iBooks: A Second Look


I remember testing out iBooks when I first got my iPad, and promptly dismissing it. I didn’t plan to buy from their store (I prefer to buy DRM-free, or at least DRM-removable) and I planned to use the Kindle app for its sync feature, so I didn’t really see the need. In fact, when my aunt told me she got an iPad and had been using iBooks, I tried to talk her out of it in favor of the Kobo app, so she could share books with her Kobo-owning husband.

Well, I ‘ve had a second look at iBooks thanks to some recent events at school, and I see the use for it—both in a good way and a bad way. I think it has some nice features, and in certain situations it can be a good reading choice. But I have some caveats, especially for people who plan to use the app with kids …

1. Advantage: It’s there.

A techie like me should not underestimate the market share an app can accumulate among their less-techie colleagues just by virtue of being pre-installed. I might be able to debate with my e-book-reading friends about the virtues of the Kobo app versus the Kindle app, but the reality is, most people don’t care and will not seek out alternatives to an app that’s pre-loaded and ready to go. Most of my colleagues are unfortunately not as well-trained as my technology team co-leader and I might like them to be. And my time to go and seek out alternatives and train them is limited. iBooks is there, it’s easy and it’s ready to go. Win!

2. Advantage: It works.

Yes, they all work, to an extent. But the combination of ‘it’s there’ and ‘a five-year-old can figure it out pretty quick’ is a compelling one. I was supervising a small group of kids in an after-school program, and I had one of them reading a beginner book out loud to me within five minutes while his stunned teacher looked on. When she expressed interest in loading further readers for silent reading time, I had some kids’ comic books on there by the time the kids were picked up to go home. Sure, there are bells and whistles that aren’t there—like cross-device syncing. But for what we were doing—just sitting and reading simple books together—we didn’t need it. We were good. It was easy. Sometimes, that’s enough.

3. Advantage: E-Books save space—and labor!

This is an obvious one, but it applies to kids books just as much as to adult books. Library space is limited. Time for shelving and sorting and organizing is all the more precious. One of the support teachers just spent the better part of a week organizing a set of leveled readers into bins. It was work evaluating each book, deciding what bin to put it in, labeling it with the appropriate sticker, and so on. And the bins take up an entire wall! I found at least one complete set of readers on the iBooks store for $1.99 per book. Each book had an index page at the end that listed the whole set in order. And best of all, through iCloud syncing, you could load them onto one iPad and have them automatically download to all the other ones. And then you don’t have to worry about stickering them, and getting them into bins, and making sure the kids put them back into the right bins …

4. Disadvantage: Browsing and sorting options in the store are limited.

I was so pleased with the success of my little reading time that I went looking for more of the same. Unfortunately, the iBooks store—like the app store—is a bit of a jumbled mess. I could narrow the categories from all books down to children’s books, then fiction or non-fiction. But that was it! What I wanted were more sub-categories so I could browse for leveled readers, or graphic stories, or comic books. It was tough slogging. They really need to refine the sub-categories and make it easier for people to find similar content to what they’ve been enjoying already. I appreciated the ease of having the book store built into the app. Apple blocks that feature in the Kobo and Kindle apps. But unless you know what you’re looking for, it can be hard to find new stuff.

5. Disadvantage: Kids need more supervision with e-books than with paper books.

Unfortunately, my colleague learned the hard way that you can’t just spring an iPad onto a first-grader and let them have at it. There are too many buttons to touch! Several kids found the ‘store’ button a little too easily and went crazy downloading samples (they can’t buy books—or anything—without an admin password). From what I saw, they weren’t even good samples. It wasn’t like there was a certain book they wanted and they tried to find it; it was more like they just went crazy pressing all sorts of buttons for the sake of pressing them. There were some adult books in there. There were some Spanish ones. It was just ‘whee, buttons! Tap tap tap!’ Another iPad was returned to me with over 100 pictures on it of the user’s shoe. It was time and effort removing that.

I think that Apple (and Amazon, and Kobo, and all of them, really) do need to look further at the parental controls issue and start bringing in mechanisms to hide the store and allow adults to filter content better. But I also think there’s a fine line there, and part of our job as grown-ups involves teaching them how to use their tools safely and appropriately. So I’ll need to do some training with my fellow teachers on how to guide their lessons a little more, to set a task and keep them focused on it rather than just handing them the iPad and telling them ‘here you go.’

