30 Sep 2011

ebook readers

If you live in the USA, there are really only two choices for a traditional ebook reader. Barns and Noble’s Nook, and Amazon’s Kindle. Both companies make a tradition e-ink reader, and a full colour tablet. Those who’ve used both know that e-ink is far superior for just reading, at the cost of not being multi-functional. Sure, the Kindle Fire/Nook Color are pretty cool devices, but they’re bigger and heavier, get only 8 hours of battery life, and the screen strains your eyes. Yes, you can browse the web, watch videos and play angry birds, but you compromise the reading experience. They’re ideal devices for someone who wants both an e-reader, and a tablet. It’s cheaper, but it’s a compromise.

In my case, I decided to get the Nook simple touch, B&N’s latest touch screen e-reader. It gets 2 months of battery life, and is extremely thin and light. As I’ve recently been travelling for work, I don’t want to take several books with me, nor do I want to read books on a colour tablet, as I may be unable to charge for long periods of time. The obvious choice was an e-ink e-reader. The nook’s clear competition is the Amazon Kindle. Up until recently, the Kindle wasn’t touch screen, and had a big keyboard taking up space. This has since been fixed with Amazon’s 2011 Kindle.

It actually looks extremely similar to the new Nook. So why did I get the Nook? Quite simple really. EPUB support. EPUB is the official standard for ebook publishers. It’s supported by every publisher and, with the exception of the Kindle, every e-reader. Why would Amazon be the only e-reader not to support the official EPUB standard?. Well, for the same reason that Apple limits codec support on their products. They don’t want to sell you just the hardware. They want to sell you everything. If the Kindle supported EPUB, people would be able to purchase their books elsewhere. They’d be able to borrow, and download free ebooks without ever going to Amazon. It would be perfect for the customer, but at the expense of Amazon. I personally will not buy a product that restricts me in such a way. Apple does the same thing. If you buy an iPhone, you can only install apps that Apple approves of. With Android, you can install whatever you want, whether it’s in the official Android Market, or downloaded from some random website. It’s quite ironic really, because it was exactly this openness in Android that led Amazon to use it. Amazon Kindle devices use Android. They don’t pay anyone, they just use it because it’s free. They also offer their Amazon App Store for regular Android devices. I’m all for that, as competition is a great thing for everyone. The problem with Amazon’s method, is that while they’re repurposing Android for an e-reader, they’re also locking it down. So while an Android phone can use both Google and Amazon’s App Stores, an Amazon Fire tablet can only use Amazon’s App Store. Not cool Amazon, not cool.

So, while I commend Amazon for creating very reasonably priced hardware, they should play fair. I personally choose to only buy hardware that allows me to choose my own software. EPUB is far superior to mobipocket as a format and an official international standard. Buying an e-reader that doesn’t support it would be like buying a music playing device that didn’t support MP3.