Tag Archives: kindle

HTML5 scorecard: Amazon Kindle Fire weak, iOS 5 great, IE10 preview one of the best

The Sencha blog has a great series of posts on HTML5 support on various devices. This is of direct interest to Sencha because its products are JavaScript and CSS application frameworks, Sencha Touch for mobile and ExtJS for any browser. The latest post is on the Amazon Kindle Fire – and it is weak:

The Amazon Kindle Fire doesn’t seem designed to run HTML5 apps as a primary goal. It does a good job of displaying ordinary web pages and its resolution and rendering capabilities meet that need well. But there are too many sharp edges, performance issues, and missing HTML5 features for us to recommend that any developer create web apps primarily for the Kindle Fire. The iPad 2 running iOS 5 continues to be the tablet to beat, with the PlayBook a respectable runner-up in HTML5 capabilities.

Part of the problem is that the Fire runs Android 2.3.4 (Gingerbread) which has a weaker browser than later versions. That is not the only source of disappointment though. According to Sencha’s Michael Mullany, the GPU is not used for hardware acceleration of browser content, the JavaScript timer is laggy, there is no embedded HTML5 video (videos launch in a separate player), and CSS corners are not properly anti-aliased.

But what about the Kindle’s cloud-accelerated browsing that we heard so much about when it was announced? This is the biggest disappointment:

One of the main selling points of the Kindle browser is supposed to be its cloud-caching and pipelined HTTP connection that uses the SPDY protocol. This does seem to speed up normal page browsing a little, but it’s not very noticeable and we didn’t test this rigorously. But for HTML5 web apps, where code is downloaded and executed, there doesn’t seem to be any performance difference when we tested with acceleration on and off. It doesn’t appear as if client JavaScript is executed on the server-side at all, so the Kindle does not seem to have Opera Mini-style server-side execution. And SunSpider scores were essentially the same when accelerated browsing was turned on or off.

Moving on from Kindle, it is interesting but not surprising to see a great report for HTML5 in Apple’s iOS 5. Less expected though is a big thumbs-up for HTML5 in Microsoft’s IE10 preview on Windows 8:

Simply put, (and with the caveat that we were running on the notably overpowered developer preview hardware) the IE10 HTML5 experience is one of the best we’ve seen on any platform to date. After a decade of web neglect, Microsoft is back with a vengeance.


The main caveat is the absence of WebGL. Microsoft is supporting its own 3D graphics library.

Another worry for Microsoft is simply the level of hostility towards the company and IE in particular, among the developer and designer community it so much wants to reach. You can get a flavour of this from some of the comments to Mullany’s post, for example:

I never really like Windows and I absolutely despise Internet Explorer. There are so many exceptions in code to be made for Internet Explorer that i stopped trying so hard to make it look the same as other browsers. Hopefully, IE 10 will stop all of these exceptions and weird additions that are made to websites that make everything instantly awful so I can actually go back to trying to make things look nice in IE. It’s really sad though that so many people use Windows and IE that we cannot ditch it for a better system and better browser.

What about Android? The most recent offering covered in the Sencha series is Motorola Xoom which is a disaster:

We were excited about the first true Android operating system for tablets and had high hopes for a mobile browser that was as powerful as the platform. Sadly, the Xoom and Honeycomb are a real disappointment. We found consistent and reproducible issues in CSS3 Animations and CSS3 Transitions among other things. We had issues where the browser either hung or crashed. Regular scrolling was slow or below full framerate. We had issues where media playback failed or performed incorrectly. At times it felt like we were using a preproduction device, but we bought our test device from a Verizon Wireless store.

I have a hunch that the latest Galaxy Tab might fare better. Sencha did like the HTML5 support in the BlackBerry PlayBook though.

With Adobe Flash now in decline on mobile devices (Adobe is no longer working on the mobile Flash player) HTML5 support is all-important for rich browser-hosted apps; I will be watching with interest for future Sencha reports.

The rise of the eBook is a profound change in our culture

The Association of American Publishers has announced that in February 2011 ebooks ranked above print in all trade categories. Note that these figures are for the USA, and that in revenue ebooks are well behind print – $164.1M vs $441.7M. It is also worth noting that print sales are falling fast, 24.8% year on year, whereas ebooks are growing fast, 202.3% year on year.


