Amazon released in beta this week its Kindle for PC application, and educators will welcome this development. Even though you have heard me rant a bit about the anti-education direction the company has taken in the development of the Kindle ereader (loss of SD card slot, loss of replaceable battery, loss of external Whispernet on-off button, and so forth), I have been generally more positive about the development of the online and now software tools that the company has created to support the use of the device: Kindle for iPhone app–great, addition of ability to view notes and marks online–fabulous, and now, Kindle for PC–not bad at all.
Ereader software for computers is one area in which Amazon has NOT led the way; many, many companies have created ereader software for devices from the Palm Pilot to the netbook. These providers have contributed to the current plethora of formats for ebooks, and each has tried, in its own way, to lock readers in to a particular format, all the better to lock in business with them. This is a game that Amazon knows well and has played aggressively with its closed system and its proprietary format.
Adding a desktop app that integrates with your Kindle library and, of course, the Kindle Store, can be construed as just another tactic in the battle for business. But for educators, “this time we win!” (to quote Brad Pitt’s line from The Mexican). Why? Well, let’s start with the fact that, while there aren’t a whole lot of Kindles in schools these days, there sure are a heck of a lot of computers! Now, any student who goes to the library to study or who fires up the computer at home can view content in the format exclusive to the Kindle. With the popularity of the Kindle and the “cool factor” that it brings, this may be the way that schools and educators begin to think about making academic reading content available across their networks. Kids “get” the idea of a Kindle, and now that idea is readily available at every school in the country.
Could kids have been reading ebooks at school before Kindle for PC (KFPC)? Sure they could have, but in fact they weren’t. Now there is a model in place for a “anywhere, anytime reading” that includes the PC on the desk over there and the ereader device in my bag (and the iPhone in my pocket). Could this arrangement have been cobbled together before KFPC? Sure it could, but it wasn’t very convenient. Now it is. A win for the consumer mentality applied to the schoolhouse.
David Rothman at TeleRead has a nice review of KFPC from an ebook reader’s perspective that I don’t need to repeat here. The software is very basic, with a plain interface, and very few tweakable options that allow you to customize the interface. No two-page reading pane, that sort of thing. Can’t make notes while reading (a limitation for educational uses that amazon is working on correcting). But teachers like simple, teachers like things that don’t crash. So, for me, I think this app is a solid step forward for doing business with Amazon in an academic context.
And what is even better, maybe, for folks like Kathy Parker and her Kindle Crew out there in Seneca IL, is that a PC station qualifies as one of the six devices onto which most Kindle books can be downloaded and viewed. The minute I loaded the app and connected with the mother ship, a new mobile device popped up in my list of such devices on the “Manage Your Kindle” page: “William’s Kindle for PC”, right there next to “Will’s iPhone.”
Educators should not be confused by others’ confusion over whether KFPC will display books not obtained form the Amazon Kindle Store. It absolutely will. In fact, once you open a “free” book that you got from Project Gutenberg in the Mobipocket format that the Kindle prefers, it will appear in your onboard KFPC library unless you remove it. In fact, all the books on your computer that are formatted a Mobipocket files will take on the KFPC icon image shown here. If you look quickly, you can watch the transformation take place. This makes it easy to check a file, a position number, a Table of Contents–whatever–on your PC before you view it on your Kindle. Handy.
For example, I created an article from Wikipedia using the Kindlepedia tool about the Berlin Wall. You can download it here. Once it is on your desktop, the icon will look like the book above, and it will go into your onboard library (NOT the library at the mother ship) and open up for reading. Note that this version of the article appears in full color and nice, sharp resolution on the screen. And if you don’t finish reading it in KFPC, just pop the file onto your Kindle and read up on this topic later. Really handy.
So its a big thumbs up for Kindle for PC from an educator’s standpoint. I will look forward to comment from other Kindle-curious educators about KFPC and the ways it makes ebook reading a reality in schools.
Kindle for Mac, anyone? (Amazon says it is on the way.)