==

I do think that our in-school iPad program will be finding some cool things to do with iBooks, and I hadn’t anticipated that. Even our most reluctant readers were captivated by the easy readers I found for them to use during tech time. But I’d like to see better parental controls and content refinement options from the vendors, and I’d like to see better-trained teachers who know how to run with this once they hook the kids in. There is work to be done, from all the grown-ups here!
By Joanna Cabot
Via TeleRead

普通用户眼中的电子书战国

一个普通的读者与用户Bleaves向cnbeta投了一篇稿,对国内几大电子书阅读平台的产品、服务与用户体验做了一番评点。

我从小喜欢阅读,四年级之前已经基本上扫完上得了档次的世界名著,五年级之后就开始嫌弃《读者》没有什么内涵。由于家教甚严,而且家里基本上都是正经的大部 头,因此小学的最后两年学会了上网之后,才真正开始接触闲书。记得六年级的暑假整整三天三夜不睡觉看完了金庸的射雕三部曲。涉猎闲书的我,发现这些比严肃 的所谓“名著”有意思的多,从此一发不可收拾。初中接触到了快餐文学,常常是一天一至两本的效率。上课时做低头思考状,俯看抽屉里藏着的某本具有着各种王 子与灰姑娘,总裁与小迷糊,才子与佳人元素的言情小说。荒废了的初中三年,看遍了各种言情小说,穿越的,都市的,架空的,练就一番熟知各种浪漫桥段,一看开头便知结尾的神功。恍然到了高中,发现还能吃的老本早已不多,而随着年龄的增长,人也开始追求更为高深莫测的东西,整天都是快餐文学多掉价啊。于是杜拉 斯呀,卡夫卡呀,村上呀,尼采等等被我认为是“高深莫测”的典型就排着队走进了我家的书柜。那时候京东和当当还没有打价格战,想看的书也不耐烦等几天才 到,因此基本不做打折时才买书的打算。精神食粮那么津津计较作甚!

自从搬家后,书柜瞬间缩水不少,作为一个有书柜整齐强迫症的人,向来都是 谨慎挑书。买实体书只买有看第二遍价值的,是我的原则。从小到大看过的少说也有近千本的闲书,一本都没有买过,不是借的就是下载的。其实我从小到大基本上 都是乖小孩(虚),最叛逆最嚣张的时候,也就是和父母顶顶嘴,摆摆离家出走的样式之类的,啥坏事也没干过,也基本上没让父母怎么操心。但从小到大,被妈逮 着窝在被窝里看书的情况有无数次了。电子产品还没普及到小孩的时候,打着手电筒看书;还没有智能手机那会儿,用mp3和PDA看书。可以说它们是我近视的 元凶之一。

直到最后,过足了戴眼镜的瘾却发现再也脱不下眼镜的慌张,以及出国将至(买书再也没有以前方便了),我盯上了电子书。那时候 Amazon刚出了二代白色的Kindle;Barnes & Noble还没有跟风出Nook;汉王电纸书在礼品市场上卖的风生水起,刘迎建放出口号要做世界第一,雄心勃勃准备上市。我在淘宝蹲了三天,精挑细选货比 三家之后,买了Foxit Eslick。事实证明,这是我在那个年代所能做出的最好选择,虽然它在两年后壮烈身亡。Foxit的PDF编辑器出身,代表了它拥有所有电子书上最好的 PDF解决方案;即使我如今的新欢Kindle小4,与其相比,PDF也显示的不清不楚,总有说不出的别扭。在那个大浪淘沙的年代,Foxit最终决定不 再支持Eslick的后续开发,回到自己的老本行。作为一个小公司(顺便骄傲地夸奖一下,Foxit的大本营居然是在福州),做电子阅读器只是对于一个新 兴行业的试水之作,小试一下身手。静观之后汉王上市后的各种得意忘形,以及后续跟不上后,股票的直线下跌,不得不说Foxit的这个选择绝对是明智的,一 个企业保有,并专注于自己的优点还是最重要的。

