Monday, August 2, 2010

Are Amazon's new Kindles tablets on training wheels?

Note that this is a photo that shows both the White and Graphite Kindle 3's together, since forum members have been wondering which one to get and there are few pictures of the non-Graphite-color model.

TechNewsWorld's Katherine Noyes asks, "Are Amazon's New Kindles Tablets-in-Training?"

She and others wonder about this because Amazon is moving to the WebKit-based browser, which is an open source web browser engine.  Per the succinct definition at the link, "open source" refers to "any program whose source code is made available for use or modification as users or other developers see fit.  Open source software is usually developed as a public collaboration and made freely available."

  WebKit is also the name of the Mac OS X system framework version of the engine that's used by Safari, Dashboard, Mail, and many other OS X applications.  So it starts to become clearer that this new version of an experimental Basic Web browser (offered since the first Kindle in 2007) is going to be less sluggish and awkward than the one on current models often is, although the latter's been improved somewhat in the last 2-3 months with software version 2.5.x.

  WebKit is the basis of many smartphone web browsers (which also work best with text-focused or mobile-device optimized sites), so we should expect that kind of response with the new Kindles, including the optional, selectable 'Article Mode' capability that strips a page of all but the main body of text, leaving out banners and a ton of links to other places that are often seen on the sides of a webpage.  Yes, especially on my page, though I hope the reference-info in the right column is useful when accessing via a computer.

  That will make following links to pages like this one far more doable in the Kindle Edition of the blog.

Here are some main thoughts I felt were 'on the money' from Noyes's article:
' Amazon's new, slimmed-down Kindle devices are notable for several things, not the least of which are the upgrades to their experimental WebKit browser.
 It's faster and easier to navigate, says Amazon, and its new "article mode" feature extracts the main text-based content from Web pages for easier reading.

Free Web browsing with Kindle over 3G or WiFi is also part of the package, thanks to a new beta program, Amazon announced.
"The Kindle has always had a limited browser -- it is just getting a bit more capability this time," Rob Enderle, president and principal analyst with the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. "It lends itself to specialized and text-focused kinds of content."
'Browsing Is Intentionally Limited'
"Kindles have a keyboard and a track stick, and much of the Web content is static and just fine with e-paper," Enderle explained. After all, "PCs didn't have touchscreens, and they were fine with the Web."

Still, "the wireless model builds the cost of access into book transactions, and browsing is intentionally limited to not drive Kindle financial performance into the red," he noted.

  [Emphases on quotes are mine, but I've always felt this was an important point.]

"The Kindle is focused on e-commerce transactions, and while these initially are just books, I expect you'll be able to buy a wider variety of things in the future," Enderle predicted. "In fact, I'm kind of surprised you can't just shop on Amazon using it yet."

[Actually, you CAN shop on Amazon using it, at some regular links.
It's not recommended as it takes a long time to load the pages for things like the Top100 Free or Paid books, but I tried it one day and was able to get a book from tne normal Top100 page.]

Ultimately, however, "I really see them playing in a different territory, defined by features but also by price, as a specialized device," [Al] Hilwa [program director for application development software research at IDC] concluded. "The problem with reading is that to expand beyond the hard-core book readers, they have to have browsing, because for a lot of people reading is a fragmented, hyperlink-chasing experience where we are looking up phrases, words, ideas, news, etc."

'A Very Defined Usage Model'
Amazon has actually indicated that it is "not interested in building another tablet, which is rapidly becoming a crowded market," Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist with In-Stat, pointed out.

Rather, "Amazon seems content building a device with limited functionality and a very defined usage model," McGregor told TechNewsWorld. "I would not read too much into the inclusion of the browser other than to enhance the current functionality of the device to access content from Amazon."
One current problem, of course, "is that TFT displays like the iPad uses suck for reading because they aren't outdoor viewable and are very power hungry," Enderle pointed out. "Display technologies like the Qualcomm Mirasol stuff [subdued color with e-paper-like qualities but able to do video] will change this over the next 18 months, and by the end of next year -- likely before -- we'll begin to see converged devices."

In the meantime, "the spoiler in the market is still Google, which doesn't have an Android tablet yet but certainly will have one soon," Gillin noted. "I would expect that all three of those companies" -- Amazon, Apple and Google -- "will battle it out. There is plenty of market for everybody, so all of them can win." '

The article included other quotes with different viewpoints that were less convincing to me but if curious about them, you should read the full article.

Check often:  Temporarily-free late-listed non-classics or recently published ones
  Guide to finding Free Kindle books and Sources.  Top 100 free bestsellers. Below are ways to Share this post if you'd like others to see it.
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  1. I'm very interested in this functionality on the new K3 as I am currently debating wifi vs 3G. The selling point of 3G (for me) is web access, specifically to my webmail account (which is NOT gmail or yahoo). But last night I tried to access it on a K2 and it was impossible so I wonder how the new one will work.
    Found your blog through the Amazon forum. Keep up the good work!

