Sounds like a good update — I’m always trying to find the next book — or the next dozen books — I want to read. And the Kindle home screen could use some personalization options.
“Kindle owners will find browsing, buying and sharing books easier when a software update arrives this month, according to Amazon. An Amazon page details the features and refinements coming to Kindle e-book readers. The update will enable you to personalize the home screen, for example, so your most recent books appear at the upper left of the screen. All of your books can be retrieved by clicking on My Library. A new section dubbed “My Reading Lists” shows all the books on your wish list as well as any samples you’ve downloaded. The bottom of the home screen will change to show you recommendations, best-selling titles and books that your Goodreads friends are reading.”
An upcoming update to Kindle e-book readers promises a faster way to check your existing library and track down your next read.
The article goes on to talk about why sales of ebooks and Kindles have lagged lately, but they completely miss what I’m sure is the actual reason: the quick jump in ebook prices that happened last year, which may or may not have been a result of Amazon being forced to settle their dispute with major publishing houses.
I think consumers lost out on that one, because whereas I used to be able to purchase ebooks at a reasonable rate, now I’m being asked, often, to pay more for the electronic version than for the paperback copy. Grumble. Maybe with newer books I can understand it, but $8.99 for an old scifi novel published in 1987, that I already own in paperback, or could buy as such for $5.99? No thanks.
Haven’t bought an e-reader yet? Well, this is the week to take the plunge — Amazon’s Black Friday Week has Kindles on sale at great prices.
I love reading, whether it’s a paper book or on my Kindle. I know some people think it’s an “either/or”, but imho, the more ways to read and enjoy my favorite books, the better. The Kindle stores hundreds and hundreds of books — more books than I own, alas — and is incredibly portable. I love having my library with me everywhere I go. Speaking of libraries, borrowing e-books from your local library and reading them on your Kindle is a snap.
One last note: I tell everyone I know to buy the Kindle versions with Special Offers. It lowers your price by $30, and it’s completely unobtrusive — advertisements appear on just the screensaver and the very bottom of your home screen. There are NO ads in your books. So why not save a little money?
Black Friday Deals Week: Kindle e-readers
$30 off Kindle — $49.99 (normally $79.99)
The entry-level Kindle is a great choice and this is the lowest price I’ve ever seen it. Don’t miss this deal!
$20 off Kindle Paperwhite — $99.99 (normally $119.99)
This is the Kindle I currently use. The higher-resolution display and built in adjustable light is terrific for reading anywhere (at night in bed, on planes, etc.)
Lately it seems like I find out about every great new thing from the Facebook group I belong to for our upcoming Disney trip in September. These ladies (and gentlemen) know about every deal, sale, neat trick and cool new gadget out there. The other day one of them mentioned that you can watch the Wishes fireworks at Disney World on the Periscope app, almost every night.
Apparently Periscope’s been around for months, but I’m just finding out about it now and I don’t think I’m alone — according to Social Media Week, lots of people are on Twitter asking what the heck it is. Periscope (owned by Twitter, and tied into that network) lets you broadcast live video to the world — and lets everyone else watch broadcasts anywhere, in real time. Your Twitter followers get a notification that you’ve gone live, and anyone else can find you through keyword searching or — here’s the magic, in my opinion — by geographic location.
So by looking at the map, I can check to see who’s broadcasting from the Happiest Place on Earth, for example. Last night Dave and I watched the Wishes Fireworks, and we had our choice of three or four “scopes” to get the best view. We were watching a scope from the Golden Nugget pool in Las Vegas the other day and heard about the fire at the Cosmopolitan. I keep looking for scopes from the Buffalo area, or Niagara Falls, so I can get a taste of home, but so far just one guy broadcasted for a few minutes while he was waiting in line for the Superman ride at Darien Lake.
That’s the thing, there’s a lot of random stuff on Periscope. A lot of “here at Amy’s party” or “walking my dog” or “hanging with my girls at the bar”. And I hope you all are having a great time, but I can’t say I’m interested in watching. I’ve also got to assume there’s a huge potential for more-than-G-rated scoping going on, but I’m going to steer clear of that entirely and would imagine you’d do the same. (Unless that’s your thing. No judgement.)
But there are also people who broadcast regularly, and once you follow them, you get notifications every time they go live. (If you find notifications pesky, you can turn those off, of course.) Apparently some people are in the Magic Kingdom every day. I can’t join them, but through Periscope I can pop in where they are any time. You can tweet to the user while they’re broadcasting, and if they choose, they can answer verbally. So if you ask how the weather is, or if there’s a long line at Haunted Mansion, you get a real-time answer.
I’m not much of a content sharer. If I used Periscope to broadcast, there’d be a LOT of video of George not playing with a toy mouse, since he invariably stops whatever he’s doing as soon as you point a camera at him. But most people these days LOVE to share, not to mention the potential for brands, marketing and celebrity publicity. So I think in the future there’s going to be a lot to watch on Periscope, both mundane and exciting.
You have to excuse me now, though. There’s someone riding the WInnie the Pooh ride RIGHT NOW and I have to stop what I’m doing and watch.
