Archive for the ‘reader’ 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
tree

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)
page

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.

Conclusion

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

pagination

“Locations”?

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.

Conclusion

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

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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The New Redub Reader Site

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

Well, after a flurry of slapdash HTML/CSSery done while watching the Oscars, I’ve put up the new public site for the Redub Reader. It’s at http://reader.redub.org. Totally coded by hand, though I’m sure I’ll port it over to WordPress at some point, but sometimes it’s just easier to maintain good ol’ fashioned HTML pages with TextMate.

The New Redub Reader Home

The New Redub Reader Home

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Want to take a peek at what we’re working on?

Monday, February 9th, 2009

I just wanted to give you loyal Redub readers who follow my indulgent musings here on the blog (yes, all 3 of you) a little sneak peek into the in-house project that we’ve been working on for the past few months.

Thanks to the amazing skills of Ryan Lauer (with crucial assistance and input from Karl here in the office) we’re getting to a point with this project that we’d like to start getting some input from actual users.

Instead of giving you a long spiel about what it is, I offer you this dorky little video as a trailer:

You can sign up at the URL in the video, or you can just go directly to the development URL:

The Redub Reader
The name is subject to change. If you have any suggestions email me.

A couple of things:

  • This is a screen reader intended for personal use. Ie, when you run across an article that you think is waaaay to long to read (but you really really want to read it), try hitting “Publish article” and copy and pasting the text into the form. You will be able to manually remove cruft from the import (it’ll be automatically scrubbed of HTML and Javascript) and send it to the Reader. It’s like taking a long article through a car wash.
  • Hint: Don’t tell anybody…but try just importing any NYTimes URL instead of copy and pasting. Works best for long NYTimes Magazine pieces that really don’t translate well into their regular news article templates.

Enjoy!
Thanks!

Irwin

P.S. – We know there are tons of little typos and UI kinks. We’ve got a long backlog of tasks and bugs to fix so go easy on us. It’s still early yet.

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