I bought a kindle?

Last night I finally bought a Kindle. I’m still a little surprised myself, because I’d pretty much talked myself out of buying one for good, or so I’d thought. I’ve got the Kindle app on my iPhone and my Macbook. Why would I buy a dedicated device? I want an iPad – which surely is as good as a Kindle, and does a whole lot more. Why would I buy something that serves the same purpose but doesn’t do as much?

What would even have me at the store looking at the thing anyway? It doesn’t have a color screen. It doesn’t have a touch screen, and it barely browses the web. Next to an iPad or even an iPhone it’s about as sexy as yesterday’s oatmeal. Even as I was paying for the thing, I was asking myself what it would have that would make me want to keep it.

Well, quite a lot, as it turns out.

It started with reading. Really, my lack of reading. There was a time when I was reading a book a week, but for several years now I haven’t read hardly a book a year. My old habit of reading when I went to bed had died somehow, years ago. Because I read less at home, I’m less likely to be reading on my PDA during nearly every empty moment. Last January one of my goals was to read more, and I found myself putting that same goal down for 2011, but I think I read less now than I did last January.

So I started to think about when I’d last read a lot and what had changed since then.

One big change was that I had been using a Palm TX to read. I remembered that when I was using eReader on the Palm I read quite a lot. The Palm had many flaws, but it was actually a pretty good reading machine. eReader had auto scroll, so I could lie in bed, prop the Palm up on a pillow, and only touch it every few moments to tweak the auto scroll speed. It was pretty sweet, and I read a lot of books that way. I got used to buying eBooks, and used to not buying paper books. Living in a small house space was at a premium and several times I’ve had to cull my paper book collection. When I’m taking books in to sell them at Half Price Books I can’t help but ask myself why I bought them in the first place. With ebooks I know I won’t have to get rid of them some day, so there’s no temptation to look for a used copy or waiting for the paperback.

When I switched PDA’s, first to a Blackberry (no eReader client back then) the cycle was broken. I was left with no way to read the ebooks I had, but still had a resistance to buying paper books. I tried to use the Palm as just a reader, but it’s battery life is just too short without the routine charging that comes from syncing to home and work PCs. With no syncing, it was always dead when I needed it. I made it work for a while, but eventually I drifted away.

Later when I ended up with the iPhone I figured I’d get back into using eReader. I did, a bit, but it wasn’t the same. eReader just didn’t have the selection that Amazon has, so I ended up buying more books at Amazon (also because I thought I might get a Kindle some day), the Kindle iPhone app doesn’t auto scroll, and maybe my eyes are just too old for a small screen.

So maybe something new would do the trick. I thought about the Nook, but since I’ve already got many Kindle books and I like the Amazon buying experience, I decided to give the Kindle a try. Here’s my view so far:

Turning pages is better on the Kindle.

Turning pages is a very critical feature for any reading appliance. If it’s not easy and reliable enough to do without thinking about it, it disrupts the reading experience. eReader once again put auto scroll in their app on the iPhone – the first version didn’t have it – so for those books life is good. Kindle on the iPhone, however, doesn’t have it.

Turning pages on the iPhone isn’t smooth or solid. I have to tap the right side, or worse, swipe the right side. It’s a small thing but with the small iPhone screen it’s something that has to be done every 20 seconds or less. I drives me to make the text smaller so I don’t have to turn pages so often, which leads to another set of problems.

The Kindle has a bigger screen, so I turn pages less often. More importantly though is that it’s a simple click with excellent tactile feedback. I know when I’ve done it. I never have to re-click because I mis-clicked. On the iPhone it’s just not as positive. I can do it one handed, with either hand, and without feeling like I’m going to drop it. It’s about as good as it can be without auto scroll. I thought the page turn delay of about a second would irritate me, but so far it hasn’t.

Reading in bed is better with the Kindle.

