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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.

txtrbeagle
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
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. http://blog.wikimedia.org/2012/09/17/new-e-book-export-feature-enabled-on-wikipedia/  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.

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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.

ebooks
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.

Twitter
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!

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