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    The Kindle is not a problem!

    April 25th, 2012

    This week I attended and presented at UWE’s E-Books: Experiences and Future Directions Conference. It was an interesting conference that had a focus on health and delegates from Universities, Colleges, Hospitals, Aggregators and Publishers attended.

    One theme that did come out of the conference was the “Kindle Problem”. The issue stated by both aggregators, publishers and libraries was that users had Kindles, however all eBook platforms and downloadable formats were not compatible with the Kindle and therefore this was a problem “with the Kindle”.

    Sorry!

    Blaming the user is indicative of an industry that fails to understand its users and is an industry that dictates how users should do things, over trying to meet the needs of the user.

    The reason that people see the Kindle is a problem, is that the Kindle has been successful. Consumers have gone out and bought the Kindle and therefore want to use it.

    The reason the Kindle has been a success compared to other eBook readers is that Amazon have created a product that basically works.

    I have a Kindle and I also use the Kindle App on my iPad. All my purchases are stored in the cloud and I can download my books to  the device of my choosing. I can download it to both iPad and Kindle. Once I have signed into the Kindle app, I don’t need to sign in again.

    Now the Kindle isn’t perfect. There are issues with it that annoy my. I don’t like how it doesn’t support ePub, I think it’s PDF support is lacking.

    Importantly though I use the Kindle to read books!

    I did prior to the Kindle have a Sony e-Reader and though I did use it to read a few classics, the real issue I had was with getting books onto the device, the DRM meant that I had to use a specific computer to download the books onto before transferring them onto the e-Reader. I remember talking to a colleague at work  who had real problems doing that, so in the end didn’t use it, they now have a Kindle and use it all the time!

    I find therefore interesting that providers of ebook platforms are very rigid and inflexible and then accuse Amazon of the same thing! I appreciate also that Amazon are in some ways just as inflexible as the aggregators and publishers!

    If our users are buying and using the Kindle, then shouldn’t we, if we are offering e-book loans, ensure that whatever service we subscribe to supports or at least works towards supporting, the Kindle?

    To ignore the Kindle or to assume that it is a problem is missing the fact that it is well used and liked by the user. To push another device onto the user so you don’t need to change implies you don’t have a user focus. There needs to be a push to Amazon to support an ebook lending model and for aggregators and publishers to change their systems to support the Kindle.

    It can happen, but at this stage I can’t see it happening, can you?


    “Reinventing” Textbooks, I don’t think so!

    January 19th, 2012

    So has Apple reinvented the textbook?

    I don’t think so.

    Today in New York, Apple gave a presentation which announced three new products and services for education, iBooks 2, iBooks Author and an iTunes U app.

    With iBooks 2 it is now possible to read e-books that also contain media and interactive content

    I have to say to Apple and all those sites out there that are saying iBooks 2 has reinvented textbooks, I don’t think so. I felt a little underwhelmed by the textbooks that were announced by Apple. They are for all intents and purposes digitised textbooks with some fancy video, slideshows and other effects. There are already apps within the iOS App Store that provide a similar experience, the Dorling Kindersley releases for example. I have already reviewed some of these in my review series, and I think some of those, such as Eureka, are much more innovative and exciting.

    Don’t get me wrong, the use of video, animations, slideshows, 3D diagrams, interactivity can be so much better than the diagrams and photographs in a paper book. We mustn’t though forget that interactive doesn’t always mean engaging. Sometimes something very uninteractive and be very engaging, likewise in the past many interactive textbooks (we called them CD-ROMS back then) did not engage learners. It takes a lot of skill and thought to create engaging interactive content, and clever animations and video is only part of the picture.

    What is missing is the Apple magic in the user interface. iBooks and devices such as the Kindle work for “normal” books such as novels and non-fiction where the reader moves from one page to another in a linear fashion. From a user’s perspective, the experience is comparable.

    However this is not how academic textbooks are used by learners. Learners rarely (if ever) read an academic textbook from page to page. No they are more likely to flick through the pages to the relevant chapter or section, flick back to other parts of the book as they make notes, sometimes on the book (annotations) but also on paper (or using a word processor). Now you can do that in iBooks 2, but not nearly as easily and smoothly as you can with a paper book.

