A Long Weekend With The Kindle: Programmers, Take Note

The first thing that must be said about the Kindle is that the screen technology — eInk — is vastly more readable than any screen you’ve read from before. Pause. No, seriously, vastly more readable. My wife, no technologist, actually used the word “wow,” and after reading a page opined that it was more readable than many printed pages, an assessment I agree with. }catch(DisplayGeekException){ I’ve not used the Sony Reader, which uses similar (same?) technology, nor do I have a 200-DPI screen. I have a high-DPI (150?) screen on my tablet and two 21″ monitors running at 1920 x 1050, and the Kindle is vastly more readable than those. }

Ergonomics

The screen is perfectly readable in the tropical Hawaiian sun and, although you can generate a reflection by turning it just so, a few degrees tilt in another direction makes the reflection go away.

The Kindle seems to have been designed with an anti-fashion aesthetic; while the iPod is clearly designed to attract attention to itself, Bezos’ statement that they want the Kindle “to disappear” is clearly not just rhetoric. It comes with a leather binder (in which the Kindle fits somewhat unsecurely); when in the binder, it is essentially indistinguishable from an address book to the casual glance.

When carried outside the binder, the Kindle fits in the hand well (at least, my hand) and has excellent balance. The first morning after getting it, I found myself pouring coffee with my right hand while reading from the Kindle in my left — exactly the type of position that I would do with a book but would hesitate doing with an iPod or PDA. One reason this is a natural position is that they have a “Next Page” button in the lower left of the device where your thumb naturally sits if you have the device balanced in your left hand: I like that button a lot, it is my wife’s sole complaint about the Kindle’s ergonomics (“there’s no place to put your thumb” she says).

The keyboard sucks. I don’t have an opinion as to whether it sucks more than other thumb keyboards, which I’ve never used.

Durability

As the coffee-pouring incident illustrated, my natural instinct is that the Kindle does not need to be overly protected. It’s light and well-balanced, doesn’t have any protruding edges, and the periphery is the domain of large, sturdy-seeming buttons/levers. When in its leather case, it seems very good for throwing in a backpack or purse.

“Printed” Content

So much for the good. I bought the Kindle for the purpose of my tech library: I spend over $1,000 a year on technical books and I receive for free probably another $2-3K worth of titles. I’m sure that’s several sigmas from the book-buying norm, but even if I spent “just” the several hundred dollars per year necessary to have the tools-at-hand to be a professional programmer, an eBook solution would be ideal. No matter how carefully I maintain my library, I am constantly realizing that “I just threw out that book last week.”

In my “To-Be Read” pile for technical books: 0 for 13 were available on the Kindle.

Of the technical books nominated for Jolts this year, I searched for the first 10: 0 were available for the Kindle.

In my “To-Be Read” pile for personal reading: 6 for 11 were available.

In the technology realm, only Addison-Wesley imprimaturs seem moderately available on the Kindle (although Wiley told me they were excited about the device). The top-selling “Programming” title is Brooks’ “Mythical Man-Month,” the top recent title is Brian Goetz’s excellent “Java Concurrency in Action.”

Just Discovered Defect: The Kindle store incorrectly lists David Holmes as the lead author, though! Search for “Goetz concurrency” in the Kindle store and you get 0 results! This type of screwup is a huge problem for technical users!

For general reading, I think the 6 for 11 is acceptable, especially for best-sellers — the most esoteric title in my “to-be read” pile that was Kindle-available was “The Descendants” by Kaui Hart Hemmings, the most surprising “miss” was “The Midnight Choir” by Gene Kerrigan.

To try out long-form text, I am reading William Gibson’s “Spook Country” on the Kindle and I don’t miss a physical book for that type of reading whatsoever. (Of course, I’ll have to turn the Kindle off in-between throttle-up and 10,000 feet, which I wouldn’t need to do with a paperback.) And with paperbacks now at the $10 price-point, the Kindle breaks even (absent the upfront cost) for airline reading.

But unless technical publishers make some kind of mass movement to support the Kindle, it’s an enormous disappointment for (my) intended use. If Safari or Books24x7 got behind it, that could change overnight; otherwise, it’s not a good purchase for technical texts today and we will just have to see if technical publishers start supporting it in the coming months.

Other Content

In addition to books, the Kindle Store offers magazines, newspapers, and blogs. None are technical at the professional level (no SD Times, no Dr. Dobb’s, no CACM, no Lambda the Ultimate, etc.). Paying for blogs is absurd, so I won’t even go into that.

There is an “experimental” Web browser in the Kindle. It’s very clumsy to use, but I aimed it at a few of my bookmarks. Some were interesting successes (my site actually renders in a pretty readable way!) and others disasters (specifically, NewsGator and other Web 2.0-y sites). I logged on to a few client sites and discovered, with a certain satisfaction, that RESTful sites work well with the Kindle.

Content is King

The Kindle is a great piece of hardware for reading digitally-delivered text.

The only reliably-available text for the Kindle are best-selling texts: the Time magazines, the New York Times, the You: The User Manual’s.

Professional resources are the raison d’etre for a software developer to buy the Kindle.

Professional resources are all but absent from the Kindle store.

I’ll let you know how the situation evolves.