Early analysis of Amazon's Kindle DX: E-news

Amazon has launched its new large-format Kindle DX. Here's a summary of its strengths and weaknesses as an electronic newspaper reader.

Tech Culture

This is the second part to my early analysis of the new Kindle DX large-format e-book reader. In the first post ("Early analysis of Amazon's Kindle DX: Overview") I discussed the physical and software features of the new device. In the third post, "Early analysis of Amazon's Kindle DX: E-textbooks", I'll talk about how the DX will fit into the educational market.

Kindle 2 and Kindle DX side by side
The new Kindle DX is larger than the Kindle 2 with more than twice the screen resolution. Amazon.com

But here, let's talk about the DX's suitability for reading electronic newspapers.

Newspapers are about text, and there's only a moderate need for interactivity. For each story, the reader views the headline and perhaps skims the opening paragraph, and if it doesn't look interesting, moves on to the next story.

Even with these relatively undemanding requirements, the Kindle DX isn't as good for reading newspapers as a real newspaper. We're all used to the ability to glance over a full newspaper page worth of articles at once. You can't do that with the Kindle.

This issue boils down to the amount of time we spend reading articles vs. the amount of time we spend glancing at headlines and turning pages. Call that the "reading ratio." A real newspaper offers a very high reading ratio even if we're not reading much of the paper, because it takes so little time to flip through the pages looking for articles to read.

On the Kindle DX, the ratio will depend very heavily on how much of the paper we're reading. For those who just read through the whole paper, the ratio can be fairly high, probably 90 percent or better. It'll still be lower than a real newspaper because it takes a certain amount of time to turn the virtual pages of the Kindle, and page turning is much more frequent.

(Demonstration videos seem to show that page turning takes about the same amount of time on the DX as on the earlier Kindles.)

For those who read only a fraction of the stories in the day's paper, the reading ratio of the Kindle DX will be much worse than a real newspaper because the experience will be dominated by page turning. Since most of us can't simply increase the amount of time we spend reading the paper each day, I'm afraid that the Kindle approach to e-news will actually reduce the amount of news we read.

It's also worth comparing the Kindle e-news experience with that of the iPhone and a laptop. These devices have active displays with fast update rates, greatly reducing the page-turning delays. I use The New York Times application on my iPhone pretty regularly (once or twice a week, at least), and it's really quite easy to flick through the day's top stories, which appear on the iPhone with the headline, a thumbnail photo, and usually about half of the lede.

On the other hand, the delay to read the story itself is quite long, since the Times' iPhone software is not designed to pre-load the stories, as the Kindle does. The iPhone takes about 10 seconds to bring up a story once selected, but once it's in, there are no further delays. The rest of the story scrolls past as fast as I want to flick through it.

At home, on my laptop, The New York Times Web site is even faster. It's easy to skim the titles and ledes of about a dozen stories on the main page for each "section," and loading a story takes no more than a second or two. Once loaded, again, there are no further delays.

The Kindle DX simply can't deliver that kind of e-news experience because the screen technology is inherently too slow to support scrolling or fast page-turning.

In fact, it looks like the Kindle DX isn't even taking full advantage of its own capabilities. The newspaper interface is very basic: one wide column of text, not the multiple narrow columns that help us skim through real newspapers. I wonder why?

But again, I think the DX will do an adequate job for people who like to read most of the day's news stories. How much of the market that is, I can't guess, but I suspect it's a higher fraction among older, wealthier customers.

(Now, continue on to "Early analysis of Amazon's Kindle DX: E-textbooks", or return to "Early analysis of Amazon's Kindle DX: Overview".)

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