    In May 2010, I wrote about how the Seattle Times outlined how student at the University of Washington did not like using the Kindle compared to using printed books.

    There were some interesting results and comments from the pilot. 80% would not recommend the Kindle as a classroom study aid for example. However 90% liked it for reading for pleasure.

    Though I hazard a guess that maybe a slightly lower percentage would not recommend the iPad as a classroom study aid, I said back then:

    This is a lesson that educational publishers need to recognise when publishing content to platforms like the Kindle and the iPad. Though novels are linear and as a result eBook formats can “work” like a printed book, educational books are used differently and as a result eBook versions need to work differently. Students need to be able to move around quickly, annotate and bookmark.

    Creating a digital copy of an academic textbook for a lot of learners is not going to work, as it doesn’t allow them to use the digital textbook in the way that they would use a paper copy. There needs to be a paradigm shift in understanding how learners use content, so that the advantages that a device such as the iPad can bring to learning are fully exploited and learners are not left thinking that the digital version is a poor relation of the paper textbook.

    Those advantages that Apple outlined in their presentation that the iPad is portable, durable, interactive, searchable and current are just part of the story, digitising content misses out on the other advantages that the iPad brings to the desk. The touch interface offers so much more than just highlighting and flicking backwards and forwards in a linear fashion. Magazines such as Eureka and Wired have started to understand that, I am surprised that Apple haven’t.

    There is also a complete lack of communication and sharing within iBooks 2. Learners are unable to share their annotations, copy their notes to their peers, discuss the content. All that is missing from iBooks 2, it is about consuming content, individually and then probably writing about it using Pages or creating a spreadsheet in Numbers.

    The new textbooks in iBooks 2 make the mistake of creating a digital equivalent of the paper book with a few added bells and whistles and does not take advantage of the iPad interface and connectivity that could add so much. Textbooks need a new way of thinking, however this time Apple are not thinking differently enough.

    What do you think?


    Top Ten Technologies of 2011

    December 29th, 2011

    This is the fourth time I have posted my top ten technologies of the year. Looking back over 2008, 2009 and 2010 it’s interesting to see what new technologies I am now using, which old ones have been left on the shelf and the technologies I still use.

    What was interesting this year was how little change there was from last year, as though my personal technologies have settled down. There is no iPhone 4S for example in this year’s list. I keep thinking about upgrading my 3GS to the 4S, but keep putting it off.

    There were a few technologies that nearly made it to the list. I really like my Apple TV and it’s a great tool for streaming content to my TV. However I really don’t use it as much as I thought it would. Without content providers such as BBC iPlayer or 4OD it’s not as useful as it could be. No cameras in my list this year, I do use my Canon DSLR a fair bit, though my Sony stills camera has spent very little time out and about. I still miss my Koday Zi8 which went missing in 2010, but the fact that I haven’t replaced it says a lot.

    Will be interesting to see what is in my 2012 list.

    10. Tricaster

    The Tricaster makes a re-entry into my top ten, it was number six in 2009.

    So you need to shoot video? You need to stream video? You need to record video? You need more then one camera? You want graphics, you want presentation slides, you want to screenshare? Though there are a plethora of tools out there for shooting and recording video, screen captures, presentations; most then require you to edit the footage before sharing. One of the things I wanted to do was to do all that, but do it live!

    The Tricaster makes a comeback this year as it was the tool I used for ALT Live Beta, an experiment at ALT-C 2011 in which we broadcast live backstage video from the conference. It was a lot of fun and was well received by those who couldn’t attend the conference (and by a fair few delegates who were).

    9. Blue Snowball Microphone

    I have been recording this year again, not just e-Learning Stuff podcasts, but also symposia and other discussions. The Blue Snowball Microphone is certainly a key tool for this. I also use it at home for Skype and making recordings.

    The main downside is that the size of the microphone makes it less than ideal for taking to events and carrying in a bag. However the quality of recordings means that I am more keen to use this then any other microphone.

    It is lower down the list this year, in the main as I used it less. It is however still an essential tool for me.

    8. Edirol R-09HR

    The Edirol has appeared in my top ten for the last four years. it’s enduring quality has to be down to the fact it is that it still a brilliant job. It records fantastic audio in WAV or MP3 format to an SD card and uses AA batteries. Still a great technology and does what it says on the tin really well.