This does sound like a reprise of what has happened in the music industry, where broadly speaking physical formats are heading toward obsolescence, download is growing, but the overall pie is smaller because of the ease of piracy. There is perhaps another more subtle point, that when the marginal cost of production is near zero, prices too tend to race to the bottom in a competitive market.

Books are not equivalent to music. Physical books still have advantages. They have zero battery requirements, work well in sunlight, some have beautiful pictures, you can write on them and fold back the corner of a page, and so  on. There are more advantages to ebooks though, in cost, weight, searchability, interactivity, and freedom from the constraints of a printed page. Years ago I was in the book publishing industry, and convinced that ebooks would take off much sooner than in fact they did. Much money was wasted in the light of false dawns. I remember – though it was long after I was involved – how some booksellers invested in Microsoft’s .lit format, readable on PCs and Pocket PCs, only to discover that there was little market for it.

What changed? It was no single thing; but factors include the advent of high-contrast screens that are both low-power and readable outside; the appearance of dedicated tablet-style readers that are lightweight but with book-sized screens; the marketing muscle of Amazon with the Kindle and Apple with the iPad – though the iPad screen is sub-optimal for reading – and some mysterious change in public perception that caused ebooks to transition from niche to mainstream.

Books are not going away of course, just as CDs and even vinyl records are still with us. I think though we can expect more high street closures, and libraries wondering what exactly their role is meant to be, and that the publishing industry is going to struggle with this transition just as the music industry has done. Ebook growth will continue, and as Amazon battles its rivals we will see the price of the Kindle fall further. Apple will lock its community more tightly to iTunes, as its policy on forbidding in-app purchases that do not go through its own App Store and pay the Apple tax plays out.

That is all incidental. What I am struggling to put into words is what the decline of the printed word means for our culture. You can argue that it is merely a symptom of what the internet has brought us, which is true in its way; but it is a particularly tangible symptom. No longer will you be able to go into someone’s room and see clues about their interests and abilities by glancing at bookshelves.

I am on a train, and by one of life’s strange synergies someone has just sat down next to me and pulled out a Kindle.

I do not mean to be negative. Much though I love books, there are now better ways to store and read words, and while the printed word may be in decline, the written word has never been more popular. I am in no doubt though that this is a profound change.

As Cisco closes down Flip, is device convergence finally happening?

Cisco is closing down the Flip video camera business it acquired with Pure Digital in May 2009:

Cisco will close down its Flip business and support current FlipShare customers and partners with a transition plan.

A sad day for Flip enthusiasts. The cool thing about a Flip device is that making a video is quick, easy and cheap. Most commentators say Flip is being killed because Smartphones now do this equally well; though this thoughtful post by Michael Mace says it is more to do with Cisco not understanding the consumer market, and being too slow to deliver upgraded Flip devices:

It’s almost impossible for any enterprise company to be successful in consumer, just as successful consumer companies usually fail in enterprise. The habits and business practices that make them a winner in one market doom them in the other.

Maybe it is a bit of both. I have a Flip and I rarely use it, though I am not really a good example since I take more still pictures than videos. Most of the time it stays at home, because I already have too many things to carry and too many devices to keep charged.

My problem though is that convergence is happening too slowly. I have slightly different requirements from most people. I do interviews so I need high quality recordings, and I take snaps which I use to illustrate posts and articles. I also do a lot of typing on the road.

This means I end up taking a Windows 7 netbook – I have given up travelling with a full-power laptop – for typing, email, and browsing the web.

The netbook has a built-in microphone which is rubbish, and an microphone input which I find does not work well either, so I carry a dedicated recorder as well. It is an antique, an iRiver H40, but with a 40GB hard drive, 6 hrs battery life on its original battery, and a decent microphone input with plug-in power, it still works well for me. I use a small Sony table microphone which gives me excellent quality, and that makes it possible to transcribe interviews even when there is background noise. Even though it is “only voice” I find that recording in high quality with a proper microphone is worth the effort; when the iRiver finally gives up I might go to something like the Edirol R-09HR to replace it. 

As for photos, I have tried using a smartphone but get better results from a dedicated Canon camera, so much so that it is worth carrying this extra device.