经过两年军阀四起,群雄割据,大浪淘沙后的美国电子书市场已经形成了三足鼎立之态。 Amazon,Barnes & Noble以及Apple (Google Books在近几年内绝没有实力跟以上几位竞争)。苹果自不用说,广大良好善良的苹果粉们,无论其做什么,都会以最决裂的方式予以支持(例如卖肾),卖书 自不用多说。

Barnes & Noble(就如中国的新华书店)凭借着其百年实体书店的信誉,硬是要和Amazon扛上,即使要破产也不惜代价,推出了Nook。说实话,我特别待见 Nook的长相,有一次坐电车的时候终于目睹Nook的真身,不惜厚着脸皮跟人家打了招呼,就为了把玩一番。最后自不用说,万货之王的Amazon,也是 第一个发现电子阅读的市场,并将其发展壮大的公司。

若用一个词来形容“我最喜爱科技公司”的评选中,荣升第三的Amazon,那便是“清楚”。熟悉我的人知道,我对人对事的最高评价,便是清楚二字。能领导壮大这样的一个公司,Jeff Bezos自然也是一个相当清楚的人。他知道对待什么样的对手出什么样的招,他知道什么时候应该当机立断,先下手为强,也知道什么时候应该站稳脚跟,再一步一个脚印。完全是一个拿得起放得下的明白人,相比之下,Google过于nerdy,苹果多些恣意,Amazon就是一切都刚好平衡。我最后放弃外貌协 会的Nook,选择了长相稳重的Kindle小4,也正是为了其之后的可持续发展性。

这三家之所以能存活至今并站稳脚跟,最重要的一点,它们已经深知软件相比于硬件的重要性,其背后的生态圈,研发团队,都是砸钱砸时间一点一点堆砌起来的。而随着时间的流逝,百分之八九十的电子书公司都因缺乏远见或资金而默默消失。我们转头来看看国内的数字阅读市场。

这是一个全民盗版的国家。在这个地方,人们愿意花五千块钱买个手机,却不愿意花六块钱买个app;在这个地方,人们愿意花八十块钱看场电影,却不愿意花二十 块钱买一本书。其实有时候我也能理解,如果在网上花三分钟就能搜到心仪小说的电子版本,却要我付全价再哀哀地等一个星期等书送到,确实有些不甘愿。但好在 中国的大佬们已经意识到,电脑要从娃娃抓起,电子阅读要从书城做起,量大质好才能背靠大树好乘凉。

一夜之间无数电子书城瞬间拔地而起,业界大佬们不甘示弱,能插一脚的使出浑身解数也要插进去,毕竟谁都不像弱人一头。淘宝,当当,京东,盛大,汉王,多看,豆瓣……其余的恕我数不过来了。

汉王

先说汉王,因为它最简单。四个字来形容:气数已尽。或许有些浅薄,只作为个人观察后得出的结论。在汉王从礼品市场大肆掘金大出风头的时候,刘迎建已经着手在 做汉王书城了。发展到今日,它可以说是资格最老的一个,也是最为差劲的一个。为了确保客观性,我刚刚还特意到汉王书城逛了一圈,说实话,没有想买任何一本 书的欲望。无论从UI还是价格,就是毫无吸引我的特点。我看过一个关于汉王买手的采访,他的工作是每个月必须为汉王采购多少本书的版权,超过此硬性指标才 有提成。这也就造成了此书城有量无质的现状。此外,还看出其下了许多功夫,笼络了许多报刊。不过私以为,报纸已经就是个过时的东西了,现在人们获取信息, 网上多的是途径。更何况真正买Eink电纸书的人,都是深度阅读的人,而报纸上的消息大多只是浅阅读罢了,这两个完全不是一条路子的。

当当、京东、淘宝

然后我想把当当,京东,淘宝合起来讲。这三哥儿们有个共同点,就是眼红Amazon在Kindle上的规模和市场。于是都冒出了一个念头:为什么我不能做中国的Amazon呢?

