Saturday, October 27, 2012

Kindles at Waterstones

Big UK bookstore chain Waterstones is now selling Kindles!
Many are wondering why, especially since the CEO in the past has talked about Amazon like it was the Devil in a shark's form. He says he still thinks they are "a formidable competitor" and "really good at mailing books" (meow!!), but they just have to sell the best ereader to serve their public, and that's the Kindle.

I can't see they get much out of it though, surely the margin is razor-thin, and I hear they don't get any affiliate fee for books sold through the device. Which would have been a fair deal, even on a reduced basis, I think Amazon would get many more bookstores to sell Kindles if this was the case.

They have cancelled an earlier deal with Sony Readers. I'm sure this model was not to fault! She could hold my Kindle any time.

By the way, I was surfing on my iPad, and I wanted to see if the Kindle was already in stock at Waterstones. But their web site went to Mobile Mode and showed only books:

What's worse: there was no way to shift to full browser mode! Really stupid.

So I went and installed the excellent alternative-culture browser iCab for iPad, and in settings I told it to represent itself as Safari for Mac instead of a mobile browser. Problem solved:

Sigh, I have to get a Kindle Fire HD, because the text-to-speech is much better than before, and dang Amazon has left it (and any audio) out of the e-ink Kindle models altogether! Lord knows I don't need one more tablet, but currently it's the only way to get my Kindle books read to me when I want that. (Lord, I wish I had a few dozen customers which were as good as I am a customer for Amazon. Apart from all the other things I buy from them, I have almost every Kindle ever made!)

Tablet-cameras wanted

I think we need small tablets combined with much better cameras.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Windows 8 vs "noobs"

N00bs vs Windows 8: We lock six people in a room with new OS, article.

I think none of the essential interface designers at Microsoft have studied their Jakob Nielsen. From my own studies of his work, I'll summarize one of the most important rules of user-interface:

-- The buttons/links to important features have to be easy to find. The more important the feature, the more obvious the link/button should be. --

It's just shocking that about all the testers (of various ages and backgrounds) had big problems finding their way back to the single most important screen in the interface: the tiles interface (once called Metro, now confusingly called "Windows 8"...), which is the main navigation center (like the home screen on an iPad). That's like building a car which has the steering wheel hidden under the passenger's seat.

I started reading about these problems over half a year ago: "where is the start button, why did they remove the start button?", everybody said. In all that time, why haven't they done anything about it?

Most of the testers also had problems finding items (as important ones as the Office apps) which were off-screen, because the scroll bar is very hard to see. Unfortunately this is something the iPad also suffers from. The scroll bar in menus is very subtle indeed, and worse, if you ain't touching the menu, it doesn't even show! Sometimes this makes it impossible to notice that there is more items outside the menu.

It reminds me of DVD/blu-ray disk interfaces: very often, it's nearly impossible to tell which of the many elements on the screen is currently highlit. Talk about basic.
I think that many modern designers have forgotten that design serves purpose.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Mini's screen

I was a bit in doubt, despite always wanting a smaller iPad variety, whether I wanted the iPad Mini, because it does not have Retina Display. At the price it seems slightly weak.

Do you often need to stop
a charging gorilla in the city?
But I realized that I still use my iPad 2, and when I use that, it does not occur to me for a split second that "this is really a lesser display". And it isn't. I really don't notice if I'm using the iPad 2 or 3, honestly. A Retina display is like Dirty Harry's guns, it looks great and it scares the enemy, but really it's overkill for most purposes.

And if that's so, I've decided that the Mini's display must be good enough for me also, because it has the same number of pixels in a smaller frame, so it's sharper. (And they surely improved it in other ways too.)

On another subject, I can't believe it took them so long to make a smaller iPad. The iPhone is really too small for serious use of any kind except phoning. It's sole raisin daitre (as it were) is that it fits in a pocket. And the regular iPad is great for home use and serious use, but for casually going out, it's too big and heavy.

A 300-gram seven-inch tablet on the other hand, that fits in my cargo pocket (never buy pants without at least one), so I just pack it when I go out and forget about it, until I want to read or watch something. Back when I used read on paper, it was not easy to find a book or magazine which fit in a pocket.
And it fits in any purse. (If you have a purse it doesn't fit in, I want you to think about whether you're selecting purses based on use or on fashion...)

Update Fri 26.10:
All righty, I ordered a white 32GB model this morning. They say two weeks delivery time (UK), but this could quickly become longer, if it's as popular as they tend to be.

