The most recent round of updates to the Kindle platform has begun to expand beyond the realm of Amazon-designed hardware. Users of the Kindle for iOS and Kindle for Android are now enjoying updates to their software. This comes as part of Amazon’s transition to the new Kindle Format 8 system which, while still an ongoing process, will eventually offer superior formatting control to publishers on every supported device.
The Kindle for iOS update makes this version 3.1 of the app. The most notable changes are specifically meant for users of the iPad. On the tablet, this app now supports KF8 formatting already in use in many children’s books and comics. These include Kindle Text Pop Up and Kindle Panel View. iPad users will also get to have a bit more control over their general reading experience. You get smaller margins and an overall cleaner look to the page, which should help in any book.
The update wasn’t just for iPad users though. Everybody running Kindle for iOS will now once again be able to look up words via Google and Wikipedia again. The loss of that ability was a matter of some annoyance for many a while back. Navigation should also be somewhat improved for all thanks to a search function allowing users to access specific titles and authors.
Kindle for Android didn’t get quite so extensive a treatment this time around, but what was changed will be important for some. Assuming you are running Android on a tablet, version 3.6.0 will allow for more extensive formatting controls. These include similar improvements in margin control as on the iPad, but also line spacing and landscape optimization controls. If you choose to, you can now view two pages side by side in Kindle for Android to better simulate the experience of reading a paper book. From experience, including but not limited to the Kindle Fire, I can say that this has a hugely positive effect on landscape formatted tablet reading.
No word has been given just yet about whether or not the KF8 features that have now made their way to the iOS app, along with the Kindle eReader and more, will be coming to Android in the near future. I would say to expect them around the same time as the new Kindle is released at the latest, but we don’t know when that will be beyond that it is most likely before the end of July.
While I am a huge fan of the dedicated eReader for any sort of extended reading experience, the Kindle apps add a level of convenience that you really have to appreciate. Not every occasion for reading requires pulling out the Kindle and sitting for hours poring over your favorite book. These improvements are a good sign that Amazon is paying attention to the way their apps present themselves on various platforms and device types, as well as signaling that they have every intention of optimizing things for as many users as possible.
The most inexpensive member of the Kindle family has just been upgraded a bit. Amazon has released the new 4.1.0 software update for the Ad-Supported $79 Kindle. It comes with a few useful features that customers have been asking for as well as compatibility improvements that get the device ready for upcoming developments in Kindle books.
The update includes a new high contrast font meant to improve the reading experience. Supposedly this will create a more “paper-like” appearance and address some of the concerns that customers have had about the basic Kindle’s display quality. How much of an improvement it is will be for you to judge.
In an effort to make the Kindle more family-friendly, Amazon has also finally introduced some Parental Controls. These controls will allow parents to restrict access to the web browser, Kindle Store, and the account’s Archived Items. This will be a big help for anybody who keeps their family on the same account. It should also allow for less caution in purchasing for customers otherwise worried about privacy and propriety.
Dictionaries have been given their own category by default. This makes organization a bit simpler. Look for “Dictionaries” in your Home and Archived Items.
Everything else that has been included in this update is meant for supporting new book features.
In book that support such things, Amazon has added improved functionality for viewing images and tables. Panning and Zooming should be somewhat smoother as well.
More complex layout options, largely related to Kindle Format 8, are now supported. While KF8 is still in Beta, it is already supported on the Kindle Fire and Amazon seems serious about making the transition in a timely manner.
Possibly connected to the Kindle Format 8 compatibility is the inclusion of support for Kindle Text Pop-Up and Kindle Panel View. Children’s books in the near future will begin to feature Kindle Text Pop-Up, though it is still in question whether these will be optimized for E Ink Kindles. Color is usually the preference when we’re dealing with kids.
Kindle Panel View is intended specifically for comics, which have not as yet had a major presence in eReading. Assuming Amazon can persuade comic publishers to adopt a format so rigid as to allow each individual panel to be viewed sequentially rather than as part of a page, this will change things a bit. In many cases the feature will already work and Panel View titles are already available through the Kindle Store.
Kindle owners should be seeing the update arrive on their device in the next couple weeks via WiFi. If you do not have access to WiFi, keep it turned off the majority of the time, or simply don’t feel like waiting then you can download the update manually.
Check out the Kindle Software Update page for more detailed instructions. Any side-loaded updates will require a USB transfer cable and a computer with an internet connection.
While the news that Amazon had jumped at the chance to update the Kindle for iPad app to take advantage of the new Retina display being included in the iPad 3 was interesting, it didn’t accomplish a whole lot in terms of feature improvement for the end user. In fact, many complained that they noticed some small but useful options having been taken away quietly in the course of the update. One might expect that this is an effort to draw slightly more attention to the usefulness of Kindle eReaders, or at least the Kindle Fire, but with their newest release of Kindle for Android Amazon has demonstrated that they are still interested in making sure that users stay satisfied.
The most important feature update by far is the new ability to use Amazon’s Send-to-Kindle application to transfer files between your PC and your Android device’s Kindle app. Say what you will about the inconvenience of wireless transfers of large quantities of files, it will never be anything but a major advantage to be able to instantly move any compatible file right to the device you want to use it on. Nobody really likes having to keep track of their data transfer cables or swapping SD cards around, as far as I can tell.
While it will probably come up slightly less, at least right away, the inclusion of Kindle Format 8 compatibility for the Kindle app should make a big difference going forward as well. This format, announced in October of last year but only released officially back in January, gives the person generating each title far more control over the way their work is displayed than ever before.