    7. i7 iMac

    People often ask me why I buy Macs, well the i7 iMac is a testament to why I do. I bought my i7 iMac in 2009 and was really impressed, it was my number two in my top ten in 2009 and was also in the top ten in 2010. It’s in the top ten again. Why, well for a computer that is over two years old it is still a really powerful computer that does everything I throw at it. It’s great for video editing, audio editing, video recording, encoding, all that web stuff, office tools and so much more. I use it virtually every day for a whole range of tasks. It’s one powerful machine and I don’t expect to replace it for at least a year, probably two, and it wouldn’t surprise me if I was still using it in 2015!

    6. Kindle

    I got my Kindle in 2010 and I was impressed with how easy it was to use, to get books and importantly read. Supported by the excellent Kindle app on the iPad, I am using Kindle much more for reading these days.

    5. iPhone 4

    The iPhone 4 is an amazing smartphone and was what the iPhone should have been from day one. The camera is excellent, and great for taking stills and video. The retina display still astounds me in terms of the visual quality, especially when I drop back to the 3GS (which drops out of the top ten this year). The key advantage of the iPhone for me is the sheer number of apps and the quality and quantity have changed how I use a phone. iOS 5 has improved the user experience, for example notifications (very Android like) are so much better.

    I do think the iPhone 4 is one of the best phones I have ever used and I am really pleased with it. However the reason why it has dropped a few places is that it fails now and again as a phone for making phone calls. I have also had some signal issues failing to get a decent 3G signal.

    4. Google Nexus One

    The Google Nexus One is getting a bit long in the tooth for an Android phone these days, it’s stuck at Gingerbread, there is no Ice Cream Sandwich for the Nexus One (which is a pity). However Gingerbread means that I can use my phone as a portable wireless hotspot so the MiFi stays in the bag and I returned my 3G USB dongle over a year ago now. Another reason why the Nexus One is higher in the top ten was the integration with Google+ and I do like Google+. The main reasons that the Nexus One is higher in the top ten that the iPhone 4 is the fact that it is a better phone for making phone calls. Also I seem to get a better 3G signal on the Nexus One than I do on the iPhone, though that may be down to T-Mobile on the Nexus One over O2 on the iPhone. On quite a few occasions I have used the portable wireless hotspot on the Nexus One to provide internet connectivity to the iPhone (and that can’t be right). I will say I prefer the app experience on the iPhone, but that’s not to say the apps on the Nexus One are awful, no they are really good, but my preference is for iOS.

    3. BT Infinity FTTC

    My fibre connection was in my top ten last year and over the last twelve months I have been very pleased with the stability and speed of the connection. Rarely, well once or twice, I have had an issue with bandwidth (dropping to a still reasonable 7Mb/s) but generally I have had a stable 37MB/s down and 8MB/s up.

    2. MacBook Air

    I upgraded my 13” MacBook Pro this year to the 11” Air. Alas not the new model. However I have been very impressed with the MacBook Air. It took me a while to get use to Lion, especially the gestures and though I still prefer Snow Leopard, I am now use to Lion on the Air and it isn’t stopping me from doing stuff (which is key really). I really like the weight (or lack thereof) of the Air and despite the lack of raw power the SSD ensures that the speed of the MacBook is fast enough. It has made an impact on how much I use my iPad and if I had to choose one I think I would choose the Air, but would really miss the iPad.

    1. iPad

    So for the second year running, the iPad is my top ten technology for the year. Now I know I just said I would choose the Air over the iPad, the difference is that I only got the Air in July and I have been using the iPad all year, and this is a top ten for the year; so it will be interesting to see what will be number one in 2012. Also they are complementary technologies rather than competing technologies, they both have their uses, advantages and disadvantages.

    I was surprised in 2010 the impact of the iPad on the way that I did stuff. It continued in 2011 to have a real impact. I use it on a daily basis for communication, collaboration, content creation and content consumption. I did managed to get an iPad 2 in the summer, but in terms of how I use the iPad it had a minimal impact, I rarely use the camera, but do like the mirroring. As a result the iPad 2 is not in my top ten, whereas the original iPad is.