"A $329 iPad Mini Feels Like A $2495 1984 Macintosh"

A $329 iPad Mini Feels Like A $2495 1984 Macintosh, article.

He likens it, not unreasonably I think, to the original argument over the price of the Macintosh in 1983:

Their first substantive disagreement was over how to price the Macintosh. It had been conceived as a $1,000 machine, but Jobs’s design changes had pushed up the cost so that the plan was to sell it at $1,995. However, when Jobs and Sculley began making plans for a huge launch and marketing push, Sculley decided that they needed to charge $500 more. To him, the marketing costs were like any other production cost and needed to be factored into the price. Jobs resisted, furiously. “It will destroy everything we stand for,” he said. “I want to make this a revolution, not an effort to squeeze out profits.”

Hmm, I wonder how the Windows/Macintosh war might have come out if Jobs for once had not lost a war of wills. Maybe computing would have been fun for a lot more people, and we'd have seen a creative renaissance.

It's also seen elsewhere, the argument that Apple could easily afford to make the iPad Mini a lot cheaper, especially when they talk a lot of tear-jerking talk about how how they are doing great things for schools. 95% of schools in the world can't afford a $329 iPad Mini.

I think most people are talking about what would be the most "ethical" price, not the most profitable. I don't doubt that Apple will sell all it can make at $329.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Physical books in 2012

Physical books have come full circle. These are painted on bricks!


There's a big holaboloo because Amazon apparently deleted somebody's account and all their books.
And now un-did it. But it still shows that you don't Own your books in the eyes of these [deleted], so I'd like to un-DRM my Kindle books for archival purposes (And perhaps convert them to ePub, but that's less important). But the instructions I have found for in (on Mac) sounds like Albanian spoken by a broken robot. Can anybody help? (Man, geeks often write the most horrible "instructions".) I have found what I think is the correct plugin for Calibre, but I still can't import Kindle/Amazon books into it.
I managed to get one book into Calibre, but nowhere in the horrible jungle which is the C interface do I see anything about de-DRMing, and convert seems to be greyed out.

My view on the Paperwhite

Now I've been using the Kindle Paperwhite for a couple of weeks, and my conclusion is:
Yes, this is indeed the Kindle I've been waiting for, for five years. To put it simply: a Kindle I could use. And a good ereader for long-term reading.

As my regular readers know, I have long loved the Kindle, but to me it had a huuuge archilles' heel: the dark screen. I just couldn't live with it. It was emotionally unpleasant to me, and impractical.

The built-in frontlight on the Paperwhite handles it.
Sure, it's not perfect. Especially turned down a bit, it has an odd little bit of "muddiness" to it, and the blacks are not quite black. And it's uneven at the extreme bottom. But these are minor niggles. It's a great step up, and it handles what E-ink has not been able to do yet: the lagging brightness and contrast.

More than once I have found myself just checking up something on the Paperwhite which I had trouble hearing in an audiobook, and then twenty pages later found I was still reading on the KPW!

I'm looking forward to what frontlit displays look like in five years, but a milestone has been reached: for the sizeable minority who need a minimum of brightness on a screen, the Kindle has become useful.

Comparison photos: 
Below, iPad 3, very sharp and even. (The vignetting is due to the angles to the camera lens, also on the other photos.) (Oh, and the camera light meter also tends to make things medium-grey!

Bottom of Kpw screen: a little uneven. Nothing important.

Kpw screen: Not as sharp as iPad 3 of course, but better than earlier generations of e-ink. You may also be able to see the odd, uneven "muddiness", which comes from having such a specialized light source. It's subtle, but it's there. In this generation anyway.

Text excerpt from Iain Banks' Against a Dark Background. I love Banks. 

Hybrid drives in new iMacs

Apple has something intersting in the new hybrid hard drives. Which combines Solid State drives with a traditional drive, and it looks to the machine like on single drive. This should make the machine overall much faster than before. (As evidenced with the spectacular leap i performance from machines which get pure SSD drives.)
I may get an iMac as my next machine.
I'm tiring of my aging tower Mac. It has more complaints and delays now than a 105-year-old veteran. 30 times a day I just sit there for half a minute, saying to it: "what the heck are you doing now!?

I just hate the iPhonification of the Mac OS. And the removal of Rosetta. But I have to get past it some time, otherwise the options are Linux, Windows, or suicide, not necessarily in that order.

