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KIndle MatchbookSo Amazon have announced Kindle Matchbook, initially for the US, but hopefully like Autorip it will come to the UK sometime later.  The Amazon press release is here, BBC News have also picked up the story.

The idea seems to be that if you’ve bought a printed book from Amazon you can get a copy of the ebook version for a discounted price or maybe even free.  The scheme will apply to books bought as far back as 1995, but as it stands there’s currently just 10,000 eligible titles.  Although as with Autorip you’d expect that to expand as Amazon negotiates with more publishers.  Presumably making this available in the UK will depend on which UK publishers come on board.

It’s easy to see this as an obvious step following on from Autorip (where you can get a free MP3 version of CDs you’ve bought through Amazon).  Amazon may see this as a way to grow their ebook customer base by encouraging people who’ve bought the book to try the ebook.    Whereas with CDs/MP3 I can see how useful it is to have both formats, for many people their CDs are going to turn into MP3s at some stage (although your autorip MP3s only seem to be playable from Amazon Cloud Player).

For books/ebooks I’m not quite so sure that I’d want ebook versions of everything I’d bought as a printed book.  If you are someone who reads and re-reads your books then I can see it being a selling point.  But I don’t often go back and re-read fiction that I’ve bought, or even some of the lighter non-fiction.  So it’s not too much of a benefit.  It’s interesting though if you’ve bought books as a present for people, in that you could get a free or cheap ebook version.  Where I think it would be particularly useful is for non-fiction/reference-type books that you go back to.  It will be interesting to see the mix of books that are made available through Matchbook.

Amazon autorip websiteFascinating news yesterday about Amazon’s decision to give customers who have bought any of some 50,000 CDs the MP3 version of their CD, downloaded to Amazon Cloud Player.  (Read the BBC’s reporting of it and the report from the Guardian newspaper).  At the moment it is Amazon.com only but there seems to be a commitment in the comments made by Amazon to extend it to other places including the UK.  Presumably part of the delay would be the negotiations with record companies about which CDs would be included in the deal.  Looking at the list of US CDs there are a lot that are probably less likely to have been bought by a UK audience.

The process seems to be that the MP3s will be downloaded to your Amazon Cloud Player.  I wondered what that would mean for that tool as there is currently a limit of only 250 downloaded tracks for the free version, but it seems that Autorip MP3s won’t count towards your limit in Amazon Cloud Player. Amazon Cloud Player

It’s a bold move from Amazon and seems partly an attempt to encourage purchasers of CDs to move to MP3s and signup to Amazon’s Cloud Player.  But it very much seems to open up another front where Amazon is directly going up against Apple.   First there was the Kindle Fire competing with the Apple ipad, now there is the Cloud Player vs iTunes.

Amazon Cloud Player doesn’t seem to have a great deal of functionality at the moment but then really I’m not so sure that iTunes has that much either.  I’ve never been all that impressed with the iTunes user experience or useriTunes screenshot interface when you use it in a browser.  And it also seems odd that the Amazon Cloud Player has an iphone/ipod app but doesn’t seem to have an ipad app version.

It’s interesting how there are only really quite basic tools to manage playlists, or use the analytics about what you play.  There’s the expected recommendations based on people who bought this also bought that but there aren’t really any advanced features in terms of recommendations for this artist being like that artist, or if you liked this you might like this artist.

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!).

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. www.kintweet.com 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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