So, we ordered an Amazon Echo in February. It finally came about two weeks ago.
First, I should explain what the Amazon Echo is. Basically, it’s Siri (or OK Google) for your house. You plug it in, and ask it things, and it responds. It also can coordinate with smart home devices, so once you’ve got those all hooked up, you can walk around feeling a little like Jean-Luc Picard. (“Alexa, lights. Lower. Damn you, Alexa, that tea is cold!”)
Second, the wait. Amazon released the Echo in 2014, but on an invitation-only basis. In other words, you had to request an invitation to buy one. I’d claim it was a marketing ploy, but I honestly think they haven’t got that many of them manufactured yet. As a Prime member, I requested my invitation sometime last year, and was finally able to place an order in February. It arrived in the first week of June, which was about two weeks sooner than had been predicted. The question is, was it worth the wait? And, was it worth the price? The Echo was initially $99 for Prime members, but that deal has ended. Currently the the Amazon Echo can be ordered by anyone for $179. (estimated ship date as of this writing: July 14th)
Setting the Echo up is ludicrously easy. You plug it in — and as an aside, the plugging in is kind of nice. As in, there’s no battery concerns with this thing, because it doesn’t run on batteries. You need an outlet, but most homes still have those, so it’s actually nice for once to not be worrying about one more thing to recharge. There’s a quick wireless setup via an app you download (iOS, Fire, and Android both available, or the desktop). And that was it. Again, I appreciate that there weren’t a lot of hoops to jump through.
Questions and Answers
In order to talk to the Echo, you use a “wake word”, which is not at all like a safe word for robots though it sounds like it is. Your “wake word” choices are limited to “Alexa” (the default) and “Amazon”. It’s impractical for us, at least, to use “Amazon”, since we talk about Amazon all the time (as in, whether an order arrived, or whether a movie we want is on there, and so on). They’ve said something about adding new “wake words” eventually, and we very much wish they would. I’d prefer something like “Agnes” or “Beelzebub”.
So, the Echo hears the “wake word” and then listens to what you ask it, and replies. Simple, but not really, because — look, this thing is new. There’s stuff it can do, and stuff it can’t. It can tell you the weather and the news and what year “Avatar” was released, but it can’t tell you when “Jurassic World” is playing in your area, and it can’t tell you when the Tony Awards are on. It can read you entire Wikipedia articles, can tell you knock knock jokes, and has a few smart answers to some trick questions. It can sync with your Google calendar and add things to it, but can’t tell you if you’ve got something scheduled on the 19th. You can order things from Amazon that you’ve ordered before (and you can turn that function off, if it seems too fraught with possibilities for error, which it does to me — “Who ordered fifty jugs of cat litter?!”). You can make lists, you can get traffic updates, you can get recipe help, set timers, and hear sports scores. But there’s a lot, a lot, a lot it can’t answer. Which is kind of a pain, but because all of the Echo’s technology is in the Cloud, I’m willing to be patient about it.
There’s one other advantage for the truly lazy among us. With Siri, my iPhone has to be plugged in for it to automatically answer “Hey Siri” queries. Either that or I have to, ugh, actually pick it up and touch a button. So tiring. But truthfully, sometimes my phone’s in another room, not plugged in. The Echo takes all of that out of the equation.
The Echo is a Bluetooth speak, so you can pair devices — your iPhone, for example — with it and listen to music that way. To be frank, I don’t have any use for this feature. We have other speakers we already use. I’m told that in the world of Bluetooth speakers, the Echo’s sound quality is so-so. You’d be silly to buy it for just that reason, though.
We have used it to listen to Prime music, though. As Amazon Prime members, we have free access to the Prime music library. While there are some glaring omissions (no Prince! no Maroon 5!), there’s a lot of great music there. I can say, “Alexa, play George Michael” and she’ll shuffle through his catalog. There are some ready-prepared stations and playlists, too. It’s Amazon’s version of Pandora, essentially, and since we’re getting it for free as Prime members already, it’s a nice feature.
(Side note: You can upload all of your music to Amazon, too, and listen to it through the Echo. But right now you’re limited to 250 songs for free, and $24.99 a year for 250,000 songs. Frankly, that’s crazy. I’m not paying a yearly fee to listen to my own music. Google Play lets you upload all your music for free. Amazon, get with the times on this one.)
Supposedly you can shop through the Echo. On Amazon, of course, and (I think) items you’ve ordered before. I can’t say that’s too useful for me, since we don’t tend to order the same things over and over again on Amazon (or if we do, we subscribe to them).
But you *can* make a shopping list through the Echo. Any time you say, “Alexa, add Fiddle-Faddle to the shopping list”, she does. You can access that list through the app. You wouldn’t think this would be a big deal, but it’s a good 75% of what we use the Echo for. Running low on eggs? Tell Alexa. Need to add more mushrooms to the FreshDirect order? Tell Alexa. Realize that you’re about to eat the last Hostess cupcake? Tell Alexa. She won’t judge. Seriously, it sounds stupid, but this is hugely useful for us. We tried keeping a plain old pen & paper list in the kitchen, but half the time when I realize I’m out of something, I’m busy cooking, or just on the couch and too lazy to move. And since Dave and I both have the app on our phones, when we’re at the store, one or both of us, we’ve always got the list with us.
