Friday, 28 March 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Amazon’s Three New Devices Cleared the FCC

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 09:53 PM PDT

Amazon amazon-tv-pilots[1]is widely expected to launch a media streaming device next Wednesday, and if the FCC filings are what I think it is then it’s not going to be a dongle.

A trio of FCC filings showed up last month from the usual anonymous LLCs, and all the signs point to the media device being a box of some kind and not a dongle. Amazon has taken the usual steps of hiding virtually everything, but what little they did not hide speaks volumes.

For example, two of the FCC filings come from a company called Ailen LLC. Assuming that isn’t a typo, then the name Ailen could be a reference to a word on a language native to Chile. It means Little Coal, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

cl1130 ailen amazon set top boxAilen LLC has 2 FCC filings to their credit, one of which is described as a remote control while the other looks to be the media streaming device. Based on the FCC label, the streamer is going to be a small box with a 4″ by 4″ footprint (I measured based on the pixels). It has a model number of CL1130, and it was tested for Wifi and Bluetooth.

Assuming I have the dimensions correct, we’re looking at a device that will be more than just a media streamer. It might have card slots or additional ports (USB, network, sound, etc). At the very least I expect this to be a much more interesting device than the dongle I had been expecting.

And as for the other filing, I don’t know what to expect. It’s described as a remote control, and it was tested for Bluetooth. We know that the label is going to go in the battery compartment, so I am guessing that the remote control really will be a remote control – unless it is actually a gaming controller along the lines of the Wiimote, which is not out of the question.

amazon controller 1One thing I can say for sure is that it’s not going to be the going to be the gaming controller we saw a couple weeks back, because that went through the FCC on its own.

I don’t think anyone, not even my source for the other 2 filings, has noticed that the wireless gaming controller which showed up in Brazil has also shown up on the FCC website (or at least the 5 digit model numbers matched, which is so improbable as to not be a coincidence). According to the FCC filing, this device was tested for Bluetooth and has a battery compartment.

In short, folks, we’re looking at Amazon launching as many as 3 devices next Wednesday, One could be a set top box slash gaming console, while the other two could be gaming controllers.

Alas, I won’t be there to cover it; I didn’t get an invite. I also didn’t get an invite to the Kindle Fire HDX launch event last Fall, which still stings.

FCC (S59-1214)

FCC (S59-4891)

FCC (2AAIG-0725)


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Japan Display Unveils a 5.5″ Display, Pundits Think it Will be Used in the Next iPhone

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 06:05 PM PDT

Japan_Display_logo[1]Fresh from an IPO, leading screen tech developer Japan Display unveiled a new LCD screen yesterday.

This 5.5″ marvel, which you can see below, sports an amazing screen resolution of 1,440 by 2,560, giving it a pixel density of 538ppi. The Japanese company says that it will begin shipping the new display in April.

Pundits quickly connected that detail with a rumor recently reported in the Nikkei:

Suppliers of LCD panels for Apple’s new iPhone will ramp up production soon, in line with a timetable for a worldwide launch as early as September. The new phone, expected to be called the iPhone 6, will likely be offered in 4.7- and 5.5-inch versions, both of which are larger than the current generation’s 4-inch screen.


There’s no indication as to the source of this rumor, so I would not take it too seriously. Also, Apple is know for their secrecy, so if this screen really were intended for the next iPhone I don’t think JDI would have been allowed to announce it.

Remember, the Retina Display for the iPad wasn’t announced by Samsung; it leaked from a parts supplier. That is how I expect to first hear about the new larger iPhone screens – assuming they exist.

While I expect Apple to eventually release a larger iPhone, all of the rumors I am hearing right now sound an awful lot like the rumors circulating around this time last year. A lot of people expected a new and larger iPhone last September, but it didn’t happen. Instead we got a couple new iPhones with 4″ screens.

Without a solid leak which proves the existence of the larger screen, I think it is safe to assume that many pundits will be disappointed when the new iPhone is unveiled in the Fall.

Japan Display

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Canadian Judge Explains Why Agency eBook Pricing is Still Alive North of the 49th Parallel

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 03:59 PM PDT

No one 3042385915_e18c03d94e[1]was surprised when Kobo objected to the end of Agency pricing in Canada, but when the Canadian Competition Tribunal granted them an initial delay it did come as a shock.