As usual in this world, they are putting their pretty hand forward. The new iMac is much fatter in the middle than these promo images hint at. Though, who cares, it's a desktop machine for sake.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

New: iPad Mini

Today there's an Apple event. It's been a while since they or Amazon has streamed an event live, but they are doing that today.
... Okay, pretty good stuff:
  • New, slim, MacBook with 13-inch Retina display. 
  • New, slim iMads. (Not retina display.) 
  • A new Mac Mini with many fast/new connections. 
  • Surprise: an iPad generation 4! Didn't see that one coming. No new features really, but faster overall. 
  • And the worst-kept surprise since the last royal wedding: a new, smaller iPad: the iPad Mini

The iPad Mini seems really nice. Basically it is an iPad 2 (the one before the Retina Display), shrunk down. It is shrunk down so you get exactly the same number of pixels as on the 2nd generation. You can do the same stuff on it because it's the same pixels, but it'll seem a bit sharper because the pixels are smaller. And you can hold it much more easily in one hand, something I and others have been wishing for, for a long time, for reading purposes.

It is $329 and up. Mmm, I really thought they were going for at least down to $299. Sure, that would have collided with the newest iPod Touch, but that really could be $269, I think. It really does seem that Apple refuses to join "the race to the bottom". Good for them, I hope it works.  Anyway, for now, that's how it is, and I don't doubt it'll sell real durn well, because Nexus 7 or no Nexus 7, the iPad is still the best and most fun tablet, and now you can get a hand-sized version.

In fact I've been using my Nexus 7 and thinking: "This is really great. But it would be much more fun if it was an iPad." Well, now I can get it. The interface is better than Android I think, there are many more apps designed for it, and the content store is much bigger and better. (With the exception of the iBooks store, but you can just run the Kindle app on the iPad Mini.)

By the way, in this space I before have wished for a smaller iPad, and one under 300 grams. Well, they almost made it: the iPad Mini is 308 grams! I'll call that close enough, and I look forward to using it. ... Actually it is impressive, because the Nexus seven is over 30 grams heavier, has a plastic back, and it was the low-weight leader until now, and has a smaller screen (though higher pixel-resolution).

The thin vertical bezels might have presented a problem, but:
iPad mini intelligently recognizes whether your thumb is simply resting on the display or whether you’re intentionally interacting with it. 
Now that kind of design intelligence is typically Apple, sorry to say it.

I am not the only one to wonder about the price. Gizmodo calls it "crazy expensive": they point out that for a couple of years there, Apple was beating everybody on both price and features/quality, with the iPad and the MacBook Air. But now Amazon (Kindle Fire) and Google (Nexus Seven) is beating the iPad Mini soundly on price, at the same time as having much sharper displays.

I don't know. It's a bit disappointing. But then we know that Amazon deliberately makes no money on the hardware, and it seems pretty obvious that Google is trying the same thing, gaining market share with a loss-leader in the Nexus Seven. Apple won't do that, neither do they need to, probably. But it is a big price difference. If at least the display had lived up to current high-end standards (above 200 pixels per inch)...

There's a temptation to say that it's just Apple charging Apple prices, but that instinct is dated. The real genius of the original iPad wasn't just that it was first—it was also cheapest. It took competitors a full year to come up with a tablet that could even remotely compete at $500. Ditto the MacBook Air of the last several years; it set a price so low for ultrabook-style computers that Intel had to start a $300 slush fund to help PC manufactures hit that price point.

Len said:

I, too, am surprised by the price but am sure they will sell millions.

Oh, undoubtedly. I’ll buy your whole family one if they don’t. As certain as rain tomorrow here.

I predicted mainly two things: cheap. And light. They could’nt overcome their addiction to 25% profit margins (who can blame 'em?), but they did well with the weight, very well. I would’a thunk they would have to make it plastic to make it that light. Instead they beat plastic devices on their own game!
It must be very thin.
I like the shape. Not those durn tapered edges on the 2 and 3. Nicely rounded. Easier to handle and to plug things into.

If a 264 PPI screen (iPad 3) has not ruined me for a 163 PPI (iPad Mini), we may have a winner. (iPad two has 132.) But surely the screen is improved in other ways too. (You may recall my comparison showing that the MacBook Air looked much sharper than the iPad 2, despite the same pixel density.)

The Mini and the Kindle Paper White, good pair. for long-reading and surfing.