当当心想,我在中国的网上购书行业若称第二,谁敢第一?这么多年和各家出版社积攒下来的铁关系可不是吹的。我要真想做电子书,可不就是振臂一呼,一呼百应 么?于是当当也是照抄Amazon最彻底的一个,不仅按照行业规矩,放出各种平台的客户端,甚至也开卖了自己的阅读器(我实在不知道阅读器到底怎样,自己 没有买过)。只是抄的了型,抄不到魂,生搬硬套总是觉得差了些什么。不过当当依然是所有竞争者中手握最多资源的一家,但若没有特色,甚难取胜。

京东就是刘强东的性格,我就不信做不过别人。时间没人家长?砸钱!渠道没人家多?砸钱!反正二十一世纪,什么都是资本运作。京东也是另外一个模式照搬者,但比当当还弱。

淘宝确实是电商老大,当之无愧的老大。淘宝说,我什么都能卖,无论是虚拟还是实物,无论是房子还是汽车,只要你有个价,我就能把你卖得出去。淘宝能当上龙头 老大当然有其营销手段。所以我浏览了下淘宝的电子书城,各种促销手段,确实引得我十分有购买欲望。只是有一点,书虽然是商品的一种,包装促销手段必不可 少,但最重要还是内容取胜。如果逛书店就跟逛超市一样,什么便宜买什么,那这就失去了其存在的价值了。这也是为什么我比较反感这三家电子书城(另外加上盛 大的云中书城)的一点。唯一能留住真正爱书者的办法,除了内容还是内容,价格是附加分,但绝不占主题。

盛大

盛大的云中书城,与以上三家有些许不 同之处,就是它早已深谙内容为王之道,并早早地垄断了中国90%以上的网络小说版权。通过起点以及晋江等网站,盛大早已积累了大批习惯了付费模式看百万字 小说的广大群众。以面相来看,盛大其实应该是最兼具内容,模式,市场的电子书城。它也依瓢画葫芦地引进了Amazon模式。该有的电纸书也有,该开发的各 种客户端也都开发,该做的宣传也从来不少,却一直没有达到预期的规模和效果。从锦书发布到现在,一直发展的不温不火。个人归结下来的原因就是,所谓百万书 籍的版权,却因为网络小说质量的良萎不齐,真真能拿得出手的,也还是不多。

豆瓣与多看

最后再讲一下豆瓣和多看。这俩是我最看好的,也是仅有的两个支持 Kindle的国内书城。豆瓣凭着经年构建的小清新风格俱乐部,隆重推出豆瓣阅读。刚下载,就能感受出一股文艺青年之风扑面而来。里面的小说确实质量上 乘,虽然没有什么畅销书当大牌,不过也有其独特的品味,估计会特别符合文艺青年孤芳自赏、曲高和寡、傲娇的眼光。特别值得一提的,豆瓣仅仅推出的iPad的客户端,而遗漏了iPhone的客户端。这一点是及有勇气,他们对市场定位非常清晰,深谙用手机阅读的群众,没有真正的阅读爱好者。

多看的起家,便是Kindle的中文系统。在Amazon早期对中国大批渴望关注的消费者毫不在意的情况下,多看系统凭借其对中文的出色支持,赢得了大于 90%的装机率,而这大批又能折腾又爱看书的优质客户自然而然地被多看吸收,并顺应时事推出多看书城。其实对比于之前所提到的那些大财主们,多看真是要资 源没资源,要钱没钱。不过我很欣赏的是他们那种脚踏实地把每一步做好的态度。因为地儿小,所以他们认真对待每一本能发布的书,从排版到宣传毫不马虎。大店 小店各有其生存之道,只要你能走出自己的特色就好。我唯一担忧的一点是,Kindle上的多看系统,毕竟是盗版的。若Amazon有意正式进军中国市场, 多看又该何去何从。目前也可以看出,多看渐渐地将书城的中心转移至各手机以及web客户端,只是Kindle依然代表其最优质的客户群体。

中国的阅读市场,与发达国家相比,还是在春秋战国时期。各家的发展只能看造化,成王败寇还是不好说。现在中国的互联网大佬们,各个都是出生于六七十年代,经历了改革 开放的人精,玩起资本运作一个比一个厉害。电子阅读这么具有潜力的一块肥肉,谁都舍不得丢。但是要做好做大一块市场,仅仅跟风是不够的,真的是要用心下功 夫。一点一滴的细节,或许人们感受不到。但是积少成多,它们才是能分出高下的关键。

Via Cnbeta

Amazon Acknowledges Uneven Lighting On The Kindle Paperwhite

The Kindle Paperwhite is an amazing ereader. It’s arguably the best on the market. But it’s not flawless. Some users, including several TechCrunch writers, noticed the lighting on their Paperwhite is not evenly spaced, resulting in odd, slightly distracting gaps at the bottom of the screen (see the pic).

