This week's Economist suggests that the Kindle might be the saviour of newspapers
THINGS are suddenly hotting up in the rather obscure field of electronic books and their associated reading devices, the best known of which is Amazon’s Kindle. A new, sleeker version of the Kindle was unveiled on February 9th. Just days earlier, Google said it was making 1.5m free e-books available in a format suitable for smart-phones, such as Apple’s iPhone and handsets powered by Google’s Android software. Amazon said it was working to make e-books available on smart-phones as well as the Kindle. Plastic Logic, the maker of a forthcoming e-reader device, said it had struck distribution deals with several magazines and newspapers.
The iPhone, meanwhile, has quietly become the most widely used e-book reader: more people have downloaded e-book software (such as Stanza, eReader and Classics) for iPhones than have bought Kindles. Might e-books be approaching the moment of take-off, akin to Apple’s launch of the iTunes store in 2003, which created a new market for legal music downloads?
It's an interesting idea, and I'd happily pay US$10 per month for my daily fix of The Guardian, but there are a few problems to overcome first. For starters, there's the price of the Kindle ($359) and the fact that it's only available in the United States (and I figure that Hong Kong is unlikely to be high on their priority list).
However, there is speculation that Amazon will start to offer support for the iPhone (and presumably the iPod Touch as well), so maybe there's some hope. Or maybe Apple will create an iBooks or iNews application similar to iTunes (using USB synchronization), and some people think they will launch a tablet computer, for which that would be an obvious application.
I've been reading newspapers on mobile devices for more that ten years, starting with the Handspring Visor, using Avantgo to download various newspapers (including The Guardian). By current standards it was very primitive, but at the time I was very impressed to be able to sit on the MTR reading the same day's Guardian (well, parts of it). The biggest limitations were that the website had to create a special cut-down version (to fit the smaller screen) and Avantgo set a maximum number of kb (though you could pay to increase this).
Next came Mobipocket. The SCMP adopted it because of their stupid paywall, but its best feature was that anyone could write a script to extract content from any newspaper (or any website). One kind person wrote a script to extract the whole of The Guardian each day. Which was fine until the website was re-designed and the script would pick up nothing. Then came Mobipocket Creator, which was supposed to make it easy for anyone to do the extract themselves from any website - and it worked (up to a point), but it also had many frustrating features, and rather than fix them they abandoned the product. Gee, thanks, guys.
These days, both Mobipocket and Avantgo take the easy option and use RSS feeds. Which is all very well, but it isn't the same as reading a newspaper. So I am currently using Sunrise XP and Plucker, which works reasonably well for The Guardian (though I had to create a simple HTML file to serve as a contents page), but it can't handle sites which split articles over multiple pages (yes, that means you, The Times of London).
So I'm certainly on the lookout for something better, whether from Amazon or Apple or anyone else.