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Since its launch, Amazon's Kindle has been somewhat of an object of desire. The idea of having access to thousands of books over the air, all in a sleek little gadget, is quite tantalising. Amazon recently announced that the Kindle would be available globally, and officially launched it in India today at an event in Mumbai.
Kindle wirelessly downloads books, magazines, newspapers and personal documents to a crisp 6-inch electronic ink (e-ink) display that actually looks and reads like real paper. The screen has no backlight, so it doesn't give out the glare a normal screen would.
The navigation is fairly simple and all the text content is custom formatted. So the Economist will not look exactly like the magazine, but more like any other novel. User customisation is also a great tool, allowing you to change margins, increase font size and even annotate sections with notes.
The device features a 2,50,000 word dictionary that can be accessed independently to look up a word, or from within text. It can also play MP3, but the user experience is not that great, from what we were told.
What's amazing is the battery life that comes due to the electronic ink display. On a single charge it can last up to two weeks without the wireless network on. And 2-4 days with wireless!
“Many readers have reported that they read faster now and read more. That's also because the Kindle is always with them” said Laura Porco (Director, Kindle Books).
So does that ring the death knell for actual books? Going by some of the astonishing numbers quoted by Laura, it may actually be so.
“Currently, for every 100 physical books shipped, we have 48 on the Kindle.” she said.
Indian users can avail of a catalogue of 2,80,000 books, each downloaded in about a minute over 3G GSM or EDGE. There are no data charges for downloading a book, the service for which is provided globally by AT&T and its international partners.
Every Kindle user gets a unique email address which you can use to email documents (Txt, Doc, etc) to your device. Porco said that Amazon does not keep a copy of any document on its servers. Alternatively, you can connect the Kindle to your PC via USB and sync data.
There is a fair bit of cloud integration with the Kindle. While the gadget can store around 1,500 e-books on its 2GB memory, that might not be enough for some users’ libraries. So the device allows you to make notes, which are saved in the cloud along with books that you own but don't have space for.
‘Owns’ is an intriguing word to use. A few months ago, Amazon was involved in a peculiar controversy where copies of George Orwell’s 1984 magically disappeared from users’ Kindles. Apparently the device comes with a mechanism – which no one knew about till then – that lets Amazon pull books out just like it puts them in. The whole thing was due to a copyright issue, which Porto was apologetic about. She emphatically claimed: “It was a mistake and will not happen again”.
Another interesting feature is the self publishing option available to budding writers. At the Amazon publisher’s page
, the authors can decide the price and get to keep 35%. However, the Kindle does not have any sort of content filtration or rating system, so there is the risk of mature content being easily accessible to minors.
So, will the Kindle work for India? Well a few things go against it. First is the prohibitive revised $259 price tag
and $20 in shipping. An earlier calculation with the initial $279 price brings this up to a hefty amount indeed!
Second, currently it's only an English language device. Amazon's vision is to make available ‘Every book, in every language, ever printed, anywhere in the world’. But till it happens, a large regional audience would be missed out on.
Also, the device needs to be ordered directly from Amazon, with no retail options. The electronic ink display has to be experienced to be able to know what it is feels like and with no retail plans in sight, we wonder how the typical Indian consumer will experience it.
In any case, there's always the Kindle DX launching next year to look forward to…