Kindle DX

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PageBot for Kindle 3 is now available from Origin Instruments for immediate delivery. A press release from Origin Instruments on July 26 2011 announced the availability of this new PageBot model and also announced new pricing for all PageBot models. PageBot for Kindle 3 and PageBot for Kindle 2 are priced at $279.95 US. PageBot for Kindle DX is priced at at $299.95 US.

PageBot for Kindle 3 combines a secure and adjustable mount, dual integrated actuators for the Kindle Next Page and Previous Page buttons, and a built-in intelligent drive circuit that can directly interface to a wide variety of adaptive switches. Many different types of adaptive switch are supported to suit the preferences and abilities of individual users. Standard mechanical adaptive switches with 3.5 mm microphone-style connectors can be plugged in directly. Dual switches, like the Origin Instruments Sip/Puff Switch, can interface with a single stereo cable.

Origin Instruments also announced a new button-style adaptive switch that can interface directly to PageBot and to many other types of switch-adapted devices. The Orby switch has a smooth contoured design that is 2.5-inches in diameter and is less than one-inch tall. Orby is a rugged and very reliable switch that provides clear audible and tactile feedback when pressed anywhere on its top surface. Available in both Cherry Red and Lemon Yellow, the Orby switch is priced at $34.95 US.

As a time-limited special offer, PageBot for Kindle orders from end customers placed directly with Origin Instruments will receive an Orby Switch at no additional cost through October 31, 2011.

Read the press releases: PageBot for Kindle 3 and Orby Switch

Visit the web pages: PageBot for Kindle and Orby Switch

For those of us who have physical disabilities, performing everyday tasks like brushing your hair or feeding yourself becomes a very painstaking and arduous task. While these types of efforts are understood and known by what we call the able-bodied community, other efforts are highly overlooked including things like accessing books and periodicals. Reading a book for most is a subconscious effort of turning pages while being engrossed in the story line. However, if you do not possess the ability to move your arms and/or hands, reading a book then becomes a multi-person event where losing one’s train of thought is a common occurrence.

As disabilities become more commonplace in our society, attempts have been made to address such issues with the use of adaptive equipment or assistive technologies. In regard to reading books, the automatic page turner turned up several decades ago, but they were very bulky and somewhat archaic. The Abilia GEWA Page Turner is a very accurate page turning apparatus. However, its hefty size demands a stationary setting that dictates the user must be in the exact same place every time they choose to read a book or magazine.

The Flip Automatic Page Turner is a much more lightweight and portable page turning solution. It does a good job of addressing freedom of movement and the ability to choose where you want to read. Accuracy is good, but the size is still an issue and will require some type of table or stand to be able to read a book comfortably.

Either of these are a good choice if you want to sit in the same place each time you read or be next to some type of furniture in order to place your page turner. But what if you want the freedom to be outdoors or somewhere like a waiting room and still have the ability to read? Enter PageBot for Kindle.

I am lucky enough to work for the company who developed the new PageBot for Kindle and got to spend some time with the PageBot for Kindle DX. A high-level quadriplegic, I utilize a lapboard that goes across my arms of my wheelchair. Within seconds of un-boxing the PageBot, I was able to simply set the device which was holding a Kindle DX on my lapboard and began turning pages.

PageBot is extremely lightweight and can very easily be attached to a wheelchair armrest or pretty much any other desirable surface. The accompanying mounting arm simply screws into the back of the PageBot and you are off and reading. A separate portable USB battery pack can be connected to PageBot allowing for complete freedom from the Kindle power adapter.

My number one kudo for PageBot is the learning curve. It only took me a couple of sips and puffs (on my Sip/Puff switch) before knowing which switch activated the Next Page and Previous Page functions. The dual switch activation allows me to simply plug in one stereo cable and utilize both sip and puff to activate the PageBot. If you utilize other types of switches (i.e., a single Jelly switch), there are two ports in the back of the PageBot as well as a USB hub.