Of course I still need a mobile phone. I also tempted to pack a tablet or Amazon Kindle for  reading; but how many devices is too many?

I am still hopeful that I may find a smartphone with a camera that is good enough, and audio recording that is good enough, and maybe with an add-on keyboard I could leave the netbook at home as well; or take a tablet instead of a netbook.

But for now I am still weighed down with phone, camera, recorder, microphone and netbook. Roll on converged devices, I can’t wait!

Amazon Kindle goes social with Public Notes, Twitter and Facebook integration

A free firmware update for Amazon’s Kindle ebook reader adds several new features, including an element of social networking.

The features are as follows:

  • Page numbers for easier referencing, for example in essays, reviews and discussions. Page numbers must be included in the digital book for this to work. It is not clear how many titles include them; Amazon just says “Many titles in the Kindle Store now include real page numbers”.
  • New newspaper and magazine layout with a “Sections & Articles” view. Each section has its own article list for easier browsing.


  • Public notes with Facebook and Twitter integration. This is the feature that makes Kindle reading social. You can attach notes to a passage and make them publicly viewable by other readers who choose to follow you, either on a note-by-note basis, or by making an entire book public through the Amazon website. You can also register a Facebook and Twitter account and have specific notes and ratings posted to those who follow you on those networks.


The advantage for Amazon is that these features should promote books through viral marketing.

It comes at an interesting time, since Apple’s new subscription rules may make it difficult for Amazon to continue supporting iPhone and iPad with free readers. Apple is insisting on a 30% cut of the revenue for all titles purchased through apps, forming a financial barrier for competitors to its own iBooks service.

If Amazon can cement loyalty to Kindle though social network integration, that could help it maintain market share.


What next for application help and documentation? First thoughts on Adobe’s Technical Communication Suite 3

Adobe has launched Technical Communication Suite 3, which bundles FrameMaker 10, RoboHelp 9, Captivate 5, Photoshop CS5 and Acrobat X. FrameMaker and RoboHelp are Windows-only, so the suite is the same.

I had a brief briefing on the product today, which by coincidence came after my bad experience with SharePoint Designer and its help system. Please note: I do not hold Adobe responsible for the shortcomings of Microsoft’s online help, but it helped me to put the subject into context. I was trying to figure out how to get SharePoint to display file extensions in document lists. The supplied help looks pretty:


but I found it disappointing. I wanted to know, for example, what are the implications of converting a web part to XSLT, which is on one of the designer context menus:


Same story when I wanted to know what the @LinkFileName formula was meant to return. And when I looked for a SharePoint formula reference I got one useless result, an article on creating a workflow initiation form.

What we all do in these situations is to hit Google. The snag: whereas the little online help (which is also meant to search Office online) had high authority but no results, Google has the opposite problem: many results but little authority. I did eventually find the formula reference I wanted but finding correct information on the web as a whole is a matter of luck and judgment.

I found it interesting therefore to talk to Adobe about its Technical Communication Suite. How is online help changing? Do we even need it, when people hit Google rather than F1? Maybe it is better just to make sure your help articles and reference are easy to find on the web, rather than packaging them up and calling it a help document? In which case, we should be thinking in terms of a content management system, rather than online help as such.

The answer I guess is “all of these”. The key concept in Adobe Technical Communication Suite is “single-source authoring”, and you can use the same content for web pages as well as for print and traditional packaged online help.

It is still a bit old-school for my taste. For example, you can now include External content search in RoboHelp documents; but this only lets you add external URLS to the document along with search keywords. It does not let you search external content, but restricted to specified web sites, which would be a nice feature.

That said, if you use RoboHelp Server 9 – not included with the suite itself – in conjunction with an Adobe AIR help client, you can get user topic rating and commenting, so there is some concession to user-generated content.

There are also plenty of scenarios where you do still need a blow-by-blow documentation and reference for an application. In fact, if the SharePoint help mentioned above had provided this, I would have been happy.

This is not a review of the Technical Communication Suite, though I hope to get a look at the actual product shortly. In the meantime, a few points of interest. FrameMaker has considerable feature overlap with InDesign; but Adobe says there is still a place for a desktop publishing tool aimed at long technical documents with strong support for structured documents, cross-references and indexes. RoboHelp now supports collobaration workflows using Acrobat.com and PDF review. There is also new support for ePub, the eBook format for everything but Amazon Kindle, in FrameMaker and Kindle. I asked about Kindle support; the Adobe spokesperson was sniffy about Amazon’s proprietary MOBI format but said it might be added eventually if Amazon do not add ePub compatibility to the Kindle.

