2007-11-19 00:19:52
Can Amazon Re-Kindle the eBook Flame?
Some would say that it was only a matter of time. (Others might say that it's about time) Amazon is finally taking a go at the eBook. People are already lining up to label their new device the iPod of the book world. Some might ask though, if not Amazon, can anyone pull this off?

So I think that it goes without saying that I have an unhealthy relationship with books. For someone that people have often commented on as having little or no vices, I would say that books are the closest that I come to what you might call and addiction. A moment of lucidity along those lines hit me when I found myself fishing another bookcase out of the alley next to a neighbors garbage can. The new acquisition just barely held the books that had simply piled up in my office. What's that about admitting you have a problem as being the first step?

This may come as a shocking confession to some. I have, for many years now. Attempted to go digital with my reading. And when I say many, I mean at least ten. The first attempt was way back on my trusty Palm III. I had found Project Gutenberg and I was in love. Just the thought that I might tap into archives of Alexandrian proportions and frolic amongst the texts therein had me giddy. I tried a few smaller texts to get a feel for the screen and then sought the advice of my english lit friend on some thing larger that I might tackle. He pointed me to The Brothers Karamazov, stock Dostoevsky fare. I, of course did not confess at this time that I was about to *gasp* download this from the Net to my (then) new little toy. Needless to say when he caught me, hiding in a coffee shop plugging away at the text in digital, he was appalled. Sighting some excuse about not having the correct translation, at our next meeting a large, dead tree tomb was throw (almost literally) at me... his personal copy... if only I would cast aside the fool notion that I could truly consume a novel of that caliber on such a unworthy platform. I had to admit that he was right. To view the rich world about to be presented to me through a small 160 by 160 pixel portal seemed a bit laughable. I accepted the book and left my Palm to the simpler tasks of addresses and phone numbers.

Years later, I finally upgraded to a newer, slicker Palm Tungsten T, this was different, this was color and 320 x 320. Things would be better, I could feel it. I burned through some L. Frank Baum this time. Looking back I could retroactively make a metaphor out of the color of the device and the opening sequence of the movie adaptation of The Wizard of OZ. If that was there, it was subconscious, and the text was still black and white anyway. That when fairly well. Being able to recharge the unit and not chew through batteries was a plus (even though I had long since moved to rechargeable for the Palm III by that point) Fealing saucy, I grabbed the copy of War and Peace that I was playing with some concordance on (this is the point where someone that knows me would *not* think to ask themselves, way, exactly I was doing this) and slapped it on my Palm. Didn't make it all the way on that one. It was an effort though. I can't say if it was the book or the device, but it still wasn't doing it.

And here I am again. This time I'm, on a whim, rereading Orwell's 1984 on my N800. I will say that 800 by 480 (or 480 by 800 as I have been reading it) is a distinct step up. I would not call it double plus good, but it works. If you are someone that has read text on a smaller device, you can do a lot worse. Still, its not an option outdoors, and while I'm not keen on letting my paper books get dripped on in the rain/sleet/snow, the N800 is a bit less forgiving. (I have used a Palm sealed in a ziploc bag. Not quite an ideal solution)

There is just something about a paper book that I can't escape. I think it's really more about the symbol of what it represents. I have very fond memories of many hours of my life lost in libraries, roaming the shelves. The physicality of it all that... sitting here in front of my laptop screen I could never replace that. I spent some time this summer in the new downtown library here in Minneapolis and I must say, just walking into a room with stacks of books and getting hit with the unmistakable sent of old paper hit me hard. An involuntary smile crept onto my face. I've come to realize that I relate even the *scent* of a book to the experience.

But time marches on, and my back is less happy with a backpack of books than it was 10 years ago. I guess I would have to say that if anyone could make a physical eBook work, it's Amazon. From the glimpses of what I hope was just a prototype, I don't see the Kindle winning any awards for design. I still have a silly hope of a leather bound, dual screen device that opens, well, like a book. This is not it. It is using digital ink to up the rez on the pages and sports what they claim is a 30 hour per charge battery life (we'll see how long that goes untested, eh) so there are leaps forward, but there are more hops then gazelle like bounds.

The thing though, which Amazon knows is the key here, is the actual device is just a fraction of the battle, it's getting the text on there that is the kicker. They claim to be launching with 88,000 titles. There is also talk of daily newspapers, exploiting the wireless aspect of the platform. (That should be fun to watch.) My guess is that the Kindle is really nothing more than an excuse to have something to read them on. For all we know, that $400 price tag is near cost on the unit. (Much unlike the iPod mark up of lore.) My guess is that if this takes off, there will be real efforts taken to produce a more Luddite friendly form factor.

I will be watching. If I had $400 laying about myself, I'd be dropping it on a new N810. I'm guessing that the viewing software will be making its rounds at some point in time to other devices. Waiting is fullness. It's been a 10 year stretch, in that scope I can wait a bit longer. I do look forward though. My son, turning a year old this week is already getting the dead tree infection from his parents. I fully plan on continuing this. He has a whole laundry basket of board books and we read nearly every one of them to him every day. When he is old enough, if they are still open, I will be taking him to libraries and seeing if I can spark in him that which was lit in me so many years ago. Yes I plan to kindle that fire with what is still the best tinder, dry paper. I can only hope that by then, something will exist that I feel is worthy of offering him in place of a care worn paperback off the shelves. We shall see.

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