Now for the bad news: PageBot only controls the Next Page and Previous Page functions at this time. It would be great for the page turner to have complete access to all of the Kindle’s capabilities. I personally believe, however, that the lack of access to the Kindle is heavily outweighed by the freedom and ability to read wherever I choose rather than being confined to one or two locations.

You are probably thinking that I have a built-in bias because of my connection to the manufacturer. Yes, I am especially excited about this huge advancement in reading assistive technology. However, as a twenty-two year quadriplegic, I see the PageBot as an excellent leap in the right direction for independence in reading whatever I like; wherever I want.

StudentWithBooks In much recent press coverage, Amazon’s introduction of Kindle DX is seen as marking the beginning of a transition to e-textbooks. That may well be true, but with special emphasis on “beginning”. Regardless of how impressive the DX turns out to be, we expect that publisher caution and market inertia will combine with the DX’s near-$500 price to limit Amazon’s near-term business opportunity in e-textbooks.

US textbook publishing is dominated by a small number of very profitable businesses, and one may expect them to be cautious about initiatives that could impact a lucrative business model. From a publisher’s perspective, a Kindle channel for e-textbooks will reduce costs for printing, shipping, and returns, and perhaps more importantly will support no market for used textbooks and thus could increase unit sales while reducing costs associated with the current practice of rapidly updating textbook editions so as to discount the relevance of used previous editions. However, Amazon’s position as the exclusive sales channel of DRM’ed content for Kindle is problematic for publishers and they may be understandably reluctant to empower Amazon as a critical link in their sales channel.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal about the announcement of the Kindle DX included this passage about Amazon’s e-textbook initiative:

Amazon also announced partnerships with textbook publishers including Cengage Learning, Pearson PLC and John Wiley & Sons Inc., to sell their textbooks on the Kindle DX.

A spokeswoman for Pearson said its education division, which publishes textbooks for all grade levels, hasn’t yet decided how many titles will be available or how much the Kindle versions will cost.

The emphasis is ours. Largely skeptical views of the near-term prospects for e-textbooks have also recently appeared at Inside Higher Ed and in a posting at ZDNet’s education blog.

Given the surging competition, we expect that the Kindle DX will be followed by the next generation of large-format Kindle in 2010. During its market life, the DX may see more educational use as a reader for scanned handouts, open textbooks and informally pirated textbooks than for published e-textbooks. A new Apple media pad of Kindle-like size may appear very soon and it will likely be popular with college students. Delivery of e-textbooks for use on such non-Kindle devices may emerge as an important element of Amazon’s longer-term strategy.

Our skepticism about near-term volumes for e-textbooks is not intended to discount the brilliance of Amazon’s business plan nor the attractiveness of the Kindle DX. In fact the DX appears to be a well engineered product and we expect that it will open a variety of new opportunities for Amazon and for you, our readers.

Kindle and Wi-Fi

WhereIsMyWiFi We are surprised that specifications for the Kindle DX include no mention of a Wi-Fi radio. We were not anticipating that a Wi-Fi radio would replace the cellular radio. Rather we were expecting that the two radios might coexist side-by-side.

A recent article at SFGate headlines: Why not a cheaper Wi-Fi-only Kindle? The article’s theme is that the Kindle’s price could likely be reduced by by eliminating the cellular radio and its associated service cost. The answer to the headline’s question is likely that Amazon is seeking a user experience that could not currently be provided by a Wi-Fi radio. Recent informal demographic estimates, developed at the Kindle Culture blog and elsewhere, suggest that the existing Kindle user base is largely older and majority female. This sounds to us like a demographic that may be especially appreciative of configuration-free operation. The Kindle’s existing wireless is fully operational out of the box with no configuration. We geeky types sometimes forget that subscribing to internet service, configuring a Wi-Fi router, enabling WPA security, and entering passwords are hardly inexpensive and intuitive tasks.