Stats that matter: Android grows in mobile, IE stops declining, eBooks take off

This should be three blog posts; but you’ve read this news elsewhere. Still, I can’t resist a brief comment on three recent trends.


The first is that usage of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer has levelled off after a long period of decline. Microsoft says it is increasing but the numbers are too small to say that with confidence. StatCounter global stats for May to July show slight decline for IE (52.83% –> 52.37%) and FireFox (31.54%->30.88%), with Google Chrome the main beneficiary (8.81%->10.32%).

On this blog Chrome has grown from 4.2% to 12.4% in the last year. IE is still declining: 44.9% in July 09, 39.6% in June 10, and 38.2% in July 10.

My guess is that the success of Windows 7 might have brought back a few FireFox users. The interesting story though is where Chrome will be when it stops growing its share. My second guess is that it will be ahead of FireFox, though that is speculative. It is WebKit though, and I think that will be bigger than Mozilla’s Gecko thanks to adoption by Google, Apple, Adobe and others.


Next, Google Android. Nielsen reports that it has pulled ahead of Apple iPhone in the US SmartPhone market; both are behind RIM’s Blackberry though that is in steady decline. RIM is announcing Blackberry 9800, the first on OS 6, later today; but I doubt it will disrupt Android’s growth. The developer angle is that Android is now equal to Apple’s iPad/iPhone in strategic importance, which will be a relief to Adobe – Flash runs on Android but not iPhone.

Android owners lack the satisfaction of Apple iPhone owners. 21% of them are eyeing the iPhone for their next upgrade, whereas only 6% of iPhone owners want Android next. Only 42% of Blackberry owners intend to remain loyal. It is all tending to confirm my speculation back in April that Android is the new Windows.

So in two years time, what will be the market share for RIM, Nokia Symbian/MeeGo, Windows Phone, HP Palm WebOS? It will not be easy for any of them.


Finally, eBooks. The Kindle vs iPad vs Nook vs Sony is one story; but the bigger one is that the eBook is happening at last. David Carnoy’s recent articles on Amazon give the background. One is an interview with Amazon’s Ian Freed in which the retailer says eBook sales have tripled in the first quarter of 2010 vs that in 2009, and claims 70-80% of the market. Another looks at what Amazon didn’t say. However the market shares work out though, what matters is that screen, battery and wireless technology are now good enough, and publishers and authors willing enough, for eBooks to become mainstream, with huge implications for the media industry.

New Amazon Kindle with WebKit browser and free 3G internet

Never mind the books. Amazon’s new Kindle reader is offering as an “experimental feature” a web browser based on WebKit – the same engine as Apple Safari and Google Chrome – that is free to use over 3G networks:

New WebKit-Based Browser
Kindle’s new web browser is based on WebKit to provide a better web browsing experience. Now it’s easier than ever to find the information you’re looking for right from your Kindle. Experimental web browsing is free to use over 3G or Wi-Fi.

Amazon pays for the 3G coverage which is available globally. OK, it is monochrome, but since the Kindle also has a neat little keyboard is this now a great deal for blogging, checking Google maps, and so on?


Maybe not. Here’s what the terms and conditions say:

Use of Wireless Connectivity. Your Kindle uses wireless connectivity to allow you to shop for and download Digital Content from the Kindle Store. In general, we do not charge you for this use of wireless connectivity … You may use the wireless connectivity provided by us only in connection with the Service. You may not use the wireless connectivity for any other purpose.

If you are like me you may feel there is some inconsistency between these two statements. Enough to say that from my point of view free global web browsing would be a big incentive to purchase a Kindle; but I suspect that if this is real and turns out to be a popular feature consuming significant data traffic, Amazon will soon find a way to charge for it or turn it off.

It is also interesting to see a smidgen of convergence between the Kindle and more general-purpose slate devices. I am not sure if the Kindle strictly counts as a slate since it has a keyboard, but it certainly has the slate look and feel.