This format has met with mixed responses, given that for many the advantage of the eReader will always be its ability to reflow text to meet the demands of the reader in terms of font, text size, spacing, etc., but it does allow Amazon to add some content to the Kindle Store that would otherwise be difficult at best. Among those titles that Android users will now be able to make use of are thousands of comics, graphic novels, children’s books, and more. All forms of image heavy composition should benefit from improved use of the newer HTML5 based format.
Kindle news is going to continue to center around the ongoing push to improve the Kindle Fire and its anticipated successor for quite a while, it seems. This is only natural since it is a huge undertaking that has thus far met with almost unbelievable success for a company so new to hardware development. It is reassuring to those who bought into the Kindle line as a reading method that this side of things is not being lost in the rush of things.
By improving the Kindle Apps and further supporting the new Kindle file format, Amazon improves the reading experience for millions of people and attracts even more high quality content for readers to enjoy. With luck the trend will continue and more effort will be put into improvements across the board in months to come.
Amazon made what appeared to be some fairly big opponents in the earliest days of the Kindle. All they had to do was decide to go with a closed format. Unlike some companies who might have decided that a strong DRM scheme was plenty of protection, they made sure that Kindle owners were locked in by consciously failing to support the industry standard eBook format. It struck many people, myself included, as manipulative and more than a little bit condescending.
Thinking back, many of my earliest complaints about the Kindle revolved around the EPUB format. I was ideologically supportive of the Nook in a very strong way as a result. They might have wanted to lock in customers via DRM, but at least things like outside purchases and library books would work if the user wanted to make the effort to access them. MobiPocket format was already too outdated in many situations.
Oddly enough, in principle the objections remain to this day. The difference is that now customers aren’t expected to buy into an unproven platform with no guarantee that success was ahead. Keep in mind that the Kindle was not the first E Ink eReader. Sony was already doing a fairly good job of fizzling out by then and has been taking a back seat in the field ever since as a result.
My own change of opinion regarding the importance of the eBook format conflict stems from purely practical matters. We have reached a point where there is literally nothing you can’t do with a Kindle that can be done on another device. Library books are plentiful, no author or publisher is likely to boycott the Kindle platform in favor of the competition, and on the off chance that you find a DRM-free eBook you want on your device you can convert it for free with Calibre (a practical necessity for the eBook enthusiast in case you haven’t adopted already. Google it!). In a situation where the format itself offers no particular advantage inherent to itself, there is no longer much reason to cling to it. There is a reason you don’t see much use of HD-DVD anymore, or Betamax before that.
As we move forward into the next generation of formats, HTML5 forms the underlying structure. Kindle Format 8 looks to allow for as much, or as little, formatting as the person producing a given publication desires as a result. This will improve Amazon’s ability to present their media equally well on practically any size display, which makes sense given speculation regarding future Kindle Tablet options. Nobody else seems to have really adopted an equally versatile approach yet, and even if that happens it won’t necessarily change anything. There is only so much you can do in order to essentially show off text in an attractive manner.
What it all comes down to is that customers will go where they get the best experience. EPUB might be better than Mobi, but with the Kindle providing the better hardware and Amazon backing their product with strong infrastructure and a great book store that didn’t matter enough. It’s one more format war down.
Up until now, despite certain efforts to use the Kindle for iOS app to encourage media embedding in eBooks, the Kindle line has really been all about the bare content. Yes, page formatting is not only possible but important, but for the most part writers and publishers have been restricted so much by the format and the capabilities of the devices used to read their books that the only thing really possible was the basic layout stuff. Now, with the Kindle Fire on the horizon, things are changing.
Amazon has already got a lot planned to take advantage of the color screen on their newest Kindle. Kid’s books and magazines will be getting a huge push, for example. There has even already been some fairly major controversy in the world of comics over Amazon’s exclusive deal with DC for some digital editions and the repercussions this is having on that industry. Naturally none of this would be simple to pull off using the rather outdated Mobi 7 eBook format. Amazon’s solution is a new release called “Kindle Format 8″. Over time it will completely replace the obsolete format, though all Kindle devices will continue to be able to access these older files.
Kindle Format 8 brings the power of HTML5 and CSS3 to the eBook. This gets you greatly expanded layout control, including fixed layouts. That’s going to be especially important for things like children’s books and comics, where relative positioning of the illustration is important to meaning. It will also finally make possible footnotes, which will please academic publishers among others. Personally I’m hoping that that particular application won’t take off, since there is a lot of potential in the Kindle‘s existing annotation framework if they could figure out how to adapt it to replace footnotes, but that may be an unrealistic hope now. On top of formatting, Kindle books will now be able to contain their own specific custom fonts, text displayed over images, and a number of other welcome updates.
This update is anything but a surprise, in a way. Existing popular formats like EPUB and Mobipocket are already based on HTML, so there is a certain sense of inevitability to the development of a new eBook format based on modern standards. The greater functionality will be welcome for many, should the development tools prove effective. Both KindleGen 2, the Kindle Format 8 publishing tool, and Kindle Previewer 2 will be available soon, assuming they’re not already out by the time this is published.
While the Kindle Fire will be the first device in the Kindle line to support this update, eReaders should be updated to support KF8 within the next several months. No word yet, to the best of my knowledge, if Amazon will be making any effort to update either of the first two generations of Kindle to allow for compatibility, but the currently available devices should have no trouble. Hopefully users will enjoy a greatly improved reading experience once authors and publishers get the hang of the new tools.