The key to pleasant bed time reading is being able to read without any part of your body being stressed. Nothing in a strained position, at an awkward angle, or getting numb. Everything relaxed.

I have to hold the iPhone. It refuses to stay propped up where I put it and slips and slides instead. It’s annoying – if I get it positioned so I can see it and page turning is easy, my arms are strained. If I’m comfy, the phone is sliding around or I have to keep lifting an arm to turn pages.

A Kindle in its case can be set up like an easel. A hand rests on top of it while lying on my side, with the page turning buttons conveniently close under the thumb, and nothing is strained. Easy reading, easy clicking.

Power management is an open loop.

Those who’ve followed David Allen’s books will know what I mean by an open loop – it’s a source of worry, something that taps brainpower because it’s an unsolved problem. When I read on the iPhone I feel like I’m on borrowed time. I know that if I turn up the brightness to get a good contrast ratio I will kill the thing in short order. so I turn it down. I know that when I’m done reading I will feel compelled to go plug the phone in so it’s charging lest it be dead when I need it. I can’t just set it down when I’m done reading. If I’m traveling my decision to read is influenced by my proximity to power outlets. I can’t enjoy a book as much when I feel like reading it is potentially going to put me in a jam later.

The Kindle isn’t anything but a book. I don’t have to worry about not being able to call someone if I kill it, which is unlikely anyway. It’s so power efficient that for most trips just making sure it’s charged before I leave will be enough if it has even half its advertised battery life. The battery life is long enough I can treat it like a paper book and not worry about managing it.

A few more things…

  • The screen is easier to read than I thought it would be. I think there may be something to the allegations that eInk is easier to read than LCD.
  • The weight is about at the max. I don’t think I could read a lot on an iPad, it’s twice the weight of the Kindle. The Kindle is just light enough for one-handed reading. Not to say I wouldn’t love an iPad, just that for reading I don’t think it will be as nice.
  • The lack of a backlight is no big deal. I bought the lighted Kindle case and it works pretty well. I think a better light could be had, but probably not a more convenient one.

Wapple, we have a problem

I installed the impressive-looking Wapple Architect plugin to WordPress to add mobile capabilities, and found I have to register to receive a dev key to use the software. That was customer barrier #1.

Barrier number 2 came when I tried to register by following the link the plugin provided on my iPhone:


So I figured it was just a mobile thing, so I tried the desktop and was able to register. Then when I tried to use the confirmation link they sent me on the iPhone, I got the same page not found error. This time it was not just a mobile thing – my desktop gets a 500 Internal Server Error.

I guess so much for the Wapple plugin!

UPDATE #2: Hmmm…just got a Dev Key email, and the plugin now works. It’s really pretty darn complete, and well thought out.

What do iPhone users use for a phone?

As I’ve written before, the iPhone isn’t a very good phone. I finally got so fed up I decided I should upgrade to the 3G phone even though I didn’t really need the features, or the extra $10/month. Before I headed to the Apple store, however, I checked the apple site discussion area to make sure the new version was in fact a better phone.

Big surprise. It isn’t. Folks are screaming about the dropped calls, and that the solution to the dropped calls is to disable the very feature that makes the 3G phone valuable: The 3G service.

So, what do iPhone users use for a phone? The original iPhone was bad enough already, but if the 3G version is worse, how are people making calls? My solution was simpler and cheaper than getting a new phone – I just reactivated my old Blackberry 7130. It’s not as slick, it’s browser kinda sucks, but it doesn’t drop calls.

I think I’ll keep my old iPhone for a little while, but the prices these things fetch on ebay are pretty enticing. Enough to buy a pretty snazzy new Blackberry 😎

iPhone 2.0…iBrick 2.0?