    Back in 2010 I said

    At work I use the iPad for dealing with e-mail and my calendar and quickly checking things on the VLE. For some meetings I do need to take a laptop as some tools we use rely on Flash or Java and that is one of the main weaknesses of the iPad is that these kinds of tools can not be used on it.

    I still use the iPad for e-mail and calendar, however I now use a Citrix app to access our Windows XP corporate desktop to access those Java or IE based tools that we have. Therefore the main limitation is less of a limitation for me now. The fact I can easily access these iPad unfriendly tools using the iPad still makes me smile.

    … its media capability easily surpasses any other mobile devices I have used. It’s not all perfect, I would like to stream (easily) video and audio from my iMac to my iPad…

    AirPlay has made a big difference for me for media streaming across my home network. I like that I can stream iTunes Rentals from my iMac to my iPad without having to go through the laborious process of transferring the movie file from the iMac to the iPad, I can just stream the DRM’d content across the wireless network.

    So last year the iPad was my top technology, Apple have made things better and on the basis of how much I used it, the iPad is once again my top technology of the year.


    Top Ten Technologies of 2010

    December 22nd, 2010

    This is the third time I have written a top ten list of technologies, I did the same in 2008 and 2009. It’s interesting to compare the three lists to see what I was using, what I am still using and what new stuff I am using. This list focuses on physical technologies and gadgets and I have also been working on a list of web tools that will be in another blog post.

    So what didn’t make my list?

    The MiFi which was number eight last year got used a lot less, partly as I used the Google Nexus one more for portable wifi and the issues I had with the MiFi when trying to use it on the train.

    The Sony video cameras in previous top tens got slightly ursurped by both the Kodak and the iPhone 4G this year, they were used, but no where near the level I used them in 2009 and 2008.

    The 3G USB Stick I had in my top ten in 2008, didn’t make the list in 2009 and I actually handed back to our IT department in 2010!

    10. i7 iMac

    The iMac was my number two last year and in many ways is still a really excellent computer. Very fast and more than capable of doing lots of things all at the same time. It’s still in my top ten, as I still use it every day for lots of different activities.

    9. iPhone 3GS

    The iPhone 3GS was my number one technology in 2009 and I have continued to use the 3GS throughout 2010 as my main home mobile phone. Why is it not higher up, well I upgraded my work mobile phone to the iPhone 4G. The 3GS though is the phone I use at weekends when I am out, it’s the phone I use on the sofa in the evenings and it’s also the phone I use when the battery runs out on the 4G. I use a Logic3 case with an extended battery. It’s also the device I use for sat nav, using the TomTom software. Alas the one key component of the 3GS lets it down and that is its ability to make phone calls. Too often it will drop calls for my liking.

    8. Edirol R-09HR

    I have been using the Edirol for a few years now, it was in my top ten in 2008, and the Edirol R-09HR now back in for 2010. Recording as either WAV or MP3 direct to an SD card, the audio quality is excellent. Very easy after recording to connect a USB cable and copy the recordings over to edit in Audacity or Garageband. It is very portable and the fact it uses AA batteries means if they run out, they are easy to replace. Main downside is cost, but in this case I do believe it is very much you get what you pay for.

    7. Blue Snowball Microphone

    I have been recording a lot this year, not just e-Learning Stuff podcasts, but also symposia and other discussions. The Blue Snowball Microphone is certainly a key tool for this. I also use it at home for Skype and making recordings.

    The main downside is that the size of the microphone makes it less than ideal for taking to events and carrying in a bag. However the quality of recordings means that I am more keen to use this then any other microphone.

    6. Kodak Zi8

    This for the first part of the year was a great little camera that I used for both video and stills. Alas I “lost” mine after a mobile learning event I ran at the college in July. We have two class sets at college and I have used the Kodak Zi8 at various events, so that’s another reason for including it in my top ten.

    5. Amazon Kindle

    The UK version of the Kindle was available from September 2010, and despite owning an iPad I did buy a Kindle and have been impressed. With a battery life measured in weeks, a great book selection, what I like most about the Kindle is that I can continue to read Kindle books on other devices such as the iPad. This is not just about the Kindle device, but also the Kindle app for other devices.

    4. Google Nexus One

    My Nokia N95 which was number one in 2008 and in the top ten in 2009, I retired it this year after getting the Google Nexus One. This was an Android phone and the first time I managed to use the mobile OS on a regular basis.

