Kindle for PC: Microsoft Should be Embarrassed

kindle_for_pc_logoThe following is a guest editorial by Rob Bushway, the founder and former owner of GottaBeMobile.com.

I twittered the following tonight, and as a result, raised a few eyebrows:

The fact that Kindle for PC doesn’t support the pen should be an utter embarrassment to Microsoft

Before I share my reasons for that statement, let me share a few of the statements people twittered back to me:

  • @brandonleblanc: @robbushway why? We’re not the developers for the Kindle for PC software. Amazon did. It’s their software.
  • @brandonleblanc: @robbushway its also Beta and Amazon is taking in feedback to further improve the app too
  • @lorenheiny: @robbushway Kindle syncs data across devices so can see why no ink on Tablet PC, but once ink displayable everywhere then it should have it.
  • @lorenheiny: @robbushway It’s apps like Live Messenger and its new use or lack of unique use of ink that gets me. That’s a Microsoft app. But oh well.
  • @kapurcell: RT @robbushway “The fact that Kindle for PC doesn’t support the pen should be an utter embarassment to Microsoft” Y MS & not Amazon?

With that background, here’s my rationale in saying that Microsoft should be embarrassed for the lack of pen support in Amazon’s Kindle for PC app.

  1. I know the Kindle for PC app belongs to Amazon and they are the ones ultimately responsible for it. However, I also know that Microsoft works very closely with their software partners in helping to ensure a quality experience around the OS. Considering that Kindle for PC was launched on the same day as Windows 7, I would be shocked if Microsoft were not at least playing an advisory role in the development of the app. Kindle for PC was announced during Steve Ballmer’s Windows 7 launch event in New York and showcased in the Partner Pavillion. Read Microsoft’s Brandon LeBlanc’s glowing review of it.  If Microsoft did not believe in this app and didn’t feel it showed off Windows 7 in the best light possible, you better believe they wouldn’t have made such a big deal of it on launch day. I have a pretty strong hunch that Microsoft played a role in ensuring that Windows 7 specific features, like multi-touch and the context-aware taskbar menu, would be included and built to showcase Windows 7 features on launch day. Nothing wrong with that at all and it is what anyone would expect partnering companies to do.
  2. When Kindle for PC first starts-up on the pc, it requires the user to register their PC by keying in their Amazon email address and password. To be sure, I didn’t expect to ink in the field, but I did at least expect the input panel to pop up when I placed the pen in the text fields. No such luck, though: the input panel didn’t pop-up because the text fields used on that screen were not accessibility aware – it is the same problem we all get when using the pen in Firefox and Chrome. In addition to the registration screen, the fields on the Send Feedback screen are not pen-aware.  These are tell-tell signs that the pen was never a consideration from the very beginning of the design process. Had it been, and Amazon was testing for tablet usage or at least aware of usability guidelines, they would have run across that issue. It also tells me that the Microsoft people working with Amazon on this app, again – assuming that they were, didn’t have tablet or pen awareness on their radar. That is a huge red flag, especially considering that the app centers around books.
  3. Notetaking in any form is not supported in the beta version of Kindle for PC. Amazon indicates that notetaking is coming in future versions, though. However, considering the missteps in #2 above, I’d be shocked if the notetaking field supported ink, much less was pen aware to at least prompt the input panel. Now, Loren Heiny states that it isn’t a surprise that ink isn’t in Kindle for PC due to the fact that so many disparate devices get synced using WhisperSync and wouldn’t be able to display the ink. I don’t think that is an issue, though. Ink is an attribute that can get stored on Amazon’s server’s with the content, and then displayed on devices that can support showing it. When the Mac version comes out, it should be able to display ink notes due to it being in a serialized .gif image – the same with the iPhone. Evernote does it across all of their apps – why can’t Kindle apps?
  4. I’m going to play devils advocate here. Let’s assume that Microsoft played absolutely no role in helping Amazon with their app to ensure it showcased Windows 7 features like multi-touch and the taskbar menu. If tablet functionality was ever in Amazon’s future plans for Kindle for PC, don’t you think they would have at least made their app pen-aware from the beginning? Did it ever cross Amazon’s mind that ink notes or ink markup in a digital book would be a good idea? Were they at all familiar with Microsoft’s work in the Tablet PC space, enough to see that ink and their Kindle for PC app were a match made in heaven? I’m guessing that Tablet PC never crossed their minds – or else we would have at least seen fields in the app being pen-aware to at least cause the input panel to display.
  5. Why Microsoft and not Amazon? It is Microsoft’s responsibility to make sure that companies like Amazon, who are developing products like e-book reader software, know about Microsoft technologies that could help them gain an edge over their competition. Marking up books, and textbooks and inking notes in books that could then be displayed on all their devices would surely be an edge that their competition doesn’t plan on supporting. Sadly, we see in Microsoft’s own technologies (Live products like Messenger, Mail, Calendar, etc) that confirm to us that ink and pen don’t seem to carry much weight at Microsoft anymore. That is likely a major reason why pen support doesn’t show up anywhere in the Kindle for PC app.
  6. I know Kindle for PC is beta, however, I’ve done enough beta testing for Microsoft and other companies to know that beta simply means: help us find and fix the bugs, but don’t give us any feature requests – we are way beyond that. New features come in versions 1.5, 2, etc. Don’t look for much to change once Kindle for PC comes out of beta.

