.]

 (See video below.) Without the front light, "the contrast is very similar to the old model", according the Verge. That casts doubt on the name "Paperwhite".
The saving grace might be the front light, which looks nice. This hands on review is another one that makes it seem promising. I like that they specifically mentions that the blacks still look quite black with the light on.
And one has to say that the front light technology in a kind of flat fibre-optic cable is really impressive technology, see this video clip off Bezos' presentation. They say it took them four years of development to make that.

Without the frontlight the contrast is only barely improved.

The Kindle Fire is now in HD for $200 for the seven-inch model, and $300 for the new HD 9-inch model, which has nice specs.

So clearly Amazon is continuing their policy of selling the devices basically at cost, and aiming to make the money on selling content. Heck, Bezos even came out and said directly, this time.

It seems, though it was not mentioned at the event, that all the Kindles and Kindle Fires now include 'special offers', meaning they are ad-supported, there are ads in the screen savers. I take this to mean also that they won't come very soon outside the US, if they have to make ad deals in each country. Hmm, not a great choice, I think. Or maybe it will be like currently, that the "international" ones are not ad-supported, and a bit more expensive for it.
Default pricing is for ad-supported models...

... Oops, my mistake. I was in such a hurry to get an early order in, that I did not notice the button which was pre-selected at "ad-supported". If you pay twenny bucks more, you can get it without the ads. ...I think it borders on the disingenuous to announce the prices and not reveal the fact that they only apply to the ad-supported varieties.

Update: well this is a surprise: the UK Amazon store is already updated, but not with the e-ink Kindles only like last time, instead with Kindle Fires only! (Sadly only the 7-inch models.) Huh, that's odd. But it's good news in that it must mean that they now can sell us video here. But sadly there's no mention of any great Prime deal included in the price like in the US, with tons of free content. Not yet anyway.
(I wonder if I can now buy/rent video on Amazon UK on the KF I bought from the US last year?)

ttl said...
I tried to order. Amazon said: wrong country, no Kindle for you.

Yep, I had to order via my US reshipper, like I did with the Fire last year.
I'm not sure why they do that now, unlike with the Fire, I don't see any functionality which should not work outside the US. Even the 3G they say works in 100 countries.

(That orange thing in the logo is a smile?? I always thought it was an arrow!)

* By the way, the journos at Twit didn't like the "Paperwhite" name, they said it sounded like "paperweight". I think that's part of the pun and fun. A new word is more apt to catch on if it sounds like an older one. Like "Playstation" sounds like "paystation". Another issue is that "paperweight" is not really the most flattering association of course, for an electronic device! It's what you'd call one which is stone dead.

"Why eBooks won’t rule the Earth"

Why eBooks won’t rule the Earth, article.
The article starts out sounding like paperbooks will still be big business generations ahead...

“E-book revenue outstrips hardbacks in first quarter,” trembled The Bookseller.
But if these stories led to you to believe that the march from paper book to eBook for all books is inevitable, you’d be just as wrong as those who assumed the introduction of airplanes would mean we’d all now be piloting flying cars.

(I don't quite follow the logic of that. Flying cars are much more expensive to make than regular cars. Ebooks are cheaper to make than paperbooks. Surely a differentiating point.) But then he pretty much ends with...

For a while, graphic novels and art books will still be superior on paper, but that’s a transitory resolution advantage fast fading.
At some point, most paper books will effectively be coffee table books, primarily for display. For many readers, it’ll be the evolution from book as content into book as object.

Exactly. I think paperbooks will be like vinyl records are now: perhaps a sound industry, but a much, much smaller industry than it was, and only selling to a specialized market (I think for vinyl the market is DJs and hardcore hifi-philes). Not many songs, percentage-wise, are put out on vinyl these days. 

In other words, it will be a distinct niche market. And think about, once ebooks are the major market, which they already are becoming close to in the US, then an ebook will be the default format, and publishing on paper will be regarded as a big extra step, and importantly an expensive and risky step. Printing a book in offset is a big and expensive process. (Print-on-demand is a different story.) 

 And so a publisher has to be pretty sure that the book either will be a solid hit (say, the Steve Jobs bio coming just after he died), or will appeal to special paperbook collectors who love "display books" made with spectacular design and on expensive paper and so on, and who are willing to pay a premium for such objects d'art.
And that's a pretty small percentage, surely rather less than five percent, maybe just one percent eventually, though that will probably take a couple of decades. 

By the way, his point: 

Setting aside the reality that paper will live on as a continued cheap, portable and disposable book medium outside of the first world...