The Tribunal has since laid out their reasons for the delay, and for hearing Kobo’s objection, and for the most part they make sense. According to the summary written by Justice Donald J. Rennie, the chairperson of the Competition Tribunal, Kobo was granted the initial delay because without it Kobo would have been harmed even if they won their case.

Rennie notes that "In my view, the balance of convenience favours granting the stay. While maintaining the status quo might have the effect of depriving consumers of lower e-book prices in the short term, not granting the stay will certainly have a profound impact on the usefulness of Kobo's application. In the event that Kobo is successful in its application and the Tribunal finds that the Consent Agreement ought to be rescinded or varied, Kobo would have already suffered loss and there would be no way to wind back the clock."

But that’s not all. The summary goes on to indicate that the Tribunal might rule in Kobo’s favor. Apparently it is reasonable to listen to Kobo’s objections because there is no evidence that any collusion or anti-competitive activities occurred.

The consent agreement, which was negotiated by the Canadian Competition Bureau and 4 publishers (Hachette, Harpercollins, S&S, and Macmillan), says that the publishers don’t admit to any wrongdoing. There was also no evidence in the consent agreement to show the existence of an anti-competitive agreement or arrangement between the consenting publishers.

It was for those two reasons that the Tribunal decided that the consent agreement might not be enforceable: “Can the Tribunal make an order prohibiting a person from doing anything under a putative 90.1 agreement where it has not identified any terms of such an agreement or is not satisfied that such an agreement exists or is proposed?”

The non-legalese version is that the publishers avoided an investigation which would air their dirty laundry by giving the Canadian govt what it wanted (more competition in the ebook market). But because there was no investigation, there is also no evidence of wrongdoing, and that means that the publishers aren’t allowed to give the Canadian govt what it wants.

Tell me, does that reasoning remind anyone of a certain scene from The Princess Bride?

Snark aside, I’m not sure how Kobo is going to come out ahead here.

If the consent agreement is set aside, the 4 publishers will be investigated and evidence will probably show that they did something naughty. They will be forced to give up control of the retail prices of their books – just like under the consent agreement.

The airing of dirty laundry is exactly what the publishers were trying to avoid, so I would bet that one or more will decide to at least to try to trump the investigation by voluntarily complying with the terms of the unenforceable consent agreement – and ending Agency pricing.

It looks like Kobo’s worst fear is probably going to happen no matter what, so anything that happens after this is probably going to be moot.


image by scazon

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It’s Official: Dropbox Buys Readmill, Will Shut it Down in 3 Months

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 01:49 PM PDT

Readmill dropbox readmillhas just posted an official confirmation of yesterday’s acquisition story. They now belong to Dropbox, and the new owner is going to shut down Readmill:

Three years ago, we set out to create an open, independent reading platform. We believed that the reading experience could be beautiful and that it was meant to be shared.

Readmill's story ends here. Many challenges in the world of ebooks remain unsolved, and we failed to create a sustainable platform for reading. For this, we're deeply sorry. We considered every option before making the difficult decision to end the product that brought us together.

The announcement goes on to add that the Readmill team will be moving to Dropbox “where our expertise in reading, collaboration and syncing across devices finds a fitting home”.

So Dropbox wants Readmill for their expertise in collaboration, hmm? That is exactly what I expected:

I think Dropbox wants to build online collaboration tools for its business customers.

I know it might sound strange for Dropbox to be interested in Readmill’s social reading platform, but Readmill currently enables readers to share note, highlights, and their other reading habits. That’s really only half a step away from what I think Dropbox wants, which is for 2 or more Dropbox users to edit a shared document online.

- Three Guesses Why Dropbox Wants to Buy Readmill

Readmill was launched just over 3 years ago as a social reading platform. Initially available on the iPad, Readmill later launched an iPhone app and (5 months ago) an Android app.  Over time it also added support for Adobe DRM, thus giving readers an option for loading ebooks bought in major ebookstores.

Over the past year Readmill has also made a strong push to develop a network of over 100 other ebook firms, including integration with retailers like Gumroad and the Penguin UK ebookstore as well as reading apps like Marvin, Bookinist, and Librarus. Readmill acted as the focal point of that network, which will probably fall apart once the service is shut down.

