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Alice in Wonderland Google Play books bookplate

Alice in Wonderland Google Play books Harvard College Library bookplate

I’ve now got used to being able to read a book on an ebook reader across several platforms whenever I want.  Counting up the platforms I’ve realised that I’ve got several ebook systems setup with Kindle, Google Play books, ibooks and Calibre.  I’ve also got Kindle reading apps on a couple of PCs, an ipad and a phone, and I’ve a Kindle ebook reader.

So over the past few weeks I’ve been trying to keep track of when I’m reading ebooks, to help to understand what my patterns of reading are, and particularly what devices I am using, what I’m doing and where I am.  I’m also been trying to think about what the reasons might be for me using a particular device at that time.

Patterns of use
I’m reading ebooks largely at certain times of the day.  Mainly either at lunchtimes or in the evenings.  There is occasional use during the day at weekends.  I also find that at evenings and weekends I’m splitting my reading between ebooks and print books.  The only difference to that pattern is if I happen to be travelling by train or as a car passenger.

Lengths of time spent reading.
In the main I’m tending to read for short periods of time of 10-15 minutes with breaks.  When travelling I tend to spend longer periods of time reading of 30 minutes to an hour.  Interesting to me is that I tend to read print books for longer (and that may be down to where I am when I’m reading print books).  Occasionally I’m reading just a few pages for five minutes when I’m out and about.

Device use
When I’m out and about and reading ebooks on my phone it’s just for short periods of time, while I’m waiting for something.  Occasionally I’ll read ebooks on the phone for longer periods when travelling, but that seems mainly due to having the phone to hand, rather than the Kindle or tablet.  I’m always aware that power usage on the phone means that it won’t last a full day without recharging, so if there’s an alternative to the phone I’ll use that.  Reading ebooks on the phone as an experience is actually fine.

On journeys I’m tending to use the Kindle and I think that this is mainly because the power on the Kindle lasts for longer that phone or tablet, so even if I have both I’ll use the Kindle if I have it with me.  But I’ve noticed that I’ve started to take the Kindle with me less and less, if I know I’m going to be somewhere I can recharge the tablet.  The key consideration is that I can do other things with the phone/tablet so will want to save them for phone calls/text/internet.

At home I’m tending to use the tablet for ebook reading.  Mainly I think for convenience as I can recharge it when I want and switch between ebooks and browsing/looking things up.  A true multi-window tablet experience would be good though.  At lunchtimes I’m mainly using the ebook app on the laptop which is my main device at work.  If I’m sat at my desk it’s the easiest device to use.

I’m using the phone for mainly short periods of time, reading just a handful of pages.  For longer periods of time of say 30-60 minutes I’m reading the tablet or laptop.  For longer periods of time than that I’m using the Kindle generally.   What I find interesting is that I’ll use whatever device is to hand, but if I’ve more than one device with me then I’m thinking about how much power is left in the device and how easy is it to switch the device on.

What I meant to add at the end of the post (and completely forgot), was why I titled this blog post ‘ebooks and analytics’.  Amazon clearly collect data about what devices you are using, when you are using them and what you are reading on them.  So wouldn’t it be good for you as an individual to have access to that data?

I’ve seen quite a few new ebook developments over the past few days that have caught my attention and look like they will have some form of impact on the personal ebook market that has come to be dominated by the likes of Amazon Kindle.

Strange name but a really interesting development in ebook devices.  txtrbeagle has a 5″ e-ink display and is powered by battery.   Ebooks are added to the device through bluetooth, so the device essentially works with an app on your phone.  An android app is available with an iphone app to follow.  The app allows you to transfer ebooks from your mobile to the reader and looks to be positioned as a mobile add-on that offers a more comfortable reading experience than trying to read material on a small phone screen.  Although the storage space is quoted as 4gb that is only sufficient to store 5 books at a time, which seems to imply some form of transformation of the ebook format onto the device if 5 books take up so much space.

What is really interesting about the device is the price.  $13 or 10 Euros.  Almost a giveaway price.  But it opens the world of ebook readers to potentially a wider audience who wouldn’t want to pay $100, have already got a phone, but wouldn’t want to read a book on their phone.  Or lets you, say, control what your children can read on an ebook reader that it so cheap that you are happy for your four-year old to play around with it.

Bookshout is a book importer tool that lets you import your books directly from your Amazon or Barnes and Noble account into a single platform.  In itself that’s a great idea, as although tools like calibre can help with managing ebook content from multiple formats, DRM is often a restriction on being able to use the content on different platforms.  But there’s also another layer on top of that idea, which is to add sharing and social features into the tool, with Google+-like circles and the ability to share notes on the book you are reading, which look great for book groups.