Well, in a recent statement, Amazon stepped up to the plate and addressed this lighting issue as well as reaffirming the Paperwhite model has less storage than its predecessor and lacks text-to-speech. Even with these, let’s say design decisions, the Kindle Paperwhite is a fantastic ereader. As John states out inour official review, it’s a reader’s dream.

Full statement,

We want you to know…

Kindle Paperwhite is the best Kindle we’ve ever made by far, but there are certain limitations and changes from prior generations that we want you to know about.

Kindle Paperwhite does not have audio or Text-to-Speech. This makes the device smaller and lighter than it would otherwise be. Audio and an improved Text-to-Speech engine are supported on Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD.

Under certain lighting conditions, the illumination at the bottom of the screen from the built-in light is not perfectly even. See examples of how the screen looks in different lighting conditions. These variations are normal and are located primarily in the margin where text is not present. The illumination is more even than that created by a book light or lighted cover. The contrast, resolution and illumination of the Paperwhite display is a significant step-up from our prior generation.

The Kindle Paperwhite has 2 GB of storage. Some previous Kindle models had 4GB of storage. 2GB allows you to hold up to 1,100 books locally on your device. In addition, your entire Kindle library is stored for free in the Amazon cloud, and you can easily move books from the cloud onto your device.

Thank you, and we hope you enjoy Kindle Paperwhite.
– The Kindle Team

via TechCrunch

Amazon directly addresses problems with new Kindle Paperwhite

Kindle Paperwhite in the dark

Consumers have logged many complaints about spotty screen illumination, lack of storage, and missing speech-to-text on the Paperwhite. Amazon has decided to address the naysayers directly.

Amazon decided to be refreshingly upfront when faced with a growing number of complaints pertaining to the new Kindle Paperwhite. As you may know, the Paperwhite is the first Kindle to have a self-illuminating screen that lets you read in the dark without a separate accessory.

However, as more and more people begin to use the new device, complaints have been turning up in Amazon forums, specifically targeting the uneven lighting provided by the device under certain conditions.

A quick Google search of “Kindle Paperwhite problems” turns up a wide range of screen issues:

“Noticed the screen had ‘light spots’ all over the display, think looking at the night sky and seeing the stars.”

“I have a bright spot on mine too, as well as annoying screen blotches. I’m sending it back for a refund instead of getting on the replacement merry-go-round.”

“This is my first kindle and so far I’m disappointed. The dark spots are bothersome and I don’t like how blue the ‘white’ is.”

But rather than ignore the public’s complaints, Amazon decided to address the issues head-on through a public statement. The online retailer acknowledged the Paperwhite can produce uneven illumination when used improperly in particular lighting conditions. However, Amazon defended themselves, saying the unevenness only affected a small portion of the screen that didn’t hold text anyway. Amazon also included examples of how the screen should look in various lighting scenarios and offered advice for optimal settings.

Other users found issue with the 2GB of storage available on the Paperwhite, a 50 percent reduction when compared to previous models that shipped with 4GB. Amazon claims the 2GB of storage is enough to hold 1,100 books in your local library, pointing out that additional books are stored in the cloud for free.

And when faced with complaints about the lack of audio and speech-to-text available on the Paperwhite, Amazon said it was omitted to make the device thinner and lighter. It was also quick to bring attention to the Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD‘s support of both features.

Whether the Paperwhite’s issues stem from the limits of its technology or oversights by the company, we respect that Amazon has acknowledged the shortcomings of its newest device. You can read the full statement below:

Kindle Paperwhite is the best Kindle we’ve ever made by far, but there are certain limitations and changes from prior generations that we want you to know about. Kindle Paperwhite does not have audio or Text-to-Speech. This makes the device smaller and lighter than it would otherwise be. Audio and an improved Text-to-Speech engine are supported on Kindle Fire and Kindle Fire HD.

