Asus has released more details about its upcoming eReaders. Not too surprisingly, Asus will be selling two separate models: a high end device and a budget reader. The budget reader is to be called the Eee Reader in keeping with Asus’ popular line of netbooks. Like the Eee PC, the Eee Reader will compete using a low cost, no frills approach.
The high end reader, on the other hand, seems to be the complete opposite. Pictured here (as a conceptual design), the eReader will have 2 screens and open like a conventional book. This could be a way to help facilitate the jump to digital for dead tree diehards, but I think it would look and feel a bit strange. What’s more, the hinge only seems to be the tip of the iceberg. From the article:
Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a web cam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the Internet.
This looks like a horrific example of feature creep. Asus could build and sell a touchscreen laptop, but it would be foolish to market it as an eBook reader. The success of the Kindle, and monochrome eInk in general, shows that a device needs to focus on what it does best and then leave it at that. If someone is looking to buy an eReader with Skype functionality, they are going to just buy a netbook, tablet PC, or smart phone instead.
Rather that going over authors that caught my attention (which after 17 posts has drained my imagination considerably) I’m going to change the format of these series and instead write about specific books I’ve recently read. This time I’m going to cover two books: “A Briefer History Of Time” by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, and “The Elegant Universe” by Brian Greene.
I’ve grouped these two Kindle eBooks together because I’ve read them one after another and they are complimentary to each other in many ways.
A Briefer History Of Time
A Briefer History Of Time is an abridged and updated edition of “A Brief History Of Time” that was originally published in 1988. It was published in 2005. The book is about human percenption of time, space and cosmology and how it changed and developed over time starting as early as ancient times of Aristotle and all the way to modern superstring frontier of theoretical physics. It covers established (and some outdated) scientific theories such as Newton’s treory of gravity, Einstein’s special and general relativity, quantum mechanics etc. “A Briefer History Of Time” does a great job at popularizing these complex theories to a level understandable by most people without background in math and physics. I derived a lot of enjoyment from reading this book by recollecting how I studied this or that concept in high school and university. If you are curious about what makes the world tick the way it does I strongly recommend reading this book. “A Briefer History of Time” is published by Amazon with “Optimized for Kindle DX” badge.
The Elegant Universe
The Elegant Universe, although written by another author picks up where “A Briefer History Of Time” left off. Although most of the book is dedicated to string theory, there is quite a bit of information about theory of relativity and quantum mechanics. “The Elegant Universe” describes how these two well established and verified theories are in fundamental conflict with each other and how string theory (as well as it’s variants superstring theory and M-theory) which depicts the universe as myriads of miniature strings similar to the ones you’ll find on a guitar or violin that become elementary particles by vibrating one way or the other attempts to resolve this conflict. Although “The Elegant Universe” is more technical than “A Briefer History of Time” it is still well within the realm of understanding by most people. For mathematically and scientifically savvy readers additional information is provided in appendixes. In final chapters the author really lets his imagination fly loose when touching on such subjects as multiverse. Although the books is somewhat biased (you can see that Greene really wants the string theory to come out as the Ultimate Theory of Everything) it still found it well worth reading.
George Orwell’s 1984 is making its way back on to customers’ Kindles. After the controversy this summer revolving around Amazon’s remote deletion of Orwell’s works, Amazon is now returning the book to customers’ Kindles, annotations intact.
Those who were effected by the book removals should have received the following note from Amazon:
As you were one of the customers impacted by the removal of ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ from your Kindle device in July of this year, we would like to offer you the option to have us re-deliver this book to your Kindle along with any annotations you made,” reads the note. “You will not be charged for the book. If you do not wish to have us re-deliver the book to your Kindle, you can instead choose to receive an Amazon.com electronic gift certificate or check for $30
Although Amazon refunded the cost of the book when they deleted it, it’s nice to see that they are still offering to replace it for free. The option of $30 is also more than what people paid, but is probably meant to cover any extraneous damages the deletions may have created (oddly enough, Amazon is claiming this refund is unrelated to the ongoing lawsuit).
Image From Interead
Coolerbooks, Interead’s bookstore meant to correspond with the COOL-ER Reader, has gained 1 million public domain titles from Google Books. The COOL-ER Reader hasn’t received a whole lot of attention since it first came out, but this move greatly increases the size of its online library.
But more importantly, this makes Coolerbooks the latest Amazon competitor to team up with Google. While the Kindle library is limited to a (still fairly large) inventory of about 350,000 books, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Coolerbooks all received that extra 1 million from Google. Sure, a large chunk of the million is old, obscure texts that few people are interested in, but the bookstores continue to taut the sheer volume of books.
It’s also interesting to note that, since Sony is embracing ePub, owners of COOL-ER Readers could always get the Google titles from Sony’s store and vice-versa. While these separate companies are competitors, they are becoming de facto allies in what’s almost a coordinated attack against the Kindle.
