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Apple’s Kindle-killing tablet announcement: Will tomorrow be the awesomest day of all time?

Will the Apple tablet help us reach technological nirvana?

Does the picture at your right actually depict the new Apple tablet? Mashable says it might. But until tomorrow — when Apple may or may not (but probably will) unveil its new tablet — this is the best we’ve got.

There’s been so much hype and hope in recent weeks that I’ve got to expect that anything Apple unveils — or doesn’t unveil — would, in the normal universe of things, be a bit of a letdown. After all, what’s an Apple tablet going to do that you can’t already do (smaller) on an iPhone? We’ve already got mobile computing, we’ve already got e-readers and we’ve already  got access to a universe of entertainment and information in machines small enough to fit into our pockets and man purses. Unless Apple does something really amazing with its tablet — something I can’t imagine and that hasn’t been leaked in the pre-reporting — then the tablet can’t possibly be as revolutionary as the iPhone has been. It’ll just be … bigger. And more expensive.

Don’t get me wrong: I’ll probably want a tablet of some sort sooner rather than later. And my tendency in technology is to always go with Apple products. But the picture above doesn’t even look as cool as the HP Tablet that Steve Balmer showed off earlier this month. The HP Tablet will almost certainly be cheaper than Apple’s product, too. If Apple can’t beat Microsoft on features, design or price, what exactly will it have left?

We’re less than a day away from me maybe having to eat my words. But I doubt it.

Between Google’s Nexus One and Apple’s ‘Kindle-killing’ iSlate, January is the most important technology month of the decade

Sorry. Lame joke. But while I’m interested to see what Google and Apple are coming up with, the increasing hype is starting to make me a little dubious. Take, for example, what we think we know about the iSlate:

The much-anticipated Apple tablet, believed to be called the iSlate, will ship in March and will cost about $1,000, says The Wall Street Journal. The device will have a 10- or 11-inch screen for watching television, surfing the Internet, playing games, and reading books and newspapers. The high price tag is about the same as that for an Apple MacBook laptop. Apple is expected to reveal the device on January 26 or 27.

I hate to mention this, but I’ve already got a device that lets me watch television, surf the Internet, play games and read books and newspapers. It’s called a MacBook, and it’s sitting in my lap right now. What would make the iSlate different from that is if it has built-in 3G wireless — the way the Kindle has a wireless connection — so you could do any of those things anywhere you had a cell phone tower nearby. But I’m not clear on if the iSlate has that feature; if not, the “game changing” device really won’t be changing any games at all. It’ll just be a MacBook in a different shape. And if it does … well, that just makes it a differently sized iPhone. I’m interested to see what happens, but I’ve not heard anything yet that tells me I’m going to need an iSlate.

And here’s what we know about the Nexus One: It’s like an iPhone, only it’ll let you run more Google Apps. And while that’ll certainly be useful — far, far too much of my life is contained within Google’s cloud — the new phone’s appeal to consumers seems to be primarily that … it’s made by Google. The game-changer here, I guess, is that the Nexus One won’t be tied to any particular wireless carrier — and that’s going to be a big deal for the 30 minutes or so it takes to sign up with a wireless carrier. But from a day-to-day standpoint, there’s little that’s been discussed that seems all that earth-shattering.

I could be wrong about all this. It might be that Nexus and iSlate really do transform the computing world. But I’m always dubious of hype, and there’s a lot of hype going on.

Will Apple’s Kindle-killing tablet let me read Kindle and Nook books?

OK, they mean it this time: Apple is (supposedly) about to release its new tablet in January — essentially a giant iPhone meant to compete in the e-book space now mostly occupied by Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony. eWeek reports:

Picture 3

It’s eWeek’s description of the tablet as a “giant iPhone” that intrgues me most, however.

One issue that has kept me from making a full and final jump into e-reading is the matter of compatibility. You can only read Kindle books on the Kindle, Nook books on the Nook and so forth. There is — as yet — no universal e-reading format. And because the market is still shaking itself out, that makes buying an e-reader dicey for us not-quite-first-adopters: Who wants to drop a couple of hundred dollars on what will turn out to be the digital book equivalent of Betamax?