The tool seems to have also thought about the perspective of authors and publishers, offering ways for authors to interact with readers and for it to act as a sales and marketing channel.  It’s an intriguing idea and even without the social dimension, offers a potentially useful tool to pull your ebooks into a single bookshelf.

wikipedia and ebooks
Wikipedia have recently announced a feature to allow users to export wikipedia content in an epub ebook format.  Called the Book creator, the tool lets you select pages or categories of material from wikipedia.  Once you’ve slected your content you can download into a small number of formats including pdf or epub or even order a print-on demand copy.  It’s a useful tool to quickly extract some content for wikipedia that you want to read offline.  The formatting from the epub version I tried was a little messy but all the content was extracted neatly and you end up with something that will work on your ebook reader or Adobe digital editions quite well.

At a presentation at FOTE last week about ebooks it started to become obvious that the idea of offering a feature to allow people to export content from your website in a ebook format, especially epub, is a really sensible idea and something that has interesting applications for repositories and digital libraries.  Packaging the content into a neat and easily consumable package is a really good idea for websites and something that projects like anthologizr are already working on with their eprints ebook work.

Sign reflected in waterebooks – the future
Two contrasting views of the future of ebooks caught my attention this week.  Some of the news was positive such as the news that Microsoft is investing $300m in an ebook service with Barnes and Noble (reported by the BBC and the Telegraph), and then in news that 3M are launching a Cloud Library aimed at allowing library customers to borrow ebooks via kiosks.

The Microsoft news seems to be largely being reported as being Microsoft looking at getting a stake in the ebook and digital content world.  It looks like it potentially links the Nook ebook content into the microsoft operating system world and puts Microsoft in the same space as Apple and Amazon.  There’s an interesting quote on the BBC website “Our complementary assets will accelerate e-reading innovation across a broad range of Windows devices, enabling people to not just read stories, but to be part of them,” said Andy Lees, president at Microsoft.  And that seems to me to be envisaging an e-content experience that is far beyond current ebook look and feel.

The 3M solution is a very different type of product, aimed at a particular market (i.e. libraries) and including a pretty much total solution from the content through the applications to kiosks (a 3M speciality) and to their own ereader devices that are designed to be lent by libraries to people who don’t have their own devices.  It looks to owe a lot to 3M’s long experience of self-service in libraries and looks like a well-thought through solution.  Adoption will no doubt depend on price models and the content that is available.  It’s interesting to see 3M getting into the content reseller market and all that is implied there.  It will be interesting to see if this appears in other markets such as the UK.

or maybe not?
With a different perspective on the future of ebooks I was fascinated to read Jani Patokallio’s blog post yesterday Why e-books will soon be obsolete (and no it’s not just because of DRM).  It’s particularly interesting to hear the views of someone from within the publishing industry on e-books and their future.  His view is very much that the problems of long-term sustainability are partly around territorial rights for publications which is essentially the publishing industry’s attempt to take the print model and impose it on the digital world.  And unsurprisingly that model doesn’t work very well when set against the culture of the web of worldwide access.   He also picks up on the limitations of the ebook format(s) in comparison with what can be done on the web.  It’s a really interesting read.

It seems to me that the ebook publishing world is a very immature market that has grown massively in the last few years.  Seeing that growth in the market I can see why technology companies such as Microsoft would want to have a stake in that type of content.  It seems to me (and perhaps it is rather obvious) that once you have a reasonably competent piece of technology, it is the content that you can access on it that sells the technology product when you are talking about ebook readers.  For libraries I can see why an off-the-shelf solution for lending ebooks is attractive.



Kindle screen I got to the end of one of my Kindle books the other day and it suddenly dawned on me that I’d read some of the book on an ipad, some on a PC, some on a phone and the rest on the Kindle device itself.  I had entirely taken it for granted that I could pick up from the page that I’d last read up to on another device.   I find it interesting that something like that, which would have been pretty much unthinkable a few years ago, now is commonplace.

I’m finding the range of Kindle reading applications to be really useful.  I’ve got them on a couple of PCs, an ipad and a phone so it makes it pretty easy to pick up something I’m reading as there’s rarely a time when I don’t have some form of electronic device with me.

It’s good that Amazon’s marketing people worked out that making it easy for people to access their content on as many devices as possible was the way to go.   It’s great that there aren’t limitations on which devices you can be reading it on.