    I really do like this phone and I certainly over 2010 recommended it to people who didn’t want an iPhone. The main reasons I like it is the portable wireless hotspot (wifi tethering) that came with the Froyo 2.2 update, the screen which is gorgeous and the voice control. It’s not perfect, I do find that the OS is not as stable as I think it should be. However as a phone for making phone calls, it works very well, unlike other phones I could mention…

    3. iPhone 4

    The iPhone 4 is what the iPhone should have been from day one. Finally the iPhone came of age. It is one of the best phones I have ever used.

    The camera was better than ever before and the phone also came with a front facing camera. This is something the Nokia N95 has had since 2007! However the improvements in performance and the wonderful “retina” screen certainly are welcome.

    What I like about the iPhone is the ease of use, the browsing experience, the apps. There is so much I am doing on this phone and so much more I could be doing on this phone. I for example have not yet used Facetime, but I wonder if that’s more down to I know very few people with an iPhone 4 and the one time I tried to make a Facetime call, it didn’t work!

    Though I could replicate the antenna problem this didn’t impact on me as much as it seemed to in the US. If anything I found the iPhone 4 was much better at making phone calls than the 3GS was. It has better reception, but will still drop calls.

    Multi-tasking with iOS4 certainly made the phone easier to use and meant that switching between apps didn’t always result in a loss of data or information.

    The key advantage of the iPhone for me is the sheer number of apps and the quality and quantity have changed how I use a phone.

    I do think the iPhone 4 is one of the best phones I have ever used and I am really pleased with it.

    2. BT Infinity FTTC

    When ADSL came to my home town I was one of the first in the area to get it. It was great going from dial-up 44kbps to a broadband connection of 385kbps. Over the years this did rise to 1.3Mbps and for a lot of things was great. However as more and more people got broadband, the contention ratio kicked in and the speed dropped to under 1Mbps for most of the day.

    For general browsing it was okay, however downloading large files was a real pain and I use to schedule these overnight. For example upgrading my iPhone would take anything up to 24 hours! Using BBC iPlayer was generally also a non-starter and most of the time I wouldn’t even bother trying.

    So when fibre to the cabinet (FTTC) arrived in my area, I signed up as fast as my ISP would let me. With 40Mb down and 10Mb up this is significantly faster than the 1.3 down and 0.6 up I had before.

    It has already changed how I use the internet, whereas before I would probably not consider downloading a film from iTunes during the day, as it would soak up my bandwidth and would take hours to download; now it takes under five minutes to download! No problems with downloading large files and updates now. The other key advantage is streaming video, which was almost pointless before due to buffering, and like downloading, previous streaming would soak up my bandwidth, having 40Mb down means I can stream and do other stuff at the same time. Skype works really well too and is a lot more stable than before.

    Having really fast internet is making my work and home life easier and I am having less issues with using different internet services and uploading is a dream now.

    1. iPad

    Announced in January and released (in the UK) in May, I was even surprised by how much I now use the iPad. It has in many ways replaced how I use a laptop at home, at work, whilst travelling and at events. When I ordered mine, I didn’t think it would have that much of an impact, but it has and continues to have an impact.

    In July I wrote about how I took just the iPad to an event in London and how I just used the iPad. I did the same at the RSC SW Conference too.

    I do think the iPad is an ideal device for conferences and events and wrote quite a lengthy piece on how it could be used to amplify and enhance conferences.

    Certainly compared to using a large laptop, an iPad is a much better device for using on the train.

    At work I use the iPad for dealing with e-mail and my calendar and quickly checking things on the VLE. For some meetings I do need to take a laptop as some tools we use rely on Flash or Java and that is one of the main weaknesses of the iPad is that these kinds of tools can not be used on it.

    At home, I use the iPad on the sofa, in the kitchen and around the house. I like how I can use it to quickly check the news, e-mail, the weather, social networks and general browsing the web. I like the casual games you can get for the iPad and its media capability easily surpasses any other mobile devices I have used. It’s not all perfect, I would like to stream (easily) video and audio from my iMac to my iPad and not all web functions work as I would like them to. Blogging on the iPad is still a bit hit and miss for me.

    So my number one technology for 2010 is Apple’s iPad, I wonder if it will still be in my top ten next year?

