The Kindle: We Can Rebuild It. We Have the Technology

The Grouse plays with the new Kindle DX. It could be better in oh, so many ways

Kindle DX

HIDE

This week I put some face time in with Amazon's latest print assassin, the Kindle DX. I was a big fan of the original recipe, despite what I'd call some minor design flaws. But I always felt like it was missing some important features.

The DX is a slick update, to be sure. The stretched-out screen is beautiful, the buttons are now in logical places, and the body is more svelte than ever. The software (for Kindle DX and for Kindle 2) has also been updated under the hood to include some smart features -- the iPhone app being a personal favorite. Still, there's a lot I'd fix. Some of it's a little far-flung, but the rest of it should have been figured out already.

So, here's Amazon's to-do list for the next Kindle.

Sync with iTunes
The Kindle's MP3 player works rather well, even though it's still listed as an "experimental" feature. I don't see what's holding Amazon back from allowing the user to browse songs or to use playlists -- I'd think it would pretty simple to add these most basic of features. And once that's in place, let's have it sync with my iTunes collection. Hey, the Palm Pre figured out how to do it!

Figure out the proportions
I want the big screen of the DX, but I want a keyboard I don't need Shaq hands to type comfortably on. As it stands, inputting text on the DX is laughably difficult for average-sized folks. Figure that out and you've got the perfect-sized Kindle.

Resurrect the scroll wheel
I actually prefer the scroll wheel on Kindle 1 to the little joystick nub of the new Kindles. The old scroll wheel flew the cursor up and down the page quickly. The new scroller lags and leaves remnant underlines everywhere as it traverses the page -- very reminiscent of Microsoft Word right before it crashes. And that's not a good thing.

Fix landscape
Turning the DX on its side flips the screen into landscape mode, like the iPhone. I suppose this might be helpful for viewing a wide PDF or image, but otherwise there's no reason to go into landscape.Plus it's got issues, the first being that all of the navigation buttons are in impossibly screwy places when the Kindle is turned on its side. A touchscreen would never have such a problem (hint hint).

The second strike against landscape is that the inclinometer inside of the Kindle is way too sensitive, and has a tendency to flip into widescreen mode even if I shift in my seat a little bit. Thankfully, it can be turned off.

Add Bluetooth
Bluetooth would be nice for a couple of reasons. I'd love to hook up stereo Bluetooth headphones to the rather sizable Kindle DX instead of having my head tethered to it. I listened to some MP3s and tested out the text-to-speech feature while running on a treadmill -- scared the entire time that the Kindle was going to get accidentally yanked under the crush of my pounding sneakers. I'd also like to be able to drag music, photos, and PDFs over to it wirelessly instead of having to dig up a USB cord to do so. Sharing docs with other people suddenly seems a lot easier.

Add a backlight
Yes, a backlight would go vampire on the battery, but let that be the user's problem. Without one, the Kindle is stuck in the middle of two planes of technological existence. On one hand, it's a futuristic piece of machinery loaded with features no one could have dreamed of a few decades ago. On the other hand, it's as useless in the dark as the average paperback. C'mon, Amazon.

Pair audio books with print editions
Text-to-speech is also experimental, so I'll forgive it for being terrible. I like the idea in theory: You read a few chapters, then decide to listen to the next two chapters while you're at the gym. You return home and pick up reading right where the narration left off. Unfortunately, the robotic narrator has no sense where one sentence or paragraph ends and the next begins. And let's not forget that several publishers have barred Amazon from even offering this feature on their books. What Amazon should do is work with publishers to offer the Kindle book and audio book together as a package deal. That way, you'd be able to flip between reading and listening, but you'd have a human narrating to you instead of C-3PO's Neanderthal ancestor.

Don't cripple the iPhone app
Overall, the Kindle app for iPhone and iPod Touch is pretty amazing. Whether I'm reading on the iPhone or Kindle, my books always pick up where I last left off. I can even buy a book on the iPhone and it will automatically show up on my Kindle. But there's a lot of room for improvement here. First off, where are the newspapers and blogs I subscribe to? Nowhere to be found. Secondly, if there's anywhere text-to-speech makes sense, it's definitely on the iPod. But that's also nowhere to be found.

Sync with my other subscriptions
If I pay for the print edition of the New York Times or Popular Science, I think I'm entitled to those feeds for free. Amazon doesn't seem to think so.

Make the PDF viewer useful
What's the point of reading PDFs on the Kindle if I can't do anything to them? Allow me to make notes on them that I can email to others or transfer to my computer later. Do the same for Word docs. And while you're at it, give me access to Google Docs, which is not currently supported.

Free the screensaver
Whenever the Kindle is off or asleep (which is actually the same thing, I think) the screen displays pictures of classic book covers and portraits of esteemed literary figures. It's a nice touch, but I'm already tired of them. Let me personalize my Kindle with my own photos! This was possible via a hack on Kindle 1, but has since been squashed. Why? Do only specific types of images properly function as screensavers for E-ink displays?

Show me my Wish List
The Kindle Store has a "Recommended to You" section, which seems to be based on parts of my Wish List, as well as recent searches I've made on the site (spooky). Instead of this, just show me what's available in Kindle form from my Wish List. Why take stabs in the dark when I've already told you what I want?!!