Read An eBook Day

Read an ebook dayJust in case you were going to miss it, Thursday is “Read an a eBook Day“, a celebration of modern storytelling. Surprisingly, it’s not sponsored by Amazon on behalf of the Kindle but rather OverDrive whose apps let you borrow library books for free. Yes, for free.

It’s probably one of the best keep secrets in the whole tablet and ereader business. Contrary to what Amazon would  have you believe, you don’t have to buy ebooks from them as there are plenty of up-to-date novels available from your local library. The downside is that transferring books isn’t that slick and you need an ereader that’s not tied in to the Amazon ecosystem. I have a Nook, but ereaders from Sony and Kobo are supported as well, and you need to load the books via a PC rather than downloading across the Net.

If you have tablet, it’s much easier as the OverDrive app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows Phone, as well as for Windows and Mac desktop platforms. Check the appropriate app store or else try OverDrive‘s web site. Once you have the app, all that’s needed is a membership of a library and you can download directly from your library to your tablet.

Instead of “Read an eBook Day”, Thursday should be “Read a Free eBook from your Local Library Day”.

Amazon Fire TV

Amazon Fire TVAfter weeks of speculation, Amazon has finally shown its hand in the set-top box game with the Fire TV. It’s a $99 box with a Bluetooth remote control that connects to your HD TV and shows Amazon content plus media from partners, including Netflix, Hulu, ESPN and Pandora.

Amazon Fire TV

Initially, this doesn’t sound terribly different from the Roku and Apple TV units, but when you get into the feature set, it’s pretty impressive. There’s voice search which helps you find the shows without the laborious letter selection that bedevils remote controls. ASAP is a predictive feature that pre-loads content so that shows start instantly without the buffering delay. WhisperSync synchronises watching and listening across multiple devices so you never lose a second, and X-Ray takes the movie experience further, showing film and character information on your second screen Kindle Fire HDX.

As you’d expect, the Fire TV is seamlessly integrated with Prime Instant Video, Amazon’s subscription streaming service, giving access to tens of thousands of movies and TV episodes. With Dolby Digital Plus, films and music will sound amazing and any media stored in Amazon’s Cloud Drive from photos to personal videos can be played through the Fire TV.

Tiny box, huge specs, tons of content, incredible price—people are going to love Fire TV,” said Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com Founder and CEO. “Voice search that actually works means no more typing on an alphabet grid. Our exclusive new ASAP feature predicts the shows you’ll want to watch and gets them ready to stream instantly. And our open approach gives you not just Amazon Instant Video and Prime Instant Video, but also Netflix, Hulu Plus, and more. On Fire TV you can watch Alpha House and House of Cards.

Amazon are definitely taking the fight to the competition as the Fire TV is a mini powerhouse, with a quad-core processor and 2 GB RAM, which lets the unit double as a gaming unit with over 100 games available at launch. Already available are Minecraft, Monsters University, The Game of Life, The Walking Dead, NBA2K14, Asphalt 8, Riptide GP2, Despicable Me: Minion Rush and Amazon has signed up EA, Disney, Gameloft, Ubisoft, Telltale, Mojang, 2K, and Sega to bring their games to Fire TV.  To complement the gaming, there’s an additional game controller that will set you back a penny shy of $40. The controller connects via Bluetooth too and will run for up to 55 hours on AA batteries.

Simplistically, it’s a desktop version of the Kindle Fire tablets and sure enough, Fire TV runs the latest version of Fire OS “Mojito,” which is based on Android. This means that apps should be easily ported over to the Fire TV (and Kindle Fires).

The Kindle Fire TV is available now in the US. No news on international availability yet.

Kindle Matchbook is Launching in October

Kindle MatchbookAmazon has announced that it will be offering something innovative in October of this year. Kindle Matchbook will launch. It isn’t a new type of Kindle device. Instead, it is a very unique way of allowing people to access books.

The Kindle (and other ebook readers) are fairly new, especially when you consider how long mass produced printed books have been available. Typically, this means that people who are currently using a Kindle probably have shelves of “paper books” somewhere in their home. The majority (if not all) of those books were probably purchased before the person got a Kindle.