So I’ve waited patiently until this morning to get the iPhone 2.0 update for my iPhone from iTunes, and patiently went through the process of backing up, downloading a 200+mb file, etc. and in the end I get this error box:

I get this error box that says “We could not complete your iTunes Store request. An unknown error occurred (-9838).” This was no doubt the portion of the iTunes store code written by ex-Microsoft employees. It’s not good when you update the firmware in a product only to have it die in the middle, leaving you with an inoperable product. My iPhone is not configured at all now, and won’t until Apple gets its poo together and iTunes stops having unknown errors.

C’mon Apple, you can’t tell us you didn’t expect high traffic. You know darn well exactly how many iPhones are out there…why the problems?

So, until things calm down, I’ve bricked my phone by doing their update. Great.

[update] I’ve found that the folks in Germany are having similar problems with iBrick 2.0, if my German is still up to speed.

A Critical Element in BlackBerry vs. iPhone

Or maybe “Should Be A Critical Element…” Because American business by and large doesn’t really care about security very much.

Thanks to Bruce Schneier we learn that the Indians are pushing to get the encryption keys to RIM’s BlackBerry system. What this means is that the messages sent to BlackBerrys in the field could be decrypted by the Indian government. Strangely, only non-corporate users are at risk for now.

How long do you think it will be before other governments get the keys in exactly the same way as the Indians did? How long do you think it will be before a corporate user is thought to be enough of a security concern that even corporate users must turn over keys?

The reason why this is significant for the BlackBerry vs iPhone situation is that the iPhone works differently. It doesn’t pass all messages through a server. It behaves like a computer connected to the internet, with a regular email client. So, as soon as someone is allowed to create an email client with encryption capabilities we will have secure mobile email. Apple has released the iPhone SDK, and is expected to unveil applications along with an improved version of the iPhone in June. It might even happen that Apple builds encryption into the mail client themselves.

The problem for RIM is that there is no way to do full decryption on the BlackBerry without doing it on their server, at least with their current software. Creating this after making deals with governments to provide access will be impossible.

So, if you believe in having privacy, and you conduct business overseas, it looks like BlackBerry isn’t the best choice.

Trying the IWPhone plugin

A while back I read on Laura Ricci’s blog about the increasing liklihood of first web-site visits being on a mobile device, and the need for a mobile-friendly site. At the time I checked this site on the test page she mentions in her post, and it was pretty ugly. 

I finally decided to do something about it, and am trying a new plugin, the iWPhone plugin, that provides a better view for iPhone users, but I haven’t yet found a reliable plugin for general mobile use. Anyone have any recommendations?

iPhone sites missing the mark

What’s with the anemic web apps being developed for the iPhone?

I don’t get it. If you want limited-use WAP applications, you get a regular phone, not the internet-in-your-pocket iPhone. For whatever reason, companies that should know better are making special iPhone versions of their websites that are almost useless. In fact, most of the WAP applications out there are actually more useful. Here are some examples:

Whatever Plaxo is doing with Pulse, they are a contacts storage company in my mind. Guess what you can’t do via their iPhone interface? That’s right – edit a contact. You can add one, but you can’t edit one. The site also won’t remember you, so you have to log in each time you visit.

Linkedin is worse. You can view network updates and invite people but you cannot respond to anything in your inbox or even see your inbox. You can of course invite someone. Despite their puritan posturing Linkedin knows their business is a numbers game and members mean more to them than responding to one’s network.

Google Docs won’t let you edit. While writing a document from scratch on the iPhone would be painful, editing one wouldn’t be. We also have to remember that eventually Apple will let someone make a keyboard driver for all the Bluetooth keyboards out there, and then the iPhone will be even more of a laptop replacement.

Google Mail won’t let you search, even though search is one of the most compelling features of Gmail.

Even Facebook’s notable site doesn’t let you add or remove a friend. But I can edit my profile – why I’d need to do that on the go, I have no idea.

You might be tempted to argue that since one can use the normal web page anyway, why do we need these features on the iPhone version? I would counter that if I need to go to the regular website to get anything done you might as well ax the iPhone version.