What’s nice about my iPhone as an e-reader, though, is I don’t have to choose. I’ve got — and used — reading applications from Amazon, B&N and Stanza on my phone. It’s not only allowed me to access a wider array of books on my iPhone, it’s also let me price shop. (Amazon’s usually cheaper for brand-new books, in my experience.)

Here’s the thing: When it comes to the iPhone, Apple is pretty notorious about locking competitors out of its App store. It’s why you’re forced to use a Safari browser on the phone, say, instead of Chrome. And my worry is that this attitude will find its way to Apple’s approach to bookselling on iTunes. Kindle, Nook and Stanza applications are on the iPhone. Will it be available on the tablet?

I hope so. If Apple keeps the tablet open to book apps from other companies, it can achieve what nobody else has: A quasi-universal e-book format. Instead of being forced into an exclusive relationship with one bookstore or the other, I can shop among them all! That might make an Apple Tablet worth the $500-$700 asking price.

Is Apple really about to release it’s long-awaited “Kindle-killing” tablet?

That’s what they say. I don’t know what to believe. There’s been talk of a “Kindle-killing” Apple tablet around the corner for a long time now, and it seems to pick up with intensity, oh, every time I think maybe it’s time to end the wait and finally buy a Kindle. Or a Nook. Or a Sony e-reader.

On the other hand, some reports put the cost of an Apple tablet at about $1,000. But I can pay a tenth that and get most of the tablet’s functions — albeit at a smaller size — in my pocket. And in an e-reader, I’m not really looking for another, differently shaped computer: I’m looking for a machine that is geared toward two things: Allowing me to read books without all the distractions available on a computer, and taking notes about what I’m reading. I can already do those things, enjoyably, on Kindle for iPhone.

If the tablet is going to be a big expensive iPhone — without the phone — then I’m not interested. If it’s going to be a very expensive e-reader, I’m not interested.  And that’s what it sounds like the Apple tablet is going to be. Maybe it’s time to buy that Kindle after all.

Kindle for iPhone

Last night, I finished my first entire book — John Derbyshire’s “We Are Doomed,” about which more later — on Kindle for iPhone. Why? Because the book was $9.99 in its Kindle format, and roughly twice that much in paper. I needed not to spend the extra money. But it ended up a very pleasurable reading experience.

For one thing, Kindle recently updated its iPhone software so you can take notes and highlights. That’s baseline-level service, to be sure, but it really makes the reading experience on the phone that much more useful. And it offers an advantage over regular book-reading: I can easily look up every single highlight and note I took — no flipping around, trying to remember important passages — which will be useful, since I’ll be interviewing Derbyshire about the book on Saturday.

But it was also great, when I was done, to be able to slip my reading material into my pocket and move on down the road. What’s more, the Kindle app doesn’t really consume battery power too quickly.

I still don’t know if I’d want to read a novel in this format. But I’ve got a half-finished copy of Neil Sheehan’s “A Fiery Peace in a Cold War” at home that’s next on my list to finish. It’s a big, bulky book. I’m going to see if I can cheerfully return to lugging and grappling with such massive tomes. But an e-reader is looking much more attractive to me. Christmas, here I come!

Why I probably won’t buy the Nook, Barnes & Noble’s new “Kindle Killer”

Barnes & Noble has unveiled its new e-reader, the Nook, and I couldn’t be happier. I haven’t gotten around to buying an e-reader yet — I came close to buying a Kindle earlier this year, didn’t, then realized that Amazon’s policies regarding book ownership kind of creep me out. More competition in the e-reader marketplace means that I’ll soon have choices of better e-readers at cheaper prices.

Still, I don’t think I’m going to buy a Nook. Why?