  2. Kristina,
    A one-time cost of $50 for what costs smartphone users about $30 per month ... not to mention that Apple iPad WiFi-only is $130 less than Apple iPad 3G/WiFi.

    See to see how it can come in handy and also to get a downloadable file of mobile-optimized-sites to use with your Kindle 2 to get an idea -- because the new WebKit browser will be quite a bit better.

    I think you'd trade $50 to wind up with No flexibility when you're out of the house if you like to now and then look up things on the web, such as movie locations and times and good restaurants or just be able to download a book while sitting somewhere away from a home or office WiFi network and I don't know many who would prefer to do this at McDonald's or Starbucks.

    And I use mine at friends' homes and don't have to ask them for their WiFi network passkey.

    Good luck on the decision though. All reviews have said that the new browser is quite a bit better just from a first look.

  3. I agree that $50 over the lifetime of the Kindle is not much IF the browser works well.
    I guess I'm still on the fence because if I can't access my email (spoke to my ISP and there is no mobile version of our webmail and they don't know why it didn't work), then it's much less of an incentive.
    I have a netbook for travel and the only advantage of the 3G for me would really be for those rare times when wifi is not available and I need to look at email. While I don't have a web-enabled cell phone, I'm not sure I'd carry the kindle everywhere, unless that webkit browser really does work well. ;-)

  4. Sometimes 'https://' with tighter security won't work. But you should try it with a smartphone that uses a WebKit browser.

    Besides, you get 30-days to try it out and you can return it for a full-refund if it doesn't work for you. They even pay shipping-back charges (or reimburse you). I travel with a netbook also, but I need WiFi for that and would rather have cellphone type wireless also but it's too expensive for me and I'm cheap on recurring expenses like that. This Kindle is small and fits in a purse hardly taking up any space.

    But if the $50 is too expensive to take the 30-day full refund trial, then you're more cautious than I am.

    And if 3G is not an important feature otherwise, then it makes sense not to pay that $50 for the device.

  5. I broke down and ordered the 3G today. Now I just have to get a case. Wish it was all available now.

    Also, since I could not use my own affiliate link, I used yours. Someone should get the commission! :-)

  6. Kristina,
    :-) Thanks! AND I am very glad you got the 3G.

    FIRST, I did not realize you had a website and looked for the link in your name and just visited it, only to realize I KNOW that website and love it.

    You know why? We've met before. PERU. You two linked to my Peru PhotoDiary at your page.

    Your site just gets better and better! I've bookmarked it to make sure I get back to it and read up on what you two have been up to.

    Really liked some of the photos (Panama trip) I looked at quickly just now, especially one of the places you stayed, and the writing style too.
    What a small world!

    You won't be sorry you chose to get the 3G. Especially a world traveler (!)

  7. Andrys, I knew your name seemed familiar to me!! I even wondered and then thought...nah!
    Wow, small world that we keep "running into each other" this way. :-)

    My husband and I still haven't made it to Peru. Someday...

  8. I have been playing with 'article view' in Safari 5. It's pretty nice, especially useful in navigating articles that are annoyingly spread out over several pages (gotta pack more ads in...). The browser still has to request each of those other pages, so loading the entire article into the Safari Reader window can take a little while, though not as long as visiting each page in succession (because the img tag contents are never requested). On Kindle it should also be nice.

    I have high expectations for what the new browser will be able to do, particularly over a fast wi-fi connection. Will we be able to download PDFs now? hope so...hasn't seemed to work when I've tried it in the past (e.g. from Google docs). Since Amazon pays for the 3G, it wouldn't surprise me if they sooner or later cripple web access over 3G, or start metering it anyway, and so encourage more use of wi-fi. Fair enough...

  9. Tom,
    I think we'll like that feature in the Kindle although I don't tend to use the web features at home, as I like to use the Netbook for the speed and color for the web, but I will love this when out and about, as they say.

    Have you tried the "Readability" tool? They refer to it as a bookmarklet and Apple has given the makers credit for some Safari features. I love it. Strips most of the side links out presenting just the body and you can customize the size of it.

    Here's a good review of it.

    I am pretty sure the inability to download PDFs when in 3G Whispernet is due to size concerns over 3G and won't be hampered when the Kindle's in WiFi mode.

  10. Interestingly, not all images are filtered out in Reader/article view on Safari (eg. the first article you cite above). Guess it depends on how the HTML is structured.
    I agree that tablets and ereaders will be harder to differentiate in the future. Look how confused people get about iPad vs Kindle, and they're not very similar at all. It'll be interesting to see how it develops.


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