After all the effort that Amazon spent advertising the benefits of the Kindle Fire‘s new Silk web browser, I think it is fair to say that it has been a disappointment to a few people so far. Not only has the anticipated speed improvement been minimal so far, but in some cases it can even take longer to browse a page using Silk with its signature web caching ability turned on than getting it normally by toggling off the accelerated page loading. While this is demonstrably the case right this minute, however, that may not mean it is time to give up hope for the future.
There was never much of an indication that Silk would result in less data being downloaded overall, as far as I can tell. The intention was increased efficiency, thanks to removing the need for your Kindle Fire to make connections to multiple different servers for a given page, but nothing huge in terms of simply reducing the amount of transfer. The way it works means that the faster your internet connection is, the less you will benefit from this part of the feature. Establishing multiple connections is less of a problem on a high speed, low latency network. This is a large source of the most common complaints, most likely.
By maintaining an ongoing data stream, Silk will supposedly eventually be able to send along associated and anticipated site data while you wander the internet. As more data is gathered regarding customer browsing habits, particularly in terms of large trends in behavior (visitors tending to move directly from the main page of a web site to its current headlines or daily sales page, for example) the browser should begin to perform significantly better. There are no guarantees, of course, particularly if the majority of your browsing is through little-visited sites, but the potential is there.
The failure to meet customer expectations in this case is understandable. The idea behind the browser is impressive enough to be worth bragging about, but the fact that the eventual results rely on Amazon’s machine learning algorithms means that it would inevitably take time to get the best out of it.
There is every reason to believe that they can turn all this around. The Silk browser really does do some neat things compared to the alternatives. Among other things, Amazon has proven to be pretty effective at predicting peoples’ habits based on what they look at. There wouldn’t have been nearly as much outcry against the advertising on the Kindle Library Lending checkout page if it wasn’t at least somewhat accurate based on minimal data.
Put that together with the fact that they have clearly made a huge investment in the success of the Kindle Fire and the line of products that will surely descend from it and functionality is pretty well assured. The big question now is whether it will be in time to drum up interest again. Without the big initial splash of excitement that real speed improvements would have provided at launch, it might prove hard to make it happen. Perhaps the Kindle Fire‘s larger sequel, when it comes along in a couple months, will take long enough for potential to become reality.
Kindle Cloud Reader
While Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader app might have been a response to Apple’s restrictive app store purchasing rules, it manages to be one of the best examples of the potential inherent in HTML5 applications. Users are able to enjoy all of the benefits of a local Kindle reading app without going through those pesky app stores and their associated complications.
Normally those complications are minimal, of course, but after Apple almost put an end to the Kindle app for iOS users it’s probably a good thing to break away. The one major complaint for users is that up until now only Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers were supported. Now even more customers will get to join in.
Users of Mozilla Firefox can now access the Reader so long as they are running version 6 or later. This significantly expands the user base for the app by bringing in the most popular web browser worldwide. By most estimates Firefox is more popular than Chrome and Safari put together by a fair margin yet, even with Google making their presence increasingly known.
As has been the case previously, users of the Kindle Cloud Reader app will enjoy pretty much every basic feature they are used to from the Kindle platform both online and off. This includes the ability to read in a variety of font sizes and styles, a couple different color schemes, and the ability to bookmark. You can choose which of your Kindle books to keep locally for times when web access is questionable or simply not desired.
The only real downside, assuming that you aren’t a big fan of Internet Explorer who is therefore still left out of the fun, is the inability to annotate and highlight. Supposedly this feature is expected to be implemented in the future, but as yet nothing is there. You are, of course, able to read and access any and all annotations and such that you might have entered via another device or app.As always, I can’t say there’s any substitute for an actual Kindle eReader, if for no other reason than the major advantage they have in the E INK displays, but this brings a significant level of functionality to virtually any personal device.
The Kindle Cloud Reader, along with Amazon’s other cloud services, will be especially important in the near future as the Kindle Fire finally begins to ship. The company’s dedication to cloud computing and digital media delivery is a large part of the motivation behind the release of the tablet in the first place. While Firefox is obviously not a factor with the device itself, this move indicates an obvious continuing interest in updating and expanding the feature set of the app.
Users interested in checking out the Kindle Cloud Reader can access the device in any major non-IE browser at http://read.amazon.com or http://www.amazon.com/cloudreader or through the direct link in the Kindle Store.
Amazon’s Kindle Fire does a few things that surprised people when it was announced a couple weeks ago, but probably nothing shocked people more than the inclusion of the new Amazon Silk internet browser. The idea behind it is sound, allowing most of the work for web browsing to be done in the cloud so that the user experiences vastly reduced loading times and a generally superior browsing experience. Obviously, however, the fact that the processing is being done by external computers raises some concerns in terms of privacy that need to be addressed.