However, I have to doubt that Google Books will be responsible for the demise of the Kindle. These books are hardly the best sellers that drive the majority of sales. Also, who’s to say that Amazon can’t one day provide Google’s ePub books themselves?
Jesse Vincent who is responsible for a number of Kindle hacks in the past (such as Savory and tethering Kindle 2) managed to get Ubuntu Linux running on the Kindle 2. Since one branch of the popular distro is ported to run on the ARM architecture that Kindle is based on, it seems like it was should have been possible to run a generic Linux version on the device. Jesse proved it to be true. He has actually been at it for quite a while, having run xdaliclock on the Kindle months ago. It seems that recently he was able make most of the Kindle hardware (like 5-way controller) work.
Hypothetically, there is no limit to what other software could be installed. It’s even plausible that at some point in the future something like this could become more widespread. If someone likes the Kindle but not Amazon’s platform, they could install some community supported Kindle OS that was more to their liking. People already jailbreak iPhones; this could be the Kindle equivalent.
I’ve come across yet another way to crash Kindle DX: connect it via USB cable to your PC and try copying over a dictionary file. After copying around 2MB of data Kindle drive disconnects from the computer, Kindle goes into home screen and then freezes. I discovered this when trying to copy over Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary without using WhisperNet (since I’m currently outside the coverage zone).
The bug was pretty consistent regardless of which folder I tried to copy the file to. However after I’ve successfully copied the file over (I’ll explain how in a second) I couldn’t get my Kindle DX to crash with this file again. Copying the same file to Kindle 2 also worked out fine.
I’ve noticed that once some portion of file was copied you can append to it and it will not cause crashes. So I used robocopy.exe to resume the copy operation. To do it you need to put the file you want to copy in a separate folder and then run robocopy.exe /z . k:\documents after resetting your Kindle DX, assuming K: is your Kindle drive letter. If you are running Windows Vista it already comes with robocopy installed, for other versions you can download it here.
After the process was complete it seems that my Kindle works fine and there is no lasting damage. However if you would like to try reproducing this bug please to it at your own risk as your mileage may vary. Let me know if you experience something similar.
Later I did some additional testing and found out that other dictionaries would crash Kindle DX in the same way as well and for some dictionary files the robocopy workaround doesn’t seem to work. I’ve notified Amazon so hopefully it will get fixed sometime soon. With any luck this had already happened in Kindle 2.1.1 update that some people are getting already and that’s listed in the Kindle source code section along with Kindle 2.0.4 update.
On the Kindle source code page two new packages recently appeared:
Some users have already reported receiving these updates on your devices. Manual Kindle software update URL still returns 2.0.3 for me and there is no known URL to check for Kindle DX updates at the moment. There doesn’t seem to be any update for the original 1st generation Kindle at the moment.
If you notice any differences after your Kindle updates, please let me know. This would also be a good time to temporarily revert Unicode Font Hack or any other firmware-altering hacks that you have installed so that automated update installation will not fail. You can safely reapply hacks after you get the updates.
As a great example of the Kindle being used in a professional application, Lions Gate has adapted the technology for reading and distributing scripts. Now, lucky employees no longer need to lug around briefcases full of scripts, only the lightweight Kindle.
The upgrade to eReaders seems to be a hit. Lions Gate executives love the simplification of being emailed PDF files and having needed documents at the tips of their fingers. But I’m sure the real reason for Lions Gate’s adoption is the obvious one: the Kindle must be saving them boatloads on paper costs. More and more, offices will also see this advantage. Buying a Kindle may be a little expensive up front, but it is an investment that will pay off as it is used day after day.
Of course, script reading is perfect for eReaders in that it’s not much different than reading a book. A document that’s strictly textual is exactly what the Kindle does best. When it comes to charts and diagrams, cheap color eReaders will need to be available before the average office is willing to go paperless.
Slate has an article about the best way to beat the Kindle in the eBook market. Their arguments are fairly compelling. They compare the eBook market to mp3 players, as both represented the transition from traditional media to a digital form. In terms of eReaders, the Kindle has the role of the iPod. Both devices broke out early in their respective markets due to a cleverly designed service and smart marketing. Since no competitor was ever able to touch the iPod, Amazon’s competitors need to figure out where Apple’s competitors went wrong.
The article comes away with 2 main suggestions:
1. “Beat the Kindle on features, not on price.” The iPod stayed ahead by continually reinventing itself. An eReader that completely dwarfed the Kindle in features would have a chance. Maybe. Except for…
2. “Service matters more than the device itself.” The Kindle beat the Sony Reader because it had the Kindle bookstore. Any competitor will have to beat the entire platform.