NEW YORK It's not that I don't believe Jeff Bezos that reading books on a flat-panel display is a "better way to read". It very well may be. I guess my beef is with his assertion that ALL content is better on black and white E-Ink screens than on a full-color printed page.
At the launch of the latest Kindle this week, the CEO of Amazon.com listed the three features that makes the DX a must have for reading not only popular books, but also textbooks, newspapers and magazines: native PDF built-in reader; automatic landscape/portrait text and image rotation; and line length adjustments, which determines the width of text on the screen.
That, and that you can download content wirelessly, annotate it on the screen, and share it with others are great features. But by itself the Kindle is just an electronic paper reader.
Without content that is easy to read and useful to the user, the Kindles would be dead in the water.
So it is heartening that newspaper publishers such as the New York Times and Washington Post are signing on to experiment with this instant distribution of news to the mobile user. And even more enlightening is the deal Bezos has struck with academic institutions and textbook publishers.
Arizona State University, Case Western Reserve University, Princeton University, Reed College, Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia and Pace University will launch trial programs to make Kindle DX devices available to students this fall.
And textbook publishers Cengage Learning, Pearson, and Wiley, together representing more than 60 percent of the U.S. higher education textbook market, will begin offering textbooks through the Kindle Store beginning this summer.
The schools plan to distribute hundreds of Kindle DX devices to students spread across a broad range of academic disciplines. In addition to the larger (9.7-in diagonal) screen, students will be able to take notes and highlight, search across their library, look up words in a built-in dictionary, and carry all of their books in a lightweight device.
Now that's awesome.
As Barbara R. Snyder, president of Case Western Reserve University recalled at the introduction of the DX, "I can remember hauling all those textbooks around the campus and to and from home when I was attending college. It literally ruined my posture. Now with Kindle, students in a much thinner backpack can stand tall again."
Nice endorsement, but the proof in the pudding will be how the Kindle DX is being used to influence the way students learn, and "how the device affects the participation of both students and faculty in the educational experience," admits Snyder.
Having a handheld device that has a built-in PDF reader is very useful not only for chart-filled textbook pages but also for 8.5 x 11-in. documents. What's more PDF format documents can be emailed to users' Kindle email address or moved over using a USB connection.
The larger display and built-in PDF reader allows documents with complex layouts to be displayed without scrolling, panning, or zooming, and without re-flowing, which destroys the original structure of the document. Annual reports with graphs, flight manuals with maps, even musical scores can be viewed on a single Kindle DX screen.
And users can read in portrait or landscape mode by turning the device enabling full-width landscape views of maps, graphs, tables, images, and Web pages. Apple's iPhone did it first, but the Kindle DX does it on a larger screen, albeit in black and white.
And here's the crux of the problem for the textbook and newspaper industries.
We have all become used to seeing print distribution media in color, and in general color enhances the viewing, retention of information and learning experience. A "Grey's Anatomy" in black and white just doesn't come across as well as seeing the red, brown and orange hues of muscles, tendons and skin layers in its color version.
So we enter an experimental transitional stage from having a print newspaper in hand to holding a book on a screen. I'm convinced that we will see Kindles and other such tablets more and more being used by both professionals and consumers.
But I bet that the yellow brick road in the black & white "Wizard of Oz" feature movie turning to full Technicolor will be a long time coming for similar viewing experiences on a handheld digital 9.7-in diagonal 1/3-in thick color screen.