Some have worried that Amazon would use customers’ browsing habits to customize sales pitches. Others are concerned that once acquired this user data becomes a commodity that Amazon can hope to turn into profit. Enterprise IT is definitely concerned with the presence of the Kindle Fire in the workplace this November for a variety of reasons. Even Congress has gotten involved, making the assumption that Amazon would be collecting as much data as humanly possible about everything going through their servers. In response to these concerns, Amazon has released some information to the Electronic Frontier Foundation regarding what data will be collected and how it will be used by the company.
The biggest concern for many people, especially those focused on their online privacy, is being forced to use the Amazon Cloud acceleration. Worry no more: You CAN turn it off at any time. In addition to opting-out by the user, anything encrypted will be routed from your Kindle Fire directly to the origin server. This means that anything going on over HTTPS will remain totally off limits for Amazon by design.
In terms of what data is being stored, each session will be logged individually for 30 days. This log will contain nothing more than requested URLs and timestamps. In no way will names or user accounts be connected to these logs, nor can they be according to Amazon representatives. Data may in some instances be even more secure than it would otherwise be since the connection to Amazon’s servers is always going to be encrypted regardless of what you are doing.
Is there still some reason to be concerned? Of course. Mostly, however, it requires far fetched scenarios. Since each session is logged individually, it is unlikely that search history could be used to identify the user from logs. That doesn’t mean impossible. Amazon will also suddenly have access to a vast amount of information about browsing habits in general which could be used to inform future business moves. There is even the chance that law enforcement will find ways to coerce the company to provide cached information for one reason or another. In terms of individual user safety, however, it seems that things are looking pretty good. Being singled out is all but impossible.
If you are still concerned, just remember that you can tell your Kindle Fire not to use this feature. Even without it on, the Silk browser is reported to deliver a speedy experience. It’s always better to be aware of what information you are letting out about your habits on the internet, however mundane those may be. Overall, though, Amazon seems to have gone out of their way to avoid intruding on your privacy.
Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has announced its intention to enter eBook market in June, 2009. Then there were some preliminary announcements of deals with publishers. But as Sony (NYSE:SNE), B&N (NYSE:BKS) kept releasing their own products everyone seemed to forget about the search engine company. With Amazon Kindle vs. Nook, Sony vs. Kindle and iPad vs. everyone and their dog nobody seemed to take Google eBook initiatives seriously. One year ago I believed and I still do that if someone were to dethrone Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN) as eBook leader, it would be Google and not other eInk reader manufacturers and definitely not Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).
Recently Google has announced that Google Editions will go live and start selling books in the Cloud as early as June, 2010. Although Google is not known for generating excessive hype for their products through extreme secrecy and controlled leaks little is known about the upcoming service so far:
- There will be a reader application that will run on any modern browser. iPad users will definitely be able to accesses it. eInk -based devices with browser capabilities like Kindle and Nook are a big “if”.
- You would be able to download books in some “open” format and read them on inexpensive “independent” eInk readers that support it. Although it wasn’t officially announced what that format might be my bets are on ePub. Whether it will have some form of DRM or not remains to be seem. Most likely it will. Otherwise it wouldn’t make sense for Google to keep Kindle out as they could easily attract millions of current Kindle owners who already buy and appreciate eBooks by supporting DRM-free Mobipocket format.
- Publishers will be able to set their own price. Does it mean that there will be no “$9.99″ books? Hard to say. It’s true that Amazon put a lot of effort in trying to keep the prices low however even apart from Amazon efforts there is also free market that will prevail eventually. Should the service become popular, after some time prices there would be representative of true market pricing. I believe that Amazon prices are currently below market because Amazon is pushing the book prices down to promote the Kindle reader and lock-in customers.
- Publishers will keep 63% of the book price, Google will pocket remaining 37%.
- It would be possible for online book retailers to use Google Edition platform to sell eBooks. Essentially these are going to be the same books. Retailer will get 55% of revenues and pay a small fee to Google, publisher will get the remaining 45%.
- Publishers would also be able to act as a retailer in which case they keep all the revenue minus small Google fee.
- Google Editions is expected to launch with 500,000 titles. I expect that many if not most of these will be public domain books.
Will Google Editions succeed? Hard to tell. If it will, it would not be because of “open format” but because of ease of use and book selection. After all, people don’t want to buy eReader (be it eInk or not), people don’t care about whether format is open or not (although 1984 argument may scare some people, in reality eBooks are little different from paper books in this regard for all practical purposes) . What people do want is to read books that they find interesting. Whoever would make it the easiest would win.
So far Google seems to have following advantages:
- Google Editions will work in browser. Every computer be it Mac, PC or linux based DIY desktop has a browser. Phones have browsers too (though I find it hard to believe that the app would be usable on a small screen). This means that you don’t have to install any software – just type in the URL and you are ready to go. This is a big plus as people don’t like/don’t know how/are afraid to install stuff on their computers.