What we need are versions of these sites that allow us to get the full value of the product, but in a layout suited to the iPhone’s screen. Anything less is just making the iPhone as handicapped as a regular phone.

Living with the iPhone iDrop

Susan got an iPhone first. She loves it more than any gadget she’s ever had. I have to admit I was jealous – really, I am the gadget master in the family and it didn’t seem right that she’d have a new gadget than I.

But I liked my Blackberry. It did almost everything I wanted, and it was a darn good phone to boot. Still, using the iphone convinced me that for portable internet there was nothing beating it. My resistance wavered and then completely collapsed.

I’ve had the phone for more than a month now, and while everyone and their brother has reviewed the thing I can’t pass up the chance to add my input.

So, how do you like it? Is a question you hear a lot when you use your iphone in public. Here’s my answer:

It’s like having the most beautiful, sexy girlfriend in the world, with the unfortunate habit of occasionally puking in your mouth when you kiss her.

What I love:

  • It’s a great little browser in your pocket. People bitch about it not having flash, but I don’t miss it.
  • Even if you have a poor connection (which is most of the time, see below) it will download voicemail so you can still get it.
  • It’s an iPod, albeit missing some features.
  • The screen seriously rivals paper. It’s that good.
  • The glass screen and overall build quality. No creaks, no fragility, just a solid gadget.
  • You Tube is far more fun than I ever thought it would be.
  • If you get a call while listening to music it will fade & pause the music when you answer, and unfade & restart the music when the call is over.
  • Even though it has no push email, IMAP email with Gmail is actually a better solution than Gmail on BlackBerry.

What I hate:

  • The iPhone hangs onto a call about as well as my 77-year old father hangs on to a greased pig. If you’re standing within site of a tower you have a chance. Otherwise, all bets are off.
  • That is, if you can get the call started in the first place. ATT seems to have simplified busy signals, disconnected number signals and call drops all into one “Call Failed” error on the phone.
  • The signal strength meter is more of an “estimated recent signal strength, sort of” meter. I’ve gotten and kept calls with one or even zero bars, and have also had calls drop unexpectedly with 5 bars. Go figure.
  • Bluetooth is a technology to be played with, not used. The relationship between my iPhone and my Jabra headset is more erratic than Brittany Spears relationship with reality. The two will spontaneously decide not to talk to each other and will need to be re-paired.
  • The glass screen provides zero tactile feedback, and is fairly picky about how hard you tap it before it considers it to be a “good” tap.
  • Occasionally my iPhone will take a nap like an old man dozing off in the middle of a story. Because you can’t tell this is happening until you’ve been tapping away at the screen trying to get it to work, when it wakes up there’s no telling where the game of iPhone roulette will end.
  • The iPod part of the phone doesn’t sync the skip count or last skipped data for songs. So, if you’re trying to make use of iTunes’ elaborate smart playlist feature to filter out songs you skipped through, you’re out of luck with the iPhone.
  • For whatever reason, my iPhone takes forever to find and connect to my home wifi network, and will never prompt me to connect.  It will often shows the signal strength as one bar, even when I’m standing next to my wireless access point. Other times it’s 5 bars on the other side of the house. This happens sometimes at other places.
  • Sometimes my iPhone will repeatedly and with great urgency ask me to connect to networks I don’t want to connect to.  We have wifi at work. It’s very locked-down and PDA’s are absolutely not allowed so I really don’t need my iPhone bugging me to connect. I really wish Apple would make an “ignore this network” feature, for places where there is wifi that for whatever reason will never be used.

Overall I like the device, but the relationship is love/hate.  That’s why I say it’s like having a fantastic girlfriend who barfs in your mouth – most of the time things are awesome, but when they go bad it’s such startling, frustrating experience it has me emotionally gagging on the phone.

Let’s hope the new iPhone 2.0 software coming in late June (I’m expecting late July) will tip the balance a bit.