Things to Come
The Echo really is just a slightly stupider Siri for your house, at this point. But the reason I’m still a fan is that since its hardware is basic and all of its functionality comes from the cloud, there’s no knowing what it’ll be able to do in the future. Since it was released last year, they added voice control for Pandora, Spotify and iTunes, a funny Simon says feature, and integration with home automation devices. Rumor has it they’re releasing an SDK for third-party developers, and at that point, things could get really interesting.
When All is Said and Done…
I like our Amazon Echo. It’s a fun gadget. The problem, though, is that I can’t recommend it at the price. $179 is just too steep for something like this — at least now. Maybe when home automation become more prevalent, then I could see it being justifiable. But I wouldn’t have paid $179 for this. I’m not sure I would have shelled out $99 for this — I bought the Echo myself, but used some gift cards I had to do so, so it wasn’t like shelling out hard-earned doubloons. Still, a hundred bucks for something to keep a shopping list on and tell us whether or not tomorrow is going to be a pool day? That seems silly. Basically I’m saying it was a great thing to get, as a gift, but I wouldn’t in good conscience say — as it is now — it’s worth the price tag.
Geeks like cool tech stuff. We like gadgets, electronic thingamabobs, we can fix your laptop and we often have a spare USB drive just when you need one. Nerds, on the other hand, know a lot about Star Trek, always win at Trivia Night, and recognize the African Anteater Ritual when they see it. I’m both, and proudly so.
For the record, though, in my opinion, the level of enjoyment I’ve gotten out of setting up shop at my brand new spiffy site, whatamiholdingonto.com, marks what is probably both my geekiest and nerdiest moment to date. I mean, registering a domain and setting up a self-hosted blog, that’s just mildly geeky. Gleefully looking forward to playing with plugins all weekend? Pricelessly nerdy.
I got an email today about whether or not I want to have the book I edited, Dearest Girl of Mine, included in “Amazon Unlimited” (I said yes; it was a project I enjoyed thoroughly in another time of my life, but it was never anything more than an academic exercise). I had heard rumors about the new service but didn’t know it was ready to go.
Amazon’s long-rumored e-book subscription service is now a reality: “Kindle Unlimited.”
The company announced the $9.99-per-month service on Friday and said that it would let users “freely read as much as they want from over 600,000 Kindle books.” A portion of Audible’s audiobook library is also included.
Of course, the 600,000 titles represent only a small slice of all the Kindle books for sale through Amazon’s sprawling online store. This is due in part to disagreements between Amazon and some major publishers.
But the service has a number of hit titles that Amazon is promoting, including “The Hunger Games,” the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” and the new Michael Lewis book “Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt.”
I’m not super-familiar with Powermat technology — I wonder if it would work for Kindles and iPads.
“Starbucks Corp. (SBUX:US), the world’s largest coffee-shop operator, is teaming up with Duracell Powermat to let customers recharge mobile devices wirelessly instead of hunting for available wall outlets in stores.
Customers can place their compatible devices on so-called Powermat Spots on counters and tables to recharge them, Seattle-based Starbucks said in a statement. While shops in Boston and San Jose, California, already offer the service, a national rollout in company-operated Starbucks stores and Teavana outlets begins in San Francisco today. The company, which operates more than 20,500 stores worldwide, plans pilot programs in Europe and Asia within a year.”
I’m dubious. The subscription model fails a lot, and companies keep using it. They want to keep getting your $$ every month ad infinitum, and consumers want to pay once (at most) and then own their digital material outright. Never the twain shall meet, it seems sometimes.
“Target wants to help host your book club online.
As the retailer works to build a more competitive e-commerce experience, it’s partnering with a startup e-book subscription service called Librify to give customers an online platform for buying, sharing, and discussing their favorite books.
Librify, which started beta testing with select users in March, offers a social-subscription service for e-books. For $8.99 a month, you get access to a recommended book each month, and a 10%-20% discount on all other e-books. Librify has more than 500,000 titles available for purchase so far — that’s about half of what Amazon offers through the Kindle.”
“In case you missed it, the U.S. government recently filed an antitrust lawsuit against Apple and five of this country’s largest publishers, alleging they conspired to limit competition for the pricing of e-books. Three of the five — HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster — opted to settle the case, while Penguin, Macmillan, and Apple didn’t.
So where does that leave us?”
An interesting article that explains more about the e-book pricing situation as it stands, as opposed to just trying to predict where it might be going. Click on the link above for more.
I’ve decided to move my blog from its own domain to WordPress.com, so you’ll see a new address — http://librariansbetweenthecovers.wordpress.com — and things may look a little different to the two or three of you who occasionally pay a visit.
Domain ownership is fun in a geeky way. I’ve had a domain of my own for at least a decade now, first borghalrantipole.com and then librariansbetweenthecovers.com. It was lots of fun, and gave me a little cyber home on the web. But… it’s also pricey, the hosting part. And I think increasingly unnecessary. At least for me. 🙂