• TOO MANY MOVING PARTS: The Nook actually has two screens — an e-ink screen for book-reading and a second full-color computer screen for browsing your library, making purchases, etc. Basically, there are two machines in one slim plastic case. The more parts you have in a system, the more likely it is one of those parts will break down. It seems unnecessarily complicated, and seems to raise the chances I’ll have to (sooner than later) ditch the e-reader I have and buy a new one.  I’m sure it will be completely reliable, but I’m not that sure it will be completely reliable.

• TOO MANY FEATURES: The Nook has an MP3 player in it. Guess what? I don’t want an MP3 player. I’ve already got one! So, too, does anybody who is going to shell out $260 for a reading machine.

Here’s why e-readers intrigue me: I’ve gotten used to reading on a screen. I spend my days working and consuming loads of information from my laptop. I can even read books on it, if I choose, but I don’t choose because the laptop provides me too many opportunities for distraction — music, video, work, etc. So in addition to the convenience — I can download a new book at 2:30 in the morning! I can take my reading on long trips without making my luggage much heavier! — one thing I want out of an e-reader is not so many distractions. I want to read a book and not be tempted to check the weather, e-mail or any other damn thing. Instead of feature creep, I need fewer features.

• THERE’S MORE COMPETITION COMING: In addition to the Kindle, there’s also Sony’s family of e-readers. Plastic Logic will be coming out with its own version soon, and other companies are jumping into the fray. I’d like to be an early adopter — but more than that: If I’m going to buy an e-reader, I want to make sure that it’s one that best suits my pocketbook and reading habits. I can wait a little bit.

It helps that old-fashioned paper books still work pretty well. Yes, e-readers are convenient for purchasing and carrying around your books. But there’s nothing really wrong with a good old paperback, is there? It makes the wait a little easier.

I won’t be buying a Kindle until Amazon changes this policy

The great thing about paper books — however “old fashioned” they may be — is that once you buy a book, it stays bought. You might sell them or give them away, but the bookstore generally doesn’t steal it back from you.

Not so with the Kindle:

This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid for—thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people’s Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?

The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were “1984” and “Animal Farm.”

After my declaration of Kindle non-buying, I had recently been drifting back to the idea of buying an e-reader. As it stands now, that e-reader won’t be a Kindle. I guess I’ll wait to see what Plastic Logic comes out with in a few months.

Newspapers are betting on Kindle?

So says the New York Times:

Now the recession-ravaged newspaper and magazine industries are hoping for their own knight in shining digital armor, in the form of portable reading devices with big screens.

Unlike tiny mobile phones and devices like the Kindle that are made to display text from books, these new gadgets, with screens roughly the size of a standard sheet of paper, could present much of the editorial and advertising content of traditional periodicals in generally the same format as they appear in print. And they might be a way to get readers to pay for those periodicals — something they have been reluctant to do on the Web.

Call me dubious. Yes, people pay to get books on their Kindle — because they pay to get books anyway. Although libraries exist, you generally can’t pick up the latest bestseller for free. You can, however, get today’s headlines for free. Asking people to pay a few hundred bucks for a device so that they can then pay for something they’re already getting free on a device they already have? It’s an unlikely business plan.

Will Bunch makes a good point here:

It smacks of what newspapers were thinking and trying to do in the late 1990s and early 2000s — get the Internet off my damn lawn! Rather than integrate with the devices that people already have and use for multi-tasking — cellphones, laptops, etc. — newspapers want people to pay for a separate device where they have more control over the content and the flow of information, and they can once again demand that people pay money for the content.

Newspapers are no longer in a position to get the audience to come to them. They have to go to where the audience is.

Why I’m not going to buy a Kindle. Yet.

I love digital media. I love that, while living in Kansas, the Internet made it possible for me to read the New York Times and Washington Post every day, giving me a deeper understanding of the day’s news than could be provided by the heavily chopped-up AP dispatches that my local newspapers carried. (This may not seem like a big deal to you, but in growing up Kansas during the 1980s, it was basically possible only to get the Sunday Times — and then only a few days later, through the mail, when much of what it contained had become stale.) And the iPhone: Where do I start? I love being able to carry around access to much of the world’s knowledge in my pocket. That’s nothing short of miraculous, when you think about it.