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Amazon Denies Plans for an Ad-Subsidized Streaming Video Service

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 01:00 PM PDT

It looks amazon-tv[1]like the I may have gotten ahead of myself yesterday. Amazon is now denying the WSJ story about free internet TV service: Inc has no plan to offer a free streaming TV service, a spokeswoman said on Friday following a report that the online retailer might turn up the heat against Netflix and Hulu.

Speculation about Amazon’s plans for its TV service, including the possibility that it could launch its own streaming device, has increased ahead of a news conference in New York next week.


Still, in spite of what Amazon says, I do expect them to launch this service. They’re already selling ads on their website, and on both the Kindle ereaders and the Kindle Fire tablets, and since they already have the tech to add commercials to streaming video under development I think it will be deployed eventually.

But at this point Amazon is clear that it is not on the agenda: “We have a video advertising business that currently offers programs like First Episode Free and ads associated with movie and game trailers, and we’re often experimenting with new things,” Amazon spokesperson Sally Fouts said in an email on Friday. “But we have no plans to offer a free streaming media service.”

Does anyone want to guess how long it will be before Amazon changes their mind?


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Blinkist Launches iPad App, Wants to Give You the Gist of Books in 15 Minutes or Less

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 12:16 PM PDT

I completely Blinkist-Logo-Weiss[1]missed Blinkist’s subscription service when it launched in January, but this firm crossed my desk again today with the launch of their iPad app.

Blinkist offers a service that provides readers with summaries of books and and other long texts. Working from an idea similar to QuickReads, Blinkist serves up summaries that are intended to be read in 15 minutes or less.

blinkist 1If this sounds rather like paying for Wikipedia, that was my first thought as well. But Blinkist is working to set itself above Wikipedia by hiring experts to summarize the articles. While one of Wikipedia’s greatest features is that anyone can edit, it’s also Wikipedia’s weakness.  Of course, Blinkist’s curated approach comes at a cost; the service only offers a few hundred summaries, and is adding about 3 dozen new ones each month.

The topics range from Popular Science and Business & Career, to Entrepreneurship and Health & Happiness. This includes Richard Dawkins' The Greatest Show on Earth, Barack Obama's The Audacity of Hope, and the 2005 classic Freakonomics.

Blinkist reports that they’ve tripled the number of readers since January and increased their revenue. They’re also planning to release an Android app.



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Kobo Tablets and eBook Readers Now Available at Walmart

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 11:17 AM PDT

When itArc 7HD comes to promoting their hardware, Kobo has long adopted the policy of playing hard to get. For the longest time their ereaders and tablets were only available in the US from indie booksellers or directly from Kobo, but that is slowly changing.

In late December Kobo devices showed up on the Best Buy website, and this week they made an appearance on Walmart’s website. Neither retailer is carrying the devices in store, but you do now have the option of placing an online order and having it shipped.

Walmart is now carrying the Kobo Arc 10HD, Arc 7, and Arc 7HD Android tablets and the Kobo Glo, Aura HD, and the new Aura ereaders. They are also carrying cases  for the tablets and ebook readers.

It looks like Walmart may have just started getting the devices in stock, because some of the prices are ridiculously high. Several of the tablets are priced far higher than retail, and that is just something Walmart doesn’t do.

If you are looking to get a Kobo device soon, I would go to the Best Buy website. They have the correct prices, and they also offer decent customer service and a fair return policy. True, I have found Walmart to be nicer to deal with than Best Buy, but so long as Walmart’s prices are screwy it is best to avoid that retailer.



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Inkbok Launches New eBook Subscription Service

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 10:04 AM PDT

Inkbok has Inkbok Logo Blackbeen under development for over a year now, but this service has been maintaining a low profile. It just crossed my desk earlier this week, and it is launching today.

Like its larger competition Oyster, Scribd, and 24Symbols, Inkbok offers readers the access to a catalog of titles for a flat monthly fee. For only $5 a month, readers can choose from a catalog of around 10,000 titles. There’s also supposed to be an option to sign up and read the royalty-free (public domain?) catalog for free, but I don’t see how that is accomplished.

Inkbok has a clean and well-designed website, and it is relatively easy to navigate whether you are searching by genre, author, or title. Readers can add titles to their shelf or reading list, and they can also post reviews. The selection is limited, and according to the FAQ readers are also limited to reading in their web browser. Inkbok is working on apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad but they are not ready yet.

