When the Kindle first came on the market I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I, like many of you no doubt, have an attic heaving with technical tomes, many only half read, mostly out of date. I imagined the incredible lightness of being able to walk into a new job with all relevant books easily accessible on one small device that weighed less than a pound. Not only that, but the Kindle’s features included being able to highlight sections, add bookmarks and comments as well as full text search.
So what went wrong?
I’ve found that I flick through technical books. I go from the table of contents to a specific section and back again. I find a term in the index and check each reference in the text. The Kindle’s page refresh rate is fine for reading a novel, but for flicking between pages it becomes annoyingly slow.
Worse, to get to a specific part of the book you need to go through the “Go to …” menu, which is several keystrokes. The back button offers some ability to jump between locations, but it’s very limited. The search functionality is also slow to use, and the use of ‘locations’ rather than page numbers in many books can be extremely frustrating.
Then there’s the graphics. Many of the diagrams in a technical book only become legible when enlarged. They then no longer fit on a page, which means you end up scrolling around, which makes it difficult to absorb the information. This can sometimes be mitigated by changing the orientation of the page, from portrait to landscape, but that again is a slowish operation. Additionally, publishers often forget that their lovely, full-colour graphics don’t work nearly so well on a grey-scale device.
Another of the hypothetical benefits should be the ease of jumping between references. There’s no reason why references in the text shouldn’t be clickable links, but sadly this has not been the case with many of the books I’ve purchased. Whether this is the fault of the publisher, or some limitation of Amazon’s offering remains unclear.
After purchasing “Java Application Architecture” on the Kindle, I entered into a protracted correspondence with Addison-Wesley, because none of the internal references between the sections were hyperlinked. Worse still, the references used page numbers, and this Kindle book did not have real page numbers enabled, so they were useless. It appears that the production editor at Addison-Wesley was under the impression that the Kindle did not support real page numbers. Clearly he hadn’t been keeping up to date with the platform, even if production started before Amazon implemented the ‘real page number’ feature. In the end I returned the book for a refund.
The final straw for me was the realisation that I form a very physical model of a book while I read it. I remember content by where it lived in the book: which section, how far through etc. The Kindle does provide feedback that approximates some of these indicators, so maybe I just haven’t used it for long enough to become accustomed to them, but with all the other shortcomings I’ve decided not to persevere.
I really love my Kindle for reading fiction and will continue to use it. Maybe newer models have improved on some of these issues – I haven’t tried Paper-White yet – but nothing I’ve heard or seen has indicated any significant shifts in usability. So, for now I’m resigned to continuing to collect piles of dead trees in my attic. Maybe this is an environmentally responsible carbon-sink and I’m making a valuable contribution. I somehow doubt it.