I think he has that upside down. The third world (which is now parts of countries rather than whole countries) lacks good infrastructure. So I think that just like it has gone with mobile phones over landlines, ebooks will leap-frog paperbooks in those areas. It is way faster and cheaper to get one Kindle to Bugfug, Nigeria and then buy ebooks, than it is to find and buy and ship, say, one hundred different paper books. 

Nokia 920

I don't normally cover phones here, but let's face it: as phone screens approach five inches and (for high end models) go above HD resolution (as this one does), they are not bad ereading devices! Many people have been reading on much smaller/worse screens for years. And it seems there is already a Kindle app for Windows Phone 8.

The Nikia 920 looks like a powerful device, it'll be interesting to see reviews when they go on the market. Many "previewers" have kinds words for it already.
(That red color though is a bit bright for my taste. I'm glad to hear there are also white, grey, and black varieties. I could use a red one if it was a deep, darker red.)

It will also be interesting to see if app developers take to Win Phone 8. As it is, even Android is way behind iOS in tablet app developing (less so for phones I guess), and Android is huge. So Nokia/Microsoft may face a chicken/egg problem there, no market so no apps, no apps so no market.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

More freebies for the Americans, yoohoo!

[Update: Hmm, in hindsight, this post seems rather bitter. What do you think?]

Today Jeff Bezos gleefully announce even more fantastic freebies for the American Amazon Prime members. Tons of free top-range movies.

Meanwhile in the UK, also paying for our prime membership, what do we get? Diddley/squat. Nada. Zip.

I even paid for a US Prime membership also, just to see. Sure, on the site it promised me all the same things, even though it well knows I'm in the UK.
... but when it came to actually roll the exciting superhero movie, I got this:

To not at least warn people up front that only Americans are worthy of these golden gifts, that's just adding insult to injury.

I wrote Amazon, and they said that they value their international customers, but laws prevent them from streaming to outside the US. Fair enough, I just think that establishing a similar service in the UK is taking a loooong time. Ah well, they're probably working on it the best they can.

iPad home controls

Controlling Your Home With The Touch Of An iPad, article and video.

To be honest, I don't really think that what we see here is all that important. Light switches and remote controls still work fine. But I think the people here touch on an important point: that iPhones and iPad are very enabling technologies. Just one small example is the home weather station which I just got. Just five years ago it would have been much more expensive, not just from general technology development, but also because at that point the company would have had to build in their own control/information display, and that would have been difficult and expensive, and surely would not have been very good, based on such displays I have seen! (Low-res and poorly designed interfaces.) But now they just have to make an iPhone/iPad app, and so they can sell a much cheaper product to those tens of millions of people who already have those.

And lord know what kinds of things will come from these technologies in the future? Every year I see new things that I would never have dreamed of. Sometimes they are things which pre-exist, but in a form which is poorer and way more expensive. And sometimes they are just brand new ideas.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chinese Clone Company Will Sue Apple Over iPhone 5 Design

Chinese Clone Company Will Sue Apple Over iPhone 5 Design, article.

Obviously! They came first!
This is so funny, I'm breathless.

... BTW, I don't understand why everybody is so hyper-excited about the iPhone 5?
Apart from 4G (which is no good yet outside the US), I don't really see any obvious areas where they can make significant improvements to the product. And so far as I know, we don't know anything about any new improvements. So why are people so hot and bothered, and have been for months?
I was excited ahead of time about the iPad 3, because it was certain to have the Retina display. But like with the iPhone these days, I think the iPad 3 is a very rounded product, so I am not wasting any breath thinking about what the version 4 might be like.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

HP Envy x2 is a Windows 8 tablet

HP Envy x2 is a Windows 8 tablet with a removable keyboard base, article/preview.

There are a couple of tech expos right now, and there's a whole host of combined tablet/laptops being announced. This one seems interesting. Seems it has a good balance of weight/power/features.  Though how attractive it will be exactly depends also on the price and how well the OS works, and how many good apps there will be for it. So far Windows 8 is an unproven product. But the hardware seems appealing to me, seems to be right up there, as good as such a thing can be made right now, except maybe the screen resolution (1366 x 768 pixel) is not high end, a far cry from the iPad 3. But not bad either.

If we get a couple of good products like this, it will be interesting to see if there's a good-sized market for such combo products, or if Apple is right that it's like combining a toaster and a refrigerator. I do know that quite a few people agonize over whether to travel with their tablet, their laptop, or both, so...