In terms of paying authors, Inkbok has laid out their business plan, and it presents an interesting accounting problem. Inkbok is expecting various revenue streams to include membership fees, advertising, promotional fees, and affiliate fees. Rather than follow Scribd and Oyster’s lead and pay authors based on the retail price, Inkbok plans to reserve 60% of revenue as a pool for paying authors. Each author will receive a share based on the number of times they are read.

Amazon uses a similar model for the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, though they work from a fixed fund.

It looks like 2014 is shaping up to be the year of the ebook subscriptions, with a couple major competitors (Scribd, Amazon) taking center stage, a number of middleweights (Oyster, 24Symbols) trying to move up, a couple outliers (Epic, Nuvem de Livros) pursuing niche markets, and newcomers like Inkbok coming out of the woodwork.


Thanks, Michael!

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MS Office for the iPad is Free This Weekend

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 07:09 AM PDT

Got an iPad? office ipadAnd are you withing driving distance of a Microsoft Store? Then I have some good news for you.

Microsoft launched Office for the iPad yesterday, and as part of the promotion they are giving away a free 1 year subscription to Office 365. Yes, the Office app is free in iTunes, but you’ll need the subscription to access most of the features.

Unfortunately, that free 1 year subscription comes with a catch. You have to bring your iPad on to a Microsoft Store, and you have to be one of the first 50 iPad owners to show up at that location.

I don’t know about you, but that’s going to present a problem for this blogger; the closest Microsoft Store is about an hour away. Given the price of gas and the value I put on my time, the $84 that this freebie would save just isn’t worth the hassle. (And it’s for an app I wouldn’t  use much, anyway.)

The offer is good through Sunday, so if this sounds like a good deal to you then check the MS Store website for a local store. There are 60 odd stores in the US and Canada.

And if you’re still on the fence as to whether the subscription is a good value, here’s a chart which lays out the features found in the free app vs the paid subscription. In short, creating, editing, and saving documents requires the subscription:

office 365 subscription chart

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More Bad Advice on Piracy for Authors and Readers

Posted: 28 Mar 2014 05:43 AM PDT

It is easy 8637220162_16099fbb7c_z[1]to see why piracy is the boogeyman of authors, and why so much time is spent fighting it and sharing tips on how to fight it. Unfortunately, not all of the advice you get from authors is good advice; sometimes it is wrong to the point of being destructive.

A couple weeks ago I wrote a brief post debunking one author’s claims about Scribd,  and how it is supposedly easy for readers to strip the DRM (not true). This morning I came across another post with equally bad advice.

Anna Kristel, writing at her author blog, offered this piece of advice on how readers can detect piracy:

What prompted this post? A few weeks ago, one of the authors who writes for one of the pubs I write for happened to find almost all of our authors' books on a couple of sites. We were all just sickened by the news and immediately sent letters to the owner of the sites. We also asked friends to do the same.

I decided to address this issue to bring attention to it to unsuspecting readers who may not even realize they are downloading books illegally. The rule of thumb…if it's not one of the major retailers…it's probably not legit.

It’s difficult to convey just how bad that rule is, but I will try.

Following this rule of thumb could lead you to conclude the  search engine site Luzme or the discount ebook site eReaderIQ are pirate sites. After all, they list vast quantities of free and discounted ebooks and neither site is one of the major retailers. The fact that neither site hosts any content but instead links to major retailers would be easy to miss if you don’t look too closely (I’ve made similar mistakes before).

Anna’s rule of thumb is also how the Lendink lynch mob happened. Back in 2012 a few authors discovered that a nondescript little website was listing their ebooks as free. Panic ensued, and before the day was out thousands of authors flooded the site with DMCA notices.

Unfortunately, none of those authors looked closely enough to realize that Lendink didn’t host any content. It was one of many legitimate sites that were set up to facilitate the ebook lending feature offered by Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

In short, it’s simply not possible to apply a rule of thumb when you are trying to determine whether you’re looking at a pirate site. The internet is far too complicated for a one step rule like the one Anna suggested above. Trying to follow that rule of thumb is probably going to result in a bad outcome, and it might even lead to another fiasco like the Lendink lynch mob.

I would suggest that it it better to look carefully, ask questions, and make sure that you understand all of the technical details before reaching a conclusion. Given how much damage a false accusation can cause, I would say that it is better to be safe than sorry.

image by EU Naval Force Media and Public Information Office

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