Not that there aren’t a few tweaks to some of the Apps and tools that it would be good to see.  I’ve got my content on the Kindle arranged in themed folders so it would be good to pick that up some way on the other reading apps.  Also I know that as my ebook library grows I’m going to want better tools to search that ‘elibrary’.  So it would be good to be able to tag books and search for them (hmmm sounds suspiciously like cataloguing!).

Well, I’ve had my Kindle for about six months now and the use of an ipad for slightly less. So, time for a bit of reflection on how I’m using them, pros and cons and likes and dislikes, and whether it has changed my behaviour.

I’ve bought about a dozen books for the Kindle.  I’m still buying print books, but actually I think I’m buying less print books from Amazon, although I still buy books in the high street, driven by the ubiquitous 3 for 2 or half price hardbacks.  I do try to see which is cheapest as the Kindle version isn’t always the cheapest option.  I like the fact that if you do buy books on the Kindle they appear really quickly, so maybe that is why I’m not ordering print books online and waiting for delivery?

Although I’ve got the 3G version of the Kindle I find I rarely use the browser.  It’s OK if you’ve no option but not a great user experience as navigation is clumsy and speed slow.  I’m tending to use the Kindle on the bus, or if I’m going somewhere out of reach of wifi.  Then I might use the browser for something like  But the keyboard is really too small and clumsy to use with having to use the SYM for anything that isn’t a letter of the alphabet.  Now I’m using an ipad I find I’m rarely using the Kindle at home as I’m tending to use the ipad.

I’m glad I got the 3G version though as it does mean that books you are reading sync to the latest point if you’ve been reading them on another device.  I’ve got the Kindle software loaded on the ipad and PC to sync all the books in my collection so I can read them wherever I am and whatever device is to hand.   So I’ve settled down to largely use the ebook reader to read ebooks, hmm.. no great surprise then, but I think my use is affected by having access to an ipad.

I’m using an ipad provided through work.  It’s the first Apple device I’ve used for any length of time and I’m pretty impressed with it as a day to day tool.  Whereas I used to take my laptop around with me at work I now tend to take the ipad.  There are some limitations and frustrations, mainly to do with not being able to get into our main document mangement system on the ipad (although theorectically it might be possible to browse the folders with one of the network apps you can get).  Not being able to edit MS Office documents is a bit limiting.  I find I generally end up putting documents into dropbox and taking notes in the notes feature and then emailing them.

I find that the ipad connects to wifi networks at both work and home fine.  The speed the device starts up is impressive and the ease of setting up email account access make it an easier tool to access email.  Much quicker then Outlook Web Access.

It’s obviously a good web browser platform although not sure why it seems to have a limit of 9 browser “tabs”.  I don’t much like the itunes and apps store lists of apps tools they seem to have a really poor user interface which seems designed to make if difficult to find anything in a logical way.  Typing on the device itself isn’t the best experience but is OK.   Using the ipad for web browsing does point out quite how many sites either don’t work well on this type of tablet or force you to go to a mobile version of the site with limited functionality or rely heavily on flash.

Would I buy an ipad myself?  Probably not at the current price.  If I’d bought an original ipad I’m not sure I’d want to buy an ipad2.   But a tablet that could edit MS Office documents without having to go through converting them with different packages, that was multiuser, multitasking and could access networks would be a pretty useful tool.

I’ve been using my Kindle for a few weeks now and am getting used to the pros and cons of the device. [I blogged some early thoughts here].   I’ve read a couple of books on it, used it for reading PDFs and articles, tweeted on it and even looked up what’s on at a cinema using the 3G capabilities.  And I’m pretty pleased with it so far.   I’ve had a few conversations with people about Kindles and iPads and what you can do with them, and what you might buy.  But other than a brief play with an iPad I hadn’t had the chance to be able compare the two devices.   Well, I’ve now been able to spend some time over the last couple of days using an iPad so have a better idea of the different devices and have a few thoughts.

iPad first impressions
ipad screen shot
My first impressions are that I’m actually more impressed with the iPad than I expected to be.  The device is solid and is fairly easy to hold on to.  I’d wondered before if it might be too heavy and big to easily hold, but it seems to be pretty easy to sit and use it.  I haven’t really tried using it at a desk so will see how that goes. 

The screen is really very sharp and clear and I’m really impressed with it.  It does quickly get fingerprints all over it and needs regularly cleaning, but that’s something I was expecting from using RFID touch-screen systems.  I’ve used an iPhone in the past so the touch screen is pretty familiar although I’ve had to look up a few things that I wasn’t sure how to do.  And there’s quite a lot of information out there about how to do things on the device so it’s quite easy to find out how.

