Archive for the ‘publication design’ Category

Kindling on the iPhone

Wednesday, March 4th, 2009

I downloaded the Kindle iPhone app today after reading about it in the Times, and I took it for a quick spin. Here’s the title screen:

Title screen for Kindle on the iPhone

The title screen for the Kindle iPhone app

Wait a sec..that’s no Kindle! That’s a paper book!

The Good

  • I synced it with my Kindle2 and it took me to the “last read” section of the book I was reading. Now this is going to make us really have to re-think the act of reading itself.
  • Swipe to turn pages — better than scrolling
  • Nice to see even a touch of color (in the hyperlinks)

The one thing the Kindle doesn’t have: color

The Meh

  • Still insists on justifying the text. I’m sure there’s some technical reason for this, but I would love to see how it reads ragged.
  • Here’s where I’d really *love* to have text-to-speech
  • How do I put an eBook (EPUB) on this thing?
  • Shouldn’t the Kindle iPhone app allow my to buy stuff inside the app?*

* When Hamilton (who works at the Times) complained that he was having trouble buying a newspaper with the app, I went and tried it myself, shrugging off the weird implications (buying a “paper” to read on your iPhone??). It seemed so roundabout, going to the website to buy today’s paper edition of the news to read on my Kindle when the actual website for the Times or WSJ or whatever organization is a few keypokes away. The tedium of those extra http requests is certainly not worth the reading experience of the Kindle iPhone app. Anyways, it didn’t work for me either: I went to Safari, logged into Amazon, and bought a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal (for $.75) and when I synced my Kindle app, it wasn’t there. Boo hiss.


Stanza should be quaking slightly in its boots, though the closed-ness of the Kindle app really damages its networthiness, or at least, my unbridled full-bodied embrace of it, and the Kindle for that matter. The question is whether having fanboys is better than having general consumers fork over actual money remains to be seen.

Grade: B-

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My Kindle2 Review

Friday, February 27th, 2009

OK, I’ve spent a total of 48 hours with the new Kindle, and here are my observations:

  • Definitely need to get some sort of sleeve or cover for it. I have visions of opening up my bag to find a broken screen and a grey goo situation.
  • Yes, it looks somebody ran over an iPod and flattened it out. That said, a flattened out iPod-like Kindle2 is preferable to the original Kindle model. It’s like Star Trek v. Star Trek: The Next Generation. Sleeker, better special effects.
    The post-cursor to the Kindle

    The post-cursor to the Kindle2: Tablets from TNG
  • And speaking of TNG, Will “The Ensign” Wheaton has a great little post about the whole speech-to-text debate. To recap, the Author’s Guild’s panties are all up in a bunch because Kindle upgrade now reads any text using speech-to-text software (not sure if IBM made the software but it’s pretty good) saying they are taking away the livelihood of people who make their living from audiobooks. Personally I feel this argument is so tired now (see horse-buggy manufacturers and telegraph operators) and so do some of the more forward-thinking authors like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow. Anyhow, Will Wheaton asks “What if we’re wrong?” and does a side-by-side comparison reading of his own book, Sunken Treasure, and the Kindle2 auto-reader. It proves his point pretty well. I’m waiting for the time when authors are up in arms because the computer reads better than a human. Then again, Deep Blue didn’t kill chess’ popularity.
  • My daily interaction with the K2 is: as I’m in transit to the subway, I plug my iPhone earbuds into the jack and fumble around to get the reading started, stick it into my bag, and let it run. I like to keep the reading speed set to slow because otherwise it starts to skimp on the pauses between certain words, basically rendering the experience incomprehensible. (You’d think Amazon would fix the software so it didn’t read its parent company as “amazon point com”.) Also you have to jack the volume way up if you’re outside or in the subway unless you have some noise-cancelling headphones. So I would say if you’re listening to a novel the comprehension level will be sub-optimal, around 75-80%. It’s like when you’re reading a page and you realize you were just reading the words but not actually getting the meaning completely after a certain point and you just zone out. Like I’ve said before, reading is a delicate process.
  • Where I wish it’s more like an iPod is externalized controls over the reading such that I don’t have to turn the damn thing on in order to stop the reading of the text. This is a key user interaction principle that is often overlooked: don’t make your user look like an idiot. Or rather, enable your user to achieve effortless grace. I love the iPhone’s double-click functionality on the home button which brings up the volume and play/pause control on top of the screen lock, so you can pause or change the volume almost effortlessly and then go back to what you were doing before. It’s a subtle but incredibly powerful and thoughtful piece of user interaction design.
  • It is neat that the screen follows along with the reading of the text.
  • They added a USB 2.0 micro port — great, can’t use my old power supply, though that was a mistake anyways. This is what it should have been from the beginning. Much better.
  • The screen is still the same, but it uses the Epson Broadsheet controller which gives slightly faster refreshes by dividing the screen into 16 pixel sets and updating them in parallel. Still doesn’t solve the “black flash” problem though, which is more a function of the eInk technology itself.

Locations/Progress Indicator



The “Locations” or Progress Indicator is pretty much the same (it now shows bookmarks and chapters etc). I know from designing the Redub Reader, that this is not an easy thing to design, what with users coming from a book which never really needed a “where am I?” indicator. The problem for eReaders is, if you can resize the text, how do you define what “page” number you’re on? I just don’t like the word-choice.