So I love digital media. And that love, I think, translated to my recent lust for a Kindle. The idea of being able to carry your library with you everywhere has incredible appeal — especially if, like me, you’ve recently packed up everything you own and moved it 1,000 miles. (Books are the nastiest thing to move. You either have to move lots of small, heavy boxes or a few big, very heavy boxes. Either way, it’s a pain.) The idea of instant gratification is also appealing: “Hey, that book reviewed in the paper sounds good. I’ll turn on my Kindle, buy it and start reading it right now!” The recent introduction of the Kindle 2 built my lust to a fever pitch; I knew I had to have the Kindle, and have it soon.

Thanks to some well-timed windfalls, I recently scraped together enough money to buy the Kindle.

And then I hesitated. Because I am a sentimental fool.

You see, I love books. But it’s more than books I love: I love the culture of books. I love wandering into a bookstore and finding myself surprised by a recommendation from a clerk whose quirky tastes match (and, yes, guide) my own. I love the readings, and I love the time spent idly browsing. When my wife and I got married, we invited the owner of our favorite bookstore. One of the first things we did upon moving here was figure out where the nearest stores were.

A Kindle would allow me — even require me — to bypass that process. I’d get to clear away the thicket of relationships I’ve built up around reading, but I don’t really want that thicket to be cleared. And the truth is, I don’t need to carry around an entire of library of books with me — I can ony read one book at any given moment, and it might as well be the one I put in my bag. Most horrendously, I’d never be able to lend or borrow a book.

Rather than expand my world, as the Internet has done, the Kindle would appear to narrow it. All so I can do the same thing — read books — that I was able to do before, only without a machine.

(Admittedly, there’s also something in me that resists the notion that you should spend $360 to buy a battery-powered reading device. The old technology works pretty well without adding a cent to my electricity bill.)

Don’t get me wrong: After a lot of failed attempts, I suspect that the Kindle is the device that will bring e-reading into the mainstream. And there may be good reasons to go along with the wave. But I can’t escape the sense that riding that wave will turn book-reading into a rote transaction of information. Buying a Kindle would change my life … in ways I don’t want it changed. So as far as books are concerned, I’m staying analog for now. The future can wait just a little longer.

Kindle on iPhone

I don’t have a Kindle — yet — but I do have an iPhone. So when Amazon announced yesterday that it’s making Kindle books available on an iPhone app, I took the plunge.

At my friend Ben’s urging, I decided to pick up Matt Miller’s The Tyranny of Dead Ideas. (Kind of depressing, so far. Apparently our generation of Americans is going to be poorer than our parents. The upside: We’ll still be relatively well-off economically. But it’s probably time for things like universal health care and other social safety net programs.) I couldn’t actually buy it through the Kindle app, so I went to Amazon.com on my iPhone. But the Amazon site refused to recognize me and my password on the iPhone, so I went to my computer.

Then I bought the book. For $10. Which, considering it’s a relatively new book still in hardback, made me kind of happy. And it was available on my phone just a few seconds after I made the computer purchase.

Which is all nice, but it still comes down to the reading experience. Here’s the thing: Reading a book on iPhone is not a relaxing way to end the day. I’d rather stick with paper.

On the other hand: I had to go up to Girard for a meeting this morning and took the El back into Center City. I used the time to read Matt Miller on the iPhone.

As a commuter-reading device, Kindle on iPhone’s pretty good. Mostly, though, I’d rather use it for books that I’m extracting information and ideas from rather than books I’m reading purely for pleasure: Non-fiction versus fiction, generally, though I doubt it breaks down that neatly. Even if I’m not skimming, I get the sensation of skimming because I’m thumbing between “pages” so quickly.

So I’ll probably continue to use it for Matt Miller/Thomas Ricks-type books. I’ll probably save up my money, though, to buy a paper copy of Robert Bolano’s latest.