Kindle Matchbook, in essence, will help people “match” the books on their shelves with the ones in their Kindle. It works like this. You purchased a brand new book from Amazon sometime between today and 1995. If that title is part of the “qualifying books” offered through Kindle Matchbook, you will be able to pick up the Kindle edition of your print book for a low price. The Kindle versions will be offered for $2.99, $1.99, $0.99, or for free.

What if you bought the paper books that are currently cluttering your shelves from Barnes & Noble, or from a used book store, instead of from Amazon? Sorry, the Kindle Matchbook offer will not apply. The offer is only for new (not used) copies of (qualifying) books that you purchased from Amazon.

I find the Kindle Matchbook offer to be very interesting. It is going to make it less expensive to pick up the Kindle version of thousands of books (assuming you bought a new copy of the printed book from Amazon after 1995).

Amazon might have found a unique way to encourage customers to buy new copies of printed books from them, instead of another retailer, who cannot do the Kindle Matchbook offer. If you have been looking for a reason to transition from printed books to ebooks, it seems that Kindle Matchbook will help you to do that. It appears that fellow Geek News Central writer Andrew was right on track when he noted that the the paperback is an endangered species!

The Paperback is an Endangered Species

Nook ClassicPicture the scene….I’m on holiday, lying by the swimming pool, relaxing in the summer sun. It’s a 4-star hotel, nothing fancy, catering to families from all round Europe; Britain, France, Germany, Norway. As I look around my fellow guests, I notice that many of them are reading from ereaders – Kindles, Kobos and the odd Nook. A few people are reading celebrity magazines like Hello and Chat. What does surprise me is the total absence of paperbacks – in all the rows of sun loungers that I can see, there’s not a single paperback book. It’s as if the paperback became an endangered species from one year to the next.

In reality this shouldn’t be a surprise. Ebooks and ereaders have become popular and the continual reductions in weight allowances by the budget airlines have encouraged travellers to leave heavy paper at home. The result is children, parents and grandparents are all lying round the pool, electronics in hand. The paperback is on the verge of extinction.

And while the paperback is all but gone, this isn’t the death of the novel. By all evidence round the pool, the written word is still alive and well. Only the medium has changed from paper and ink to glass and eInk. I see a bright future for authors and novelists.

I’ve certainly no regrets myself, but it does make it very hard to see what your fellow sun-worshippers are reading.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch Widescreen Tablet

Over the Christmas holiday my nephew showed up at my house with an Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7” Inch tablet. My Mom, who just turned 88, ended up playing with it and decided she wanted one. So, we stopped by Best Buy and picked one up.

I spent some time adding free apps from the Amazon Android Market that I knew my parents would like, such as Accuweather, News Hog, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Fox News Channel, recipe apps, etc.

What followed over the next few days was surprising. Of course my Mom started using it right away, but what surprised me was that my 79-year-old Dad started using the Kindle as much as my Mom uses it. Mom has used a computer for a number of years. Dad has played around with computers but never did much with them. Dad made the observation that the Kindle was a lot easier to use than a regular computer.

I have had an iPad for a long while now and my parents have been around it, but they’ve never used it much. The Kindle is a different story. Perhaps they felt more at ease since they own the Kindle, but I think there’s more to it than that. I believe the Amazon Kindle Fire HD has a better, friendlier user interface than the iPad has. The Kindle Fire HD presents app icons in a very large format on a revolving carousel that the user simply swipes through. It didn’t take long at all for them to begin to remember which of these large icons start which apps.

Another advantage the Kindle Fire HD has over the iPad is better, much louder sound. My parents are a bit hard of hearing, yet the Kindle Fire HD is able to get plenty loud enough for them to be able to easily hear, even in a noisy environment. The iPad isn’t capable of getting nearly as loud.

The $199 Kindle Fire HD 16 gigabyte (as well as the larger 8.9” inch version) comes bundled with a free month of Amazon Prime, which includes Amazon Prime streaming videos. Mom ended up easily figuring out how to stream videos and liked it so well she went ahead and subscribed.

The 7” inch widescreen seems to be just the right size for them. It is easy for them to handle, yet large enough for them to be able to see and manipulate the multi-touch screen.

The Kindle Fire HD has a dual core processor and gives great battery life. The apps are very responsive and there is never any lag.