So I thought I’d look at comparing the two devices in a bit more detail.  Looking at how easy they are to setup, how they compare for reading ebooks, web browsing and tweeting

Kindle and iPad setup
Having bought the Kindle online it came pre-registered with the account I’d used to buy it and setup has been really simple.  Setting up wifi access was straightforward and quick and worked first time. With the iPad I was expecting a bit more complexity.  But the get started guide says connect it to your PC with iTunes and follow the instructions.  But it was pretty easy to setup a new iTunes account and get the device working.  I skipped a lot of the synching options as it’s a work iPad. The only real problem I had was an odd screen with a load of questions in Finnish so swopped over to setting up things from the iPad and found it straightforward to setup wifi access.   With a colleague pointing to some instructions about setting up Exchange email I quickly got that working.   The email support is one of the big differences between the two devices.  You can use Outlook Web Access on the Kindle but it’s functional rather than elegant.  It’s much more integrated on the iPad but I still need to play with the email display on it as it’s not yet how I’d like.  Overall I’ve been impressed with both devices in terms of the ease of setup. As pieces of computer technology they both display the ease of setup that you need with consumer devices.

Obviously the Kindle is primarily an ebook reader so reading books is pretty straightforward, if you bought them from Amazon. Tools such as Calibre can help you with managing your ebooks.  On the Kindle it’s easy to page through your book and a pretty good reading experience, although there’s no backlight so you are reliant on it being light enough to see the screen. E-ink is sharp and clear although the page changing black screen effect is a bit odd at first.  On the iPad you’ve got a book shelf app and you can download the Kindle for iPad app.  Changing pages on the iPad needs a finger sweeping approach rather than clicking the buttons on the side of the Kindle. The iPad scores with colour but is more shiny.  Trying the same book on the Kindle and the Kindle iPad app I think I slightly prefer the Kindle owing to it being easier to hold in one hand and page through it. 

Web browsing
The iPad is a superb web-browsing device (as long as you’re not looking at flash movies).  It’s natural element seems to be sitting on your lap on the sofa browsing the web.  With the Kindle web browsing is better than expected but navigation is a bit clunky with the five way navigation tool.  The keyboard experience is a lot better on the iPad, the touch screen keyboard is a lot easier to type on more quickly, although some of the symbol keys seem to be a bit hidden away.  If you’re used to texting on a phone with your thumbs the Kindle keyboard is fine, but it’s a bit small for me.

On the Kindle you can use a tool like Kintweet.  It’s a neat and functional tool and uses simple single letter codes to navigate around.  On the iPad you can use the Twitter website or apps like HootSuite or Tweetdeck.   So on the iPad it’s much more like a PC or Mac experience.

Final thoughts
Now I’ve had the chance to try the two devices and I’m clearer now how different the two devices are.   The Kindle is an ebook reader with a few extra useful features, especially the internet access. The iPad is an internet device really, reading ebooks on it is a compromise, just as browsing the web is a compromise on the Kindle.   As a device to carry around for reading a book on the bus and occasional Internet access then the Kindle is fine, for browsing the web, accessing emails and reading the occasional ebook then the iPad is probably a better bet.  But with a price at four times that of the Kindle and large numbers of new tablets likely to be flooding the market this year then other devices will soon be challenging the iPad.  But now I’ve ended up trying a Kindle 3G and an iPad wifi and I can’t help thinking that maybe that is the wrong way round!

Ebooks and ebook readers
Although I’m pretty convinced about the value of ebooks (with the usual provisos about the annoyance of the variety of proprietary formats and rights restrictions) I’ve generally been a bit sceptical about ebook readers in the past and haven’t been all that impressed with some of the early versions.  But, I’ve finally decided to commit to one, partly down to coming to realise that the piles of already read books in the backroom were starting to act as effective wifi insulation for my desk and masking the signal, and partly because it would be convenient to carry more than one book around to be read on bus or train or whatever.  I also wanted a device that could get internet access with a screen that was larger than a mobile phone and more portable (and cheaper) than an ipad/netbook-type device.  So just before Christmas I ordered an Amazon Kindle.

First Impressions
I went for the 3G version rather than the wifi only version.  The 3G version lets you continue to receive downloaded content even when you are away from a wifi connection.  Kindle CaseIt’s certainly been in my mind to see if I can use it as a device when I’m away from the office but I’m not yet sold on the idea that the 3G version offers a lot more value as I’m only likely to be sending content to it from a laptop or some other internet-connected device (whether I’m buying content online or directly connected to transfer content).