- Since Google Editions runs in a browser it’s very convenient for Google that they actually own most of what is displayed in a browser. Many people set Google.com as their homepage. And when they want to buy something (including books) they “google” it. Google can rank their book store 1st, 2nd and 3rd for popular queries like “Twilight Eclipse” with a flick of a switch. Of course doing something this brutal and straightforward would get them in a lot of antitrust trouble. But there are many more subtle options.
- Because publishers can control the price they may be more likely to sign up for the program.
- Wide range of supported devices may be a plus.
There are some things that are stacked against Google:
- It was clearly announced that Amazon Kindle device is not supported. So Google will have hard time attracting existing Kindle customers who already purchased the device and books. These people wouldn’t want to forfeit their existing collections. It would be really hard to convert these people.
- Having many devices to chose from can be a problem. Some people are confused by choice. When you buy Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, you can be sure that these companies will stand behind their devices, support them and you would be able to buy books for years to come. With “independent” readers there is always a chance of device becoming incompatible with Google store since Google doesn’t own the device, doesn’t support it and has no control over it. And of course “independent” readers are locked out of closed leading book stores like Amazon, Sony and B&N.
All in all it’s a coin toss about who will come out on top (if anyone). My money is 50/50 on Amazon and Google.
I found myself sitting down recently with a relative of a friend of a friend, back on a break during her first year in college, and talking about my enthusiasm for the eReader concept in general and a few of my specific favorite features on the devices I own. When I mentioned web browsing, after the initial scoffing that I’ve come to expect from somebody who has trouble imagining an internet without bright colors and video, she got thoughtful and said “…but it handles text files really well, I’d imagine, right? I think I might need to get one after all.”
Now, I tend to view the browsing on these devices as a peripheral thing. I might use it to get a book for my Kindle from a non-amazon source or to check some piece of information that catches my fancy on Wikipedia while I’m away from a computer, but it’s a convenience for me and not a selling point at the moment. I couldn’t even imagine, off the top of my head, where one might come across large enough sources of plain old text files to make a sale on no other factor.
She went on to explain to me that one of her more esoteric interests was the reading of Fan Fiction based on her favorite books and movies. I won’t deny that this seems like an odd hobby to me. I’ve been aware that such things exist on the internet for quite a while now, in the same way one might be aware that there’s an Indian/Italian/Korean Fusion Bakery on the other end of town somewhere. You know it’s there for some reason, but it’s hard to imagine walking into it yourself. It seems, however, that there are gigantic databases of homemade work from rabidly enthusiastic consumers of popular media eager to explore the many imagined possibilities that the original creators never would have had the inclination, time, or sometimes even bad taste, to throw into the official story lines.
Putting aside the questionable moral ground on which the distributors of such things stand, since I’ll make the assumption for my own peace of mind that the majority of these amateur authors would desist instantly at a request from the owners of the properties they’re playing with, I can see this being a draw to these devices. It’s always fun to know that your favorite piece of gadgetry can be appealing even in unorthodox areas.
Today the latest content patch for the B&N nook rolled out and it’s made a fairly impressive showing. I played around with it for a while earlier and found little to complain about.
The most important point is, of course, performance. The screen refresh isn’t any faster, but navigating the device has been sped up considerably. There is nearly no discernible delay moving from one menu to the next anymore. Adding onto this the fact that the update is supposed to fix the freezing of nook units(couldn’t say since mine never froze in the first place), and I think many people are going to like the upgrade for this alone.
The most widely touted feature of this update was the web browser. Now, as you would expect from the first release of a browser for a device that was never really an optimal sort of avenue for that sort of thing in the first place, there are some bugs. First, page navigation is a bit slow. Both moving from page to page and simply scrolling from one part of the page to the next. I love that I can check my email easily through the device. In fact, that was the first thing I did, just to make sure I could. It causes problems when you try to do anything involving a pop-up or new tab though. Just bumps you out to the main menu. Personally I’d rather just get a message saying “No, go do something else instead.” Anyway, it’s still a nice addition. With the color on the touchscreen, the web isn’t nearly as bland as it could be. It’s a small window to the full color spectrum of the web, but it makes a big difference.
Finally, we have the games. Why did B&N add games? No idea. Not that they’re bad. I mean, they’re really not. Heck, the sodoku is one of the most pleasant versions to play that I’ve ever found, and I hate sodoku. I just don’t exactly see the point just now. Maybe when downloadable games demonstrate the potential better somehow?
I’d say nook owners should be very pleased for a bit. This is a major improvement in the device. I still feel the lack somewhat, since the keyboard is a little less sensitive and harder to use than my Kindle‘s, but it isn’t too bad. This eReader’s definitely going to get a bit more use than it has been for a while now though, I can assure you.