If I were going to buy a tablet today, I would give strong consideration to a Kindle Fire HD. For $199 for the 7” inch and $299 for the 8.9” inch, Amazon is giving a tremendous amount of value and performance for the money.

The only downside that I can see is that the Kindle Fire HD doesn’t have a built-in GPS chip, nor any native mapping apps, so mapping on it is currently limited. However, for $199, it’s easy to overlook the lack of GPS. The WiFi-only versions of the iPad don’t have built-in GPS either.

The Kindle Fire HD has a forward facing camera for use with apps such as Skype, but no rear-facing camera. That’s not much of an issue for me since I rarely use the rear-facing camera in my iPad, but it might be for other people.

Now, if I can just get my parents to give up their flip-phone for a smartphone…

Eason Fails to Sell eBooks via Billboard

…or “Why DRM is killing ebook sales outside of Amazon or Barnes & Noble”.

Being a international superstar and global jetsetter*, I had the pleasure of passing through Dublin’s Connolly railway station today. In the atrium there was a billboard display of book covers complete with QR codes.

Billboard of Books

“Totally cool,” I thought. Scan the QR code, buy the ebook, download to my tablet and start reading. The bookstore, Eason, had helpfully included free wifi in the area to get on-line. (For those not familiar with Ireland, Eason would be the leading newsagent, stationers and bookstore, comparable to WHSmith in GB). I scanned this book:

Book cover

The QR code took me to this page. Strangely, the book offered was a paperback and not an ebook. Huh?

Book purchase

Then I looked at the original poster, “1. Choose your book 2. Scan your QR code 3. Make your purchase 4. Wait for the post 5. Enjoy your book!”

Seriously…”Wait for the post”. Have these guys actually heard of ebooks or did the Kindle completely pass them by? Sure enough, Eason does have a section for ebooks on their website. It says, “Eason eBooks are compatible with Sony, Iriver and Elonex eReaders, as well as all devices that support Adobe EPUB DRM eBooks. Our eBooks are not currently compatible with Apple iOS, Google Android or Amazon devices – this includes iPads, iPhones, iPods, Android phones and tablets, and Kindles.

So let me get this straight….Eason is appealing to a travelling customer, offering the QR codes to smartphones that will typically be iPhones or Android devices, but ebooks can’t be offered on these because of Adobe’s ePub DRM? Fail, fail, fail.

It’s both totally unbelievable yet completely expected. It’s no wonder Amazon and the Kindle are dominating the market because everyone else is fighting with one hand tied behind their back with DRM. Eason, I had a two hour train journey ahead of me and you had a 100% chance of an ebook sale but you blew it. I’ll turn on my tablet, fire up my Kindle or Nook app and buy directly from Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

Fail.

* This is completely untrue.

Amazon Shows Off New Devices in TV Ad

Amazon is expected to release a new line of Kindle devices when they hold their big Santa Monica, California event later today.  Rumors seem to indicate not one, but two new Kindle Fire tablets, as well new versions of the Kindle e-reader.  All of this has been expected for a little while now, especially when Amazon mysteriously announced last week that the Kindle Fire was “sold out”.

What wasn’t expected was the ad that aired during last night’s NFL season-opener between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.  The ad, which was a full one minute in length, showed the new devices, but gave no information on what exactly they were.  However, on closer inspection, there appears to be a larger version of the Fire tablet, perhaps a 10 inch, shown.   That would be the biggest bombshell, since it has been reported that Amazon would announce two 7 inch tablets.

What appears to be a 10 inch tablet is shown around the :35 mark of the ad (posted below, and every geek should appreciate the inclusion of the George R. R. Martin book).  Amazon has been rumored to be working on a larger version ever since before the original 7 inch was announced, but we have been led to believe that they had deemed it not marketable enough for release.

There have also been some recent leaks of an updated Kindle Touch reader, with a higher-resolution screen.  Electonista reports that “The most important change, however, will be the integration of an LED backlight, supposedly combined with battery improvements that allow the unit to go for weeks on a charge, a major selling point over tablets for e-reading purists.”

We will find out later today how close any of this speculation has come to actual reality.  The Amazon event kicks off at 10:30 am PDT, 1:30 pm EDT and will be streamed live on the web.

