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Amazon Kindle – FAIL

July 19, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

In a deliciously ironic moment, Amazon (who we quite like) have shot themselves in the foot after an incident with the Kindle e-reader.

I’ve fancied one of those for quite a while, but as I live in the UK, I’m unable to get one as they don’t work here yet.  Rumour is they will be available by Christmas if Amazon can get phone network (Whispernet) and publisher agreements settled.

The way it works is, you buy a Kindle and you also get a connection to the Amazon marketplace via Whispernet to allow you to purchase electronic versions of books and magazines which you can then read on the Kindle.

Whispernet is a data-only mobile phone connection, and is how a customer downloads their purchases.  In the US they use Sprint’s network, which uses a different connectivity technology to the GSM we use here in the UK.  That means US Kindles wont work over here, and is why it hasn’t yet been available to purchase.

If the rumours are true, then we could see Kindles go on sale soon here in the UK and I would have been in the market for one of those.

Would.

But now, there’s no way I’d touch one with a barge pole.

It turns out that hidden in the licence agreement it says you don’t actually own the electronic products you PURCHASE, you’re only renting them from Amazon and they can remotely remove (or amend) them at any time from YOUR Kindle via their Whispernet.

Ouch!

This has come to light after a number of people have found that their copy of George Orwell’s 1984 has been removed from their Kindle and a refund has been given.  It seems that Amazon have found that the third party publisher who was selling it in the market place didn’t own the rights to it in the US.  The word is that copyright on the ebook has expired in the rest of the world, but not yet in the US due to their out of date copyright laws.

We don’t yet know the full details, but it’s truly ironic that the book should be 1984.

So Amazon can at their decision and discretion arbitrarily remove products you’ve purchased in good faith.

It raises a number of disturbing points which I think need addressing publicly by Amazon.

#1 – If Amazon can remove as well as add products to your personal paid for library, what’s to stop them from applying new more onerous terms and conditions too?  Remember these people had purchased books that disappeared from their personal ebook reader and they were then refunded.  They had no choice in the matter.

#2 – If Amazon change their terms and conditions and start charging a monthly rental, then what happens?

#3 – If you opt out of the additional monthly charge, does the Kindle you’ve purchased become a lump of technology that no longer works?

#4 – Do the ebooks you’ve purchased (sorry, rented) disappear?

#5 – If so, could you then ask for your money back on the Kindle you’ve purchased?

#6 – If Amazon can remove products you’ve purchased from them, then I have to assume they can also remove ANY product from the Kindle, including ebooks I’ve purchased from other sites.

#7 – Which means that Amazon know what’s on my Kindle at any point, including stuff I might not want anyone else to know about.  Rights to privacy raise their head.

And on, and on…

It’s a minefield.  These and many other questions need answering properly.

Effectively, Amazon OWN your Kindle.  All they’ve done is rented it to you.  As it’s quite an expensive bit of kit, for me, that’s not good enough.  If I buy a piece of hardware, then it’s mine.  I don’t want anybody sneakily taking anything off something I’ve purchased while I’m asleep.

Now this would have been a non-issue if Amazon had first apologised and explained, then refunded their customers with double the purchased amount.

But they didn’t take the care to do so, and now this has exploded into a PR nightmare.

So I’m sorry Amazon.  As much as I like love you, because of what’s happened the Kindle is a big FAIL, and I’ll be buying a Sony ereader instead.

-Techy

P.S. This has only affected US Citizens. The rest of us can legally get a free copy of 1984 from places like Project Gutenberg.  Here you go… http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks01/0100021.txt

Blu-Ray A Bit Of A Flop?

June 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

I’ve never been too excited about the thought of High Definition movies.  I’m quite satisfied with the DVD format, and the benefits of Blu-Ray over DVD are – when you look closely – minimal.

The general concensus seems to be that if you get yourself a nice HD TV and a decent “upscaling” DVD player, then there’s not much difference between the picture quality you’ll get with that set up over Blu-Ray.

The estimated advantage of upscaled DVD over Blu-Ray is that you get 90% of what Blu-Ray offers at a third of the price.

Add to that advantage that DVD movie prices are coming down while Blu-Ray movies are somewhere between £25 and £40 average, then there’s really little point in moving to Blu-Ray from both an economical and a practical viewpoint.

Another downside to Blu-Ray is the long start up and load times when you insert a disc.  Reports of 30-60 seconds are common.

If you have a think back to the format change from VHS tape to DVD disc, the jump in quality and functionality was huge. Moving from DVD to Blu-Ray is marginal when you take DVD upscaling into consideration.

This opinion is now backed up by a report just released by Harris Interactive (pdf) where the findings show that 93% of Americans when asked if they would upgrade to a Blu-Ray disc player in the next 12 months, said no.

This could well boil down to one or more reasons:-

  • There’s a recession and people are very conscious about money.
  • They know the improvement in quality is small.
  • DRM (Digital Rights Management) currently prevents you from making a backup of your Blu-Ray disc, while DVDs can be easily copied and changed into other formats.
  • People have been stung before and are reluctant to jump just because they’ve been told to.
  • Joe Public is baffled by what Blu-Ray will give him when DVD is already so good.

This is all particularly interesting when you realise the US went all digital last week.

One other thing worth mentioning in light of all this is the increasing number of Blu-Ray discs we can find at our local Blockbuster now. In a recent visit, the main wall on the left as you walk in now has the first half dedicated to Blu-Ray and the second half to DVD. What do they think they know that 93% of Americans don’t?

Someone needs to tell Blockbuster management that people like DVD more than Blu-Ray. We’ll keep an eye on that wall and see if the Blu-Ray section becomes larger or smaller.

Anyway…

Our advice?

Get a decent upscaling DVD player for your HD TV that will also play just about every other format you can throw at it (apart from Blu-Ray of course).

So save your money, and then take another look in 2-3 years time to see if the Blu-Ray format hasn’t already been replaced by flash drives. Storage technology moves very fast, and it wouldn’t surprise us at all if DRM-free solid state devices don’t quietly win the format war.

But… If you really must go out and buy a Blu-Ray player then make sure it does DVD upscaling too.  That way you get the best of both worlds.

Our bet is that you won’t see much difference in picture quality from upscaled DVD to Blu-Ray.

-Techy

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