February 13th, 2014 by Mike Fulton

There are Kindle apps for iOS, Android, Windows, Windows Metro and Mac, not to mention the Amazon Kindle Cloud Reader.  Oh, and really the modern Kindle devices, the color ones anyway, are using apps running on a specialized flavor of Android, so let’s count that too. From here out, if I refer to “Kindle” without mentioning a specific version, assume I mean all of the platforms collectively.

On the one hand, it’s nothing short of awesome that Amazon has supported such a wide range of platforms and made Kindle so widely available. On the other hand, it’s also true that the apps are rarely updated with new features.  To their credit, Amazon releases regular bug-fix updates but there are quite a lot of features missing from the apps that would be welcome additions.  Maybe the sheer number of platforms they support is part of the reason why new features are slow in coming.  After all, if you add a new feature to one version, you’ve got to eventually add it to the others as well.

However, the new features do trickle out eventually, so I have to presume someone at Amazon is listening to users’ requests or at least thinking along similar lines.  With that in mind, I’d like to throw out some new ideas.  Or maybe just refresh some old ones.

Support For Multiple Accounts

In a family household, it’s not unusual to have devices that are shared between multiple people.  It would be very convenient if the Kindle could keep track of multiple accounts and let users switch between them more easily.  Allow each account to control things like if purchases can be made without entering the password or not.

Better Parental Controls

Mom needs to be able to hand off her Kindle to her 12 year-old daughter so she can read Pride And Prejudice without worrying about her getting into 50 Shades of Gray instead.  Give parents the ability to mark individual books as being adults-only and require a password to be entered before the book can be opened.

Support For ePub

Kindle’s original file format is based on the Mobipocket format which had been around for several years before the Kindle’s debut.  The AZW format used by Kindle is essentially a MOBI file with digital rights management added on, and the Kindle can still read unprotected .MOBI files.  More recently, Amazon has added a new file format called KF8 (Kindle Format 8 ) which extends the AZW format to provide more formatting capabilities with HTML5 and CSS3.

There are a few other reader devices out there which can read unprotected .MOBI files, but nothing else can read AZW or KF8 files.  And if you own an eBook reader made by someone other than Amazon, chances are it uses the ePub format.  This is an open standard for eBooks created and maintained by the International Digital Publishing Forum.

Kindle does not support the ePub format. It would be nice if they did.  I’m not saying Amazon should start publishing eBooks in that format, but it would be very useful if the Kindle could at least read ePub files obtained from other sources.

For one thing, ePub files tend to be a bit smaller than the Kindle formats.  It’s not uncommon for an eBook file to take half as much space in eBook format as the Kindle’s native formats.

More importantly, though, there are a wide range of free eBooks out there on the web which are only available in ePub format.  Usually you can run them through a converter like the Calibre software, and convert them into .MOBI files that you can use with the Kindle, but this extra step puts things beyond the capabilities of a more casual, less tech-savvy user.

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December 25th, 2012 by Mike Fulton
Posted in eReaders & Reader Apps

It’s been about 3 years now since I started using Kindle and in that time I’ve all but abandoned paper books.  I’ve got a good-sized stack of unread paperbacks that are always calling out for attention, but in vain.

I originally had one of the first-generation Kindle devices, with the non-backlit LCD screen, but it was only a few months old when the Apple iPad was introduced and I subsequently started using the Kindle app instead.  The iPad’s screen was a tad harder on the eyes, back in the days before the Retina display, but not having to carry around two devices made up the difference.

Many of the current generation of Kindle devices are actually using a specialized version of the Android operating system, which is good news for those of us who are using the app on other devices, because it means that there is less reason for Amazon to introduce new features that don’t make it to the Kindle apps running on other hardware.

While there have been some decent improvements in the Kindle app over the years, there are still some missing features which seem, to me anyway, to be pretty obvious improvements.

Continuous Scrolling

The basic metaphor of the Kindle app,  like many other eReader apps, is that of turning pages like in a physical books.  When you finish a page, you swipe your finger from the right side of the screen towards the left side.  The screen shows an animation of the page being turned over.

Pretty, but I’m wondering if the concept of “pages” isn’t one we’re ready to leave behind.  Why not just let us slide our thumb up or down along the edge of the screen to move up and down in the text?  It seems to me like it would provide a smoother reading experience, although I’d suggest leaving the page-flip style around as a user-selectable option.

Organization

The iBooks application has a feature that I’ve wanted in the Kindle app almost since day one.  You can create categories and assign documents to them.  I can create a “Science Fiction” category and a “Mystery” category, for example, and assign books to each as desired.

I can see why someone whose Kindle only has a dozen or two documents might not think this sort of thing is really all that important, but I have HUNDREDS of documents and I am desparate for better organization features.

Aside from categories, I’d also like to see more sorting options besides “Recent” and “Author name”.  Why isn’t “Title” an option?

Font Sizes & Line Spacing

I would really like to see the font size selection become a bit more analog.  The minimum and maximum sizes are fine, as far as I’m concerned, but I’d like to see more intermediate steps.  Especially on smaller screens, it’s hard to get the font size dialed in the way I like, and more intermediate steps would help. I’d also like to see options for controlling linespacing and extra space between paragraphs.

More Sync Options

The sync feature is supposed to be one of the Kindle’s big features, but really it’s kind of broken.  All it really does is take you to the furthest point you’ve gone on any device.  It doesn’t take you to your current location, which is what you really want.  If you’ve skipped ahead for any reason, on any device, you’ve essentially broken the sync feature.  And if you have more than one person reading the same book at the same time, it doesn’t work for that either.

What we really need is the option to select between the current position on each device and the furthest read position for each device.  Let us choose a default setting so that we can easily go back and forth between reading a book on our phone and our tablet, and not step all over the sync settings for someone using the Cloud Reader.

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