Tech Coming to the UK

It’s a good time to be in a geek in the UK at the moment. Over the past week there’s been a raft of announcements for predominately US-based offerings making it across the pond so here’s a quick round up of the latest news.

NookBarnes and Noble are bringing the Nook to Britain and if the marketing is right, it could be hit. Public libraries are still popular and they offer ebooks in the .epub format, which the Amazon Kindle doesn’t support but the Nook does. Some shrewd money-saving marketing and the Nook could give the Kindle a run for its money. I have the original Nook which I’m hoping will be supported in the UK, despite it being no longer sold. Pricing for the current Nooks to be announced but Argos and John Lewis are on-board to sell the hardware.

Amazon rolled out its Android Appstore to UK residents and parts of Europe, presumably for the as-yet-unannounced launch of the Kindle Fire. Coming with the Amazon Appstore is the App of the Day, which will have some great apps for nothing so it’s worth keeping an eye out for those. I’ve installed Appstore on my tablets already and have downloaded a few apps – all looking cool so far.

If you are looking for a small tablet, I think UK readers will be spoilt for choice with the Nexus 7, Kindle Fire and Nook Color / Tablet all likely to be available soon.

AmazonLocal Finally, Groupon has some competition in the shape of AmazonLocal, offering similar group deals. At the moment it seems to be focussing on London with a few national offers. Presumably city or regional deals can’t be that far away. There’s a 2 hour flying lesson currently on offer for £99 which looks fun. (As an aside, I always thought Groupon was a rubbish name until someone pointed out it was like group-coupon. Duh!)

All round, it’s good news for geeks in the UK.

Octa Whale Tail Vacuum Dock

Octa Vacuum dock with Whale Tail

Octa Vacuum dock with Whale Tail

If you are looking for a way to hold your iPad, maybe your hand hurts after a while, then this dock might be something you want to look at. Octa has an iPad Vaccum dock that puts your hand in the middle of the iPad. Best part – you can use this for your iPad, Macbook Air, Kindle, Nook, or any other device 3 1/2 inches in circumference.

The Octa is a half-ball with a suction cup affixed to the flat end. Affix the suction cup to the device, and press the button. The suction technology affixes the Octa to the iPad. You can even attach to an iPad case, if the surface is flat and non-porous.

Place the cup on the back side of the tablet, then push the button 5 times. That will create a suction to the device. To remove, you lift the rubber tabs to let air into the surface area (make sure you have a good hold on the tablet).

Octa Whale Tail

Octa on Wall

Affix the Octa on a non-porous wall to hang your iPad

The Octa Whale Tail is an adapter you can connect to the Vacuum Dock. It looks exactly like a Whale tail. This allows your iPad to sit upright. It also lets you set your iPad at a better angle when you are sitting in a reclined or feet up position. You can also reverse the Vacuum dock and use the tail as an iPad holder. Attach the dock to a non-porous wall (or the back side of an airplane tray in its upright position), then bend the tail so it holds the tablet.

I’ve been using the Octa Whale Tail for a couple days now, and I am really impressed. By putting my hand in the middle of the iPad, my hand doesn’t get tired. The tail can also mold around your hand for an ergonomic feel. This would be perfect for someone that has to hold a tablet all day – maybe a poll taker, a wait staff (if they have an iPad POS), a teacher, a speaker and more.

The Octa Vacuum with Whale Tail is $49.95, and available now.

 

3feet Universal Smartphone and Tablet Stand

3feet Universal Smartphone and Tablet Stand3feet almost need no introduction. Their universal smartphone and tablet stands are well-known for their neat design and their (probably) unique feature of being dishwasher-proof.

Being universal, the 3feet stand works with iPads, TouchPads, Playbooks, Xooms, iPhones, Nexus, Galaxies, Lumias, Nooks, Kindles… Pretty much anything that’s reasonably flat and you want to see. The 3feet can hold a device at three different angles.

Moving away from the gratuitous product placement, there’s now a wider range of basic colours (11) and the opportunity to have different colours for different parts of the stand. The stand is made from recycled plastic and it’s all made in the USA.

Available from good retailers for around $20.

Interview by Jeffrey Powers of Geekazine and Andy Smith of Geocaching World.

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