    Are any of your favourite technologies in this top ten? What have I missed?


    Kindles are wonderful things

    November 3rd, 2010

    Though we know books are wonderful things they do have a few disadvantages.

    They are heavy! Okay carrying a single book is probably okay for most people, but think about carrying all the books in a bookshelf? Yes not a practical solution to carry them all in one go!

    You have to buy books, either from a book store or Amazon. Regardless of the route you take it will still take time to either find and buy the book in a bricks and mortar store, or wait for Amazon to deliver it. I have bought books from Amazon.com and it takes weeks for them to be delivered from the USA unless I am willing to pay an arm and a leg for speedy delivery.

    Of course if you don’t buy the book, you can always borrow from your local library. Well you could borrow from your library under two assumptions. First that they have a copy, second that no one else has borrowed it. Yes you can request a copy or reserve a copy, but once more that takes time. In academic libraries the problems of scarce real books can impact on the learning process. I recall from my undergraduate days when as soon as a lecturer mentioned a book in a lecture as “essential reading” the entire cohort of students would literally run to the library to get out the single copy available… The library did sometimes under the direction of the academics add the book to a “special collection” that allowed the book to be borrowed for one hour! No more, just one hour! The focus moved away from learning and onto book borrowing and logistics!

    One advantage given to paper books is the ability to highlight words or phrases, annotate sections of interest or fold over the corner to bookmark a page. This is fine if this is your book, but can change how someone views the content of the book if they use a book that already has annotations and bookmarks. Their view will be skewed by the previous reader. Also if you annotate or bend pages of a library book then the librarians rightly get a little upset.

    If you talk to lost property offices at railway stations and airports you will realise that people lose books all the time. Once lost, the only way to retrieve that book is to buy a new copy.

    Finally though for many, books are an accessible format, for some the small text and black on white printing can be inaccessible.

    The e-book reader is a technological solution to some of the issues we face with real paper books. There are many models out there from the new Sony Reader with touch interface, the Nook and the well received Amazon Kindle. These e-ink devices allow you to read books anywhere and at anytime, well under the assumption it isn’t dark!

    You can put onto these devices an entire library of books. The Kindle is only 241 grams (8½ oz.) so weighs less than a single paperback book, but can be loaded with three and a half thousand books.

    The Kindle (and now some other e-book readers) allow you to buy and download books over wifi or 3G without needing a computer and without needing to wait for delivery. A single click and the book is there in almost an instant ready to read. You can also download sample chapters, try before you buy. Well you can do that in a bookshop, but I find the shop assistants always look at me weirdly. In my local book shop, which has a coffee shop inside, has put up notices asking customers not to take books from the shelves into the café area and read them whilst drinking coffee.

    Some educational institutions are now providing learners with a Kindle and filling it with the requisite text books, literally providing them with a library on the move. Libraries that use e-book readers, no longer need to guess how many physical copies of a core text will be needed they can provide copies on demand as and when needed. Many e-book readers like the Kindle, allow you to highlight, annotate and bookmark an e-book. However these can be easily removed if you are using a borrowed e-book reader from the library for example.

    If you lose your Kindle, you’ve not lost your library. You can replace your Kindle and then re-download your library to the device.

    In terms of accessibility, the ability to change text size and contrast on e-book readers ensures that they are more accessible than paper versions. The Kindle also has a text to speech capability, though it has to be said, some publishers do not allow their books to be read in this way, they would I guess prefer you buy the audiobook version.

    Having said all that e-Book readers are not there to replace books, they enhance and enrich the reading experience. Just because I have a Kindle doesn’t mean that I am never going to read another paper book again! Far from it, I suspect that reading sample chapters on the Kindle will probably result in purchasing the paper version… likewise though I will admit I can see myself clicking the “buy” link now and again.

    e-Books also have a few disadvantages in that once I have purchased a copy of an e-book, it is nigh on impossible to lend that copy to a friend… it is impossible to donate the e-book to the local Oxfam shop… it is impossible to impress your friends as you can with a books on the coffee table or the bookshelf when they come to visit…

    e-Book readers, like the Kindle are wonderful things, but still, the iPad is the future of reading…

    A version of this article originally appeared on the FOTE10 website.