Amazon is all set to announce an update to their Kindle product list, tomorrow morning. The rumor mill is pretty certain that this will involve the debut of some kind of a tablet device and not an update to their existing eInk Kindles.
I’m really only interested in the eInk Kindles. I like the book-like readability of the screens and I’m really not interested in reading from an LCD screen for a long period of time. I’ve owned every Kindle so far (each iteration of the 9” model) and I’m pretty pleased with how the hardware has developed. In general, in day to day use, I don’t have any complaints about my Kindle. But I do have a small wish list, for the upcoming 4th generation eInk Kindle.
I’ll probably upgrade even if Amazon doesn’t implement these features but I’d sure love if it they did implement some (or all) of them.
Easy Hardware Transitions
Apple has a very easy process for moving from an old iPod touch to a new iPod touch. Plug the new iPod touch into your computer, go into iTunes and choose the “Restore from Backup” option. That will move over all of your applications, settings, music, books, movies, TV shows, etc. In a few minutes (or a few hours, if you have a lot of media loaded) your new iPod touch will be setup identically to your old iPod touch.
Amazon has nothing remotely comparable to this, to make it easy to upgrade from an old Kindle to a new Kindle. There are two things going on here.
DRM books. If you’ve purchased books from Amazon, the Digital Rights Management locks those books to your specific piece of hardware. You can copy the digital files from the old Kindle to the new Kindle, but you won’t be able to open or read the books once they’re on the new Kindle.
The only way to get the books onto the new Kindle is to download them, one at a time, from Amazon. For digital pack rats, this is a colossal pain. The only saving grace is that the Kindle will remember which Collection the book was in and what your bookmark was, so you won't have to reorganize it once it is downloaded.
Non-DRM books (personal files). These books aren't locked to your specific piece of hardware, so you can copy them from one Kindle to another. However, the Kindle doesn’t remember anything about them, so you lose both your current bookmarks and your organization. After copying the books over, you can read them but you have to spend an hour or so putting everything back into the proper Collections.
My wife and I each have a Kindle. They look physically identical and, in the beginning, it was easy to pick up the wrong Kindle when I was ready to read. Then I discovered the Kindle screensaver hack and we each loaded a single, custom, screensaver that differentiates our Kindles. Mine reflects my book personality.
This is something that shouldn’t require a hack to do. I’d like to see Amazon create an easy tool, even a web based one, to pick a photo and convert it into personalized Kindle screensaver.
I’ve heard that the Kobo eReader will default to showing the cover of whichever book you’re currently reading. I think this is a great idea too and it would really give each Kindle its own personality.
Better Magazine Management
I like reading magazines on my Kindle. I have a lot of back issues of Jim Baen’s Universe Clarkesworld, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Instapaper. Unfortunately, magazines live in their own little world and can’t be added to any of your existing Collections. That’s a real pity, since I have a “Currently Reading” Collection that I use to organize everything that I’m, well, currently reading and it’s impossible to add my current (or past) magazine issues to that Collection.
Here’s an idea I’d love to see implemented: associate a magazine subscription to a Collection. Any new issues for that magazine should automatically be added to that Collection, ready for reading. But I should also be free to move back issues to a different Collection.
Fast Book Switching
This is another area where Amazon should take a cue from Apple. iOS allows you to double-tap the home button to get to a list of recently used applications. That allows you to quickly switch from one application to another, without having to go all the way out to the home screen.
I’m generally reading 4-6 books at any one time and they’re not always next to each other on the home screen. Right now, to switch between books, I have to press the “Home” button, look for the book on a specific page of the home screen or navigate to a specific collection, and then open the book.
It’d be nice if the Kindle supported some form of fast switching (a pop-up menu? a list at the bottom of the window) that would allow me to quickly toggle between various recently read books or magazines. The current system isn’t bad, exactly, but I think it could be improved upon.
Easier Collection Management
This is yet another area where Amazon could take a page from Apple’s playbook. I really like using iTunes to manage my iPod touch. (iTunes itself could use some work but that’s a topic for another post.) iTunes makes it easy to create playlists, organize media, load and unload applications, etc.
The Kindle has nothing comparable. The only way to manage your books, magazines, and documents is to do the management on the Kindle itself. It works but it’s exceedingly clunky and slow. It’s hard to manage multiple items at once and the screen refresh delays makes the experience an exercise in patience.
Amazon should provide some way to organize your content using a desktop or web application that can push your changes out to the Kindle itself.
Another option, maybe a better one, is to provide something for existing applications (perhaps Calibre) to hook into. Calibre is already a suberb application for organizing eBooks and its limited only by the fact that it can’t manage Kindle Collections. If Amazon provided a way for it to manage Collections, Calibre could easily become the iTunes of the Kindle ecosystem.
More Customized Books
Kindle books are too uniform. Amazon should provide a way for publishers to customize font faces, margins, line spacing, etc so that publishers can provide books with a unique look and feel. One of the joys of physical books is the look that each book can have. With the current Kindles, that joy is sadly missing.
Additionally, the Kindle needs to support more formatting features. For example, the Kindle doesn’t provide any way for a book to support block quoting. In many non-fiction books, it’s very difficult to separate out the block-quoted content from the author’s commentary. I think that needs to change in order for eBooks to reach their full potential.
Finally, I’d really like to see Amazon support the ePub file format. It’s the de-facto standard for every other eReader on the market. Right now, I have to keep all of my books in both ePub and MOBI/Kindle formats, to maintain compatibility with all readers. I don’t necessarily expect Amazon to distribute their own books as ePub files but it’d be nice to be able to load my other non-Amazon books as ePub files, without needing to convert them first.
I buy a lot of my eBooks directly from the publishers: Baen Books and Pyr, among others. I can load those books onto my Kindle and my iPod touch (running the Kindle app) but I can’t synchronize my last-read position between the devices. That only works for books that were purchased through the Amazon Kindle store.
I realize that WhisperSync is a big advantage for Amazon’s store and that they’re not likely to give it up just for my convenience. But what if Amazon created a "WhisperSync Plus" service, available as an annual subscription ($25 a year? $50 a year? part of an Amazon Prime account?) that would allow members to use WhisperSync for personal documents? I would gladly pay for that service and I'd like to think that other people would too.