I also bought a cover with it to protect the device, and that seems to work really well.  A leather cover with a grey soft inner.  The Kindle clicks into the cover with a couple of hooks and there is an elasticated strap to secure the cover closed.  It’s about the size of a slim paperback, like an early Penguin and it weighs about as much as a hardback book.  It feels fairly solid and robust but is small and light enough to fit into a bag.

On the Kindle itself there are a few buttons and conections on the bottom (volume control, headphone socket, socket for USB connection and on/off slider).  Otherwise there are forward and back buttons repeated on each side and a qwerty keyboard taking up the bottom quarter of the device.

Kindle in caseAs well as the standard keys there are shift and Alt keys, a key (Aa) that lets you change the text size and orientation, a Home, Menu, Del and Back key and a five way navigation tool.   The keyboard seems very small to me, but then again it is larger than a mobile phone keyboard or iphone pop-up keypad, and seems designed to be used in two hands with your thumbs pressing the keys.  That is probably easier if you have smaller hands and as a first impression I think I’d like the five-way navigation button to be bigger.  As an observation there’s a good 1cm between the top row of letters and the bottom of the screen so maybe there’s space for slightly larger keys.

There’s also a SYM key that you press to get numbers and the variety of symbols essential for email and internet (although numbers can be typed in from the top row of letters and Alt).

Kindle keyboardTesting out the keyboard for typing I’m finding that it is possible for me to type with it although I wouldn’t want to use it for anything lengthy.  But if you are someone that is used to texting on a phone then I’m sure you’d find it pretty easy.

The start page for the device is accessed from the Home button and once you are on the home page the menu button gets you into the various settings of the device.

Getting started
I’ve been really impressed with how easy it was to get setup with it.  It came already registered against my Amazon account and was quite straightforward to get the home wifi configured.  It’s pretty easy to setup collections to organise your content and I’ve played around with a few ebooks now.  Ones you order from Amazon arrive pretty quickly electronically and yKindle screenou can also plug the device into a laptop to transfer files (PDFs and some ebook formats for example).  All those features seem to work well.  Reading ebooks on the device is fine, it’s easy to page through the books, the screen is sharp and easy to read.  Obviously everything is in greyscale (although interestingly the ebooks themselves seem to have colour in them judging by the samples I’ve looked at on the Kindle for PC reader).  It’s possible to add annotations to the text of ebooks.

Experimental features
One of the experimental features (accessed from the menu button when on the home page) is an internet browser.  This works when you have wifi connected (a version that works on 3G would be nice but maybe not very commercial).   It works better than I expected, most pages display OK, you can navigate around the page and it seems to pick up on screenreader-type approaches by jumping from link to link.  It’s possible to use it to access general internet sites, and it’s usuable for web-based email, outlook web access and even editing blogs.  There are features such as zooming into sections and article displays to make it easier to use and it looks like Amazons developers have put a fair bit of effort into thinking about how to make a browser work on the Kindle.    You do need to use the features such as zooming and orientation to get about the web but you can do so pretty well.

Tweeting from theKindle browser Kindle
There’s even a twitter version that is designed for the Kindle. lets you login to your twitter account and then uses letters to show the latest tweet (L) or Direct messages (D).  This works pretty well although there seem to be some limitations about the browser remembering your account details.  There is also some social networking built into the kindle commenting features that I haven’t yet explored.

Overall first impressions and what next
In general I’m pretty impressed with the device, it’s easy to setup and get started, easy to get new content and even some of the experimental features seem to work well.  I still need to play around with exploring the tools to convert ebook and other content so it can be used on the Kindle.   I certainly want to try it to see how useful it will be as a device to use at work, maybe see how easy it is to take copies of papers for meetings and store and retrieve it from the Kindle.  Although there’s a Software Developers Kit (SDK) it isn’t obvious that there are a large number of Kindle ‘apps’ out there, but if the Kindle really has been Amazon’s top selling product over Christmas then maybe there is a big market.  So things like a Kindle Calendar tool, a better note making tool (i.e. one that isn’t linked to notes on a book), password restrictions at a collection or feature level (you might want to allow your child to read childrens books on it but not browse the internet or read your thrillers, for example) would be useful features.  So I’m off to start building up my collection of ebooks and click that button on Amazon to prompt publishers of new books that I’d like to read them on the Kindle.

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