Under certain lighting conditions, the illumination at the bottom of the screen from the built-in light is not perfectly even. See examples of how the screen looks in different lighting conditions. These variations are normal and are located primarily in the margin where text is not present. The illumination is more even than that created by a book light or lighted cover. The contrast, resolution and illumination of the Paperwhite display is a significant step-up from our prior generation.

The Kindle Paperwhite has 2 GB of storage. Some previous Kindle models had 4GB of storage. 2GB allows you to hold up to 1,100 books locally on your device. In addition, your entire Kindle library is stored for free in the Amazon cloud, and you can easily move books from the cloud onto your device.

Do you have a Kindle Paperwhite? Have you had any issues with it or is it performing as expected?

via DigitalTrends

Say Goodnight, Gracie – The Kindle DX is Out of Stock at Amazon

nyone who has been following ereader news has probably been expecting/fearing  today’s news. the Kindle DX is only available on the Amazon website as a used device (it’s not even available as a refurb).

Amazon is no longer selling the Kindle DX, and based on their general disinterest in updating the hardware or software, I don’t expect it to come back into stock. This ereader was released in 2009, updated in 2010, and then basically ignored since then. After the price cut a few weeks ago, and now an OOS message (with no expected return date), it looks like this ereader is no longer going to be available.

Amazon first unveiled the Kndle DX in June 2009, making this 9.7″ ereader the third Kindle released as well as Amazon’s first large screen model.  This was the ereader which Amazon expected to be adopted as a textbook platform.  And in order to promote that goal, Amazon also announced that June that several major US universities were going to run pilot programs using the Kindle DX in the classroom.

Yeah, that didn’t turn out well. Amazon learned the hard way that when you pitch a product for the student market one, it needs to be usable by the visually impaired, and two, it needs to actually function adequately at its intended purpose. The Kindle DX failed on both counts.

Several lawsuits were filed in late 2009 by visually impaired students and the National Federation for the Blind. In general, the universities were faulted for failing to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. This law specified that the disabled students were to be given equal access.  That has long been interpreted both by the NFB, the Dept of Justice, and quite a few judges to mean that schools and institutions can’t buy radical new tech if the visually impaired cannot use it. This interpretation of the ADA has long been a thorn in the side of ereader makers and it is still tripping them up. Witness the recent settlement by the Sacramento Public Library as an example of the law being enforced, and the K3 (Kindle Keyboard) as evidence of Amazon’s response to the lawsuits in 2009 (that ereader is ADA compliant).

But even if the Kindle DX had been accessible for the visually impaired, it was still not all that usable as a textbook carrying ereader. The several partner universities released reports in 2010 on their various pilot programs, and for the most part students didn’t care to use the device.

Universities as diverse as Reed CollegeUVA, and Princeton (as well as several later pilots like the one at the University of Washington) all reported that students didn’t care to use their digital textbooks on the Kindle DX. Leaving aside the difficulty in getting the text into the Kindle format so it could be used on the KDX (this isn’t nearly as much trouble now), many students found the Kindle DX generally slow to respond as well as not terribly comfortable to use.

Students commonly needed to make a lot of annotations and then access them quickly and the KDX simply couldn’t match the speed of a student with a pen  in their hand.  The students who participated in the pilot programs also reported that the Kindle DX couldn’t turn the page fast enough nor jump around inside a textbook as quickly as they needed. And then there’s the issue of having only one screen to display several textbooks for a course, but that is a problem all ereader share.

All in all, the Kindle DX turned out not to be nearly as useful as the 6″ Kindle, but I suspect it was more successful than we might think – at least, Amazon sold enough units to justify an update in 2010 and continuing to keep it in stock.

Given that this ereader debuted less than a year before the iPad, and yet managed to stick around for 3 years when most every other large screen ereader died in early to mid-2010, Amazon must have done something right.

Nevertheless, I will not mourn the passing of this ereader. I have one and the iPad (or most any Android tablet) is frankly a better value.

Goodnight Gracie.

via The Digital Reader