For current Kindles, Amazon’s Whispernet service is provided through the Sprint US cellular network. Sprint’s geographic coverage, both CDMA and EVDO, is actually quite impressive. However, Sprint’s coverage is far from universal and is especially spotty in parts of the US northwest. In addition, Sprint’s network has no international coverage. Thus a Wi-Fi radio could be of great benefit to Kindle users in many rural areas and to users who travel internationally. Such a Wi-Fi radio could be disabled by default to retain the existing Kindle’s user experience and battery life.

The marginal cost of the needed electronic components for a low power Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11-g) radio manufactured at the Kindle’s volumes is currently very roughly at around $5.00 per unit, meaning that such a capability would likely add less than $25 to a Kindle’s sales price. Based on teardowns of the Kindle 2, we expect that Amazon has the technical ability to add Wi-Fi at any time to updated versions of either the Kindle 2 or Kindle DX, possibly by changing an integrated wireless daughter card and an internal antenna at the time of manufacture.

We are guessing – and hoping – that the next major Kindle news from Amazon will involve international availability. This will almost certainly require new Kindle models configured with TDMA/GPRS cellular radios, and it is possible that some international markets could be best addressed with Wi-Fi radios exclusively.

The addition of Wi-Fi radios to Kindles for the US market is purely speculative on our part, but Amazon may soon be under competitive pressure to offer such a feature. Thus far, Amazon seems to be doing a good job of positioning and executing to stay a step or two ahead of its e-reader competition.

DX and K2 So you want a Kindle, but now you have the new problem of deciding which one.

The most important thing to understand is that the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX are very similar products that were undoubtedly developed in concert. They share almost all of the same advantages and disadvantages.

Kindle 2 weighs just about a pound including its leather cover. It is more convenient to carry than almost any book in your library, and it fits easily in a purse. Operation in a single hand is possible and even pleasant. Kindle 2 does not natively display PDF files, but Amazon’s free conversion service performs well in our experience for most narrative documents in PDF format, and the service couldn’t be more convenient to use (assuming you are willing to pay pocket change for wireless delivery).

However, the Kindle 2 and its available data formats are not suited to display of documents that require the geometrical richness of a printed page or that need to reference the original page numbers in printed documents. If research papers or technical manuals are an important part of your needs for Kindle, you would be well advised to wait for the DX.

The key distinctive features of the DX are its much larger display and its associated support for a much wider range of PDF documents, including bit-mapped PDFs. If you need to capture paper documents for e-reading, an inexpensive scanner will likely suffice without any requirement for optical character recognition and editing. Thus the DX could be especially useful in a range of applications that depend on scanning paper documents. It is in precisely such applications for complex and bit-mapped documents that the DX’s larger memory may be handy.

Kindle DX has almost twice the weight and surface area of the Kindle 2, so it will be a little less convenient to carry. In fact, the DX is large enough and heavy enough to be considered an exclusively two-handed device.

When both are packaged with the near-essential cover, Kindle DX is priced $150.00 higher than the Kindle 2. To paraphrase one of our team members, $150.00 is a lot of fajitas.

Our take: The Kindle 2 is for pleasure and the Kindle DX is for research, education, and business, but with lots of crossover for both devices at the boundaries. The Kindle DX earns extra credit for users with low vision, since the larger display is sure to be convenient for reading books at large font sizes.

In our experience, the Kindle is one of those rare products that grows on you as you use it. All of the minor issues that may be worrisome as you first experiment with the device rapidly fade into the background of reading. Then many features creep up on you as being much more useful than you originally anticipated. These include the paper-like display, the week-long battery life that largely eliminates any worry about power,  books that never loose your place, an always-available queue of reading material to suit your mood, and the convenience of simply emailing books and other documents for automatic conversion and wireless delivery to the device.

We are very pleased with the Kindle 2, and we look forward to testing and development for the Kindle DX. If you enjoy reading, we expect that you will be pleased with either product.