Home Screen

home screen

Yes, this is my second Kindle.

I like the redesigned home screen far better than the original. The thick black rule indicates which selection you’re on and the subtle dots show where you are in the progress of your book or article. I was puzzled at first by the two arrows to either side of the bar, but they turn out to be some common/useful functionality they moved up from the menu (which is always a chore to use). Left (on the 5-way controller) allows you to remove the item, and right brings up a whole screen of options for that selection, like description, go to the last page read, etc. It’s just a little cleaner and more usable.


All in all, I’d give the K2 a thumbs up. The pricepoint is still too high, but factoring in the on-board text-to-speech software (which I’m sure isn’t cheap) and the more elegant design, I’d give it a B.

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The Kindle2: Initial Reactions

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Next Page Button

Next page buttons now click inward rather than toward the outside edge, which solves the accidental paging problem that plagued the old Kindle

The new back

Inspired by the iPod

On/Off button

Spring-loaded on/off button makes way more sense

New 5-way button

New 5-way button beats the hell out of the old vertical scroller


Text-to-Speech, by far the most significant feature addition of the Kindle2*

* A note about Text-to-Speech: This is pretty amazing. I hadn’t thought much about this feature, other than the fact that it was pissing off the Author’s Guild but I just turned it on and let it run. The pages automatically turn to follow the read text. The voice is pretty natural. If it had been crappy, I doubt the Author’s Guild would be crying foul over lost royalties for audiobooks.

General impressions about the machine itself

  • It reminds me of a big, thin iPod.
  • The inward-facing buttons kind of make sense, but I don’t know why they feel weird. Maybe I’ll get used to it, just like I got used to being careful about holding it there because of the accidental page turn design of the previous buttons.
  • Keyboard is way small. Actually, the buttons are actually bigger than the keyboard on a Treo or a Blackberry, but because they’re spaced out, and because of the width of the thing, you can’t type as fast with two thumbs. Maybe I’ll learn to do it faster over time, like I did with my iPhone keyboard.
I’ll be posting more thoughts on the actual reading experience later, once I actually get around to reading something on it.

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Stuffing our faces (with information)

Monday, January 26th, 2009

Aya and I were watching the trailer for We Live in Public on Sunday and there was a line that said something to the effect of “blah blah mumble being online all the time mumble mumble like an addiction, it’s like Attention Deficit Disorder blah blah” at which point Aya shot me an accusing glance, in a kind of non-verbal intervention.

Okay, I admit it (that’s the first step towards recovery, right?). I have a problem. I am online most of my waking hours (see my self-analysis). Rarely do my computers ever get switched off (I just sleep them). I can argue that it’s my livelihood. I can say I’m trying to be one of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers and that I have to amass 10,000 hours of, um, practice so I can be an “expert” on teh internets.

But the truth is, I like the feeling of knowing what’s up with my network, and the rest of the world. I am more aware than I used to be. I care about politics because I am more engaged. I can blame part of it on genetics. Growing up, my brother and I would rarely be without a book. I used to carry a huge backpack filled with books wherever I went — in fact, I would feel naked without the weight around my shoulders. My brother ate sci-fi pulp novels for breakfast. (He is actually a freakishly speedy reader, eating entire pages in a glance.) My dad would spend hours sitting on the toilet reading scientific journals (xeroxed from the library).


The point I tried to make is that the only thing that’s changed is that we’ve shifted the same activity from “atoms to bits” (as Nicholas Negroponte likes to put it). No more 50lb backpacks; just a 4lb laptop. Instead of reams of paper, which are now gathering dust in a box taking up space in the basement, I now have Evernote,, and Google Reader that live in the airy Cloud.

The thing we can’t seem to get over is this: when it’s on paper, it’s okay. But when it hits the screen, somehow it becomes problematic, stigmatized, it’s an “addiction.”

One way of looking at it is that we have gotten lulled into the idea that if something made it into print, it had to be knowledge. But we now know this is not the case. We’re all in a jumble right now. The computer is the locus of too many activities: work, play, banking, browsing, rubber-necking at the train-wreck of humanity, study, creativity, etc. They are all crammed together and flattened out such that the bad taints the good (never the opposite).

from blog to newsprint
Two designers in London have printed Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, which is a publication of “stuff from the internet…printed in a newspaper format”

Another way of seeing it is from a very physical reality. For all its atomic encumbrances, the book is portable, and computers, surprisingly less so, though that all is changing. I am seeing more ordinary people whip open their laptops on the subway, more people reading on their phones, and a new wave of netbooks is hitting the streets. The screen forces us to come to it. It emanates information, and it is information of an altogether new and different quality because it is born on a screen and is meant to live on a screen, never to be frozen in print, and we are entranced by its flickering aura.

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Grid Generator from netProtozo

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

Karl (netProtozo) and I have been working together for almost 8 years off and on, and now we share an office, where we consult and work on projects together.

Karl whipped this little grid generator up today. It rocks for several reasons. The first is it’s the result of our having worked on large-scale sites and our approach is reflected in it, like the idea that there should be an underlying fractional unit for the columns, gutters, and super-columns. The other feature is invisible, but it hooks neatly into the HTML framework we’ve been developing (and the project that is codenamed Morpheus). This approach has been used on GOOD and Conductor’s beta application.

Have fun!

The netProtozo Grid Generator

The netProtozo Grid Generator

The netProtozo Grid Generator

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