Those are just a few reasons why I believe Microsoft should be embarrassed due to the lack of pen support in Kindle for PC. Granted, I’m making a lot of assumptions and I’d love to be proven wrong with what Amazon comes out with in their next versions. However, I think I’m right-on target with most of my assumptions. Meanwhile, we should let Amazon know[email protected]) that the Tablet PC exists and that Microsoft has the perfect technology to enhance the experience. Amazon definitely wants to hear feedback regarding the app, and I think we should let them know what we think.

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Comments

  1. feralboy says

    Rob,

    As much as I’d like to agree with you, Kindle for PC doesn’t allow note-taking, it doesn’t allow the resizing of graphics (I’m trying to return a programming book because I can’t read the code snippets), the index isn’t linked and doesn’t have *page* numbers making it useless, there is no integrated dictionary, etc. I’ve been a fan of ebooks for years, and well, I can’t remember a reader that was less capable, beta or not. Yeah, ink should be there, but man, putting it in perspective, this software should be considered pre-beta!

  2. Rob Bushway says

    totally with you, FerralBoy – Beta is a gift at this point, pre-beta should be more like it.

    I’m not arguing for ink at this point (although that would be awesome) – I’m just pointing out that even pen-awareness isn’t there, and that shows us what the road ahead likely looks like with regards to ink.

  3. Paul Harrigan says

    I agree with you, but for reasons not related to Kindle for PC.

    Microsoft put tablet features into Windows 7 and into Vista before that. There is no reason that I can see — and I mean none — why putting a pen on the screen of a tablet, or on a graphics tablet for that matter, should not cause an input if the program takes input at that point. Thus Firefox should get the tip and a drawing program should take a pen mode (or text if you are in pen mode). This is an operating system call, and the operating system should respond accordingly.

    I don’t blame Kindle for PC as much because it allows no input at all. Given that Amazon would rather sell you a kindle, I can understand that — it’s like a demo program, crippled to get you to buy the real thing.

    i don’t know whether apple will include pen support at all. What I do expect is that if it does, it will do it pretty much everywhere. This is a fundamental failing of Windows 7′s ink support, and I hope that it gets fixed soon as a competitive response to Apple and Google’s newly stronger competition in the OS world.

  4. Mark Payton says

    Microsoft should be embarrassed on a number of fronts.

    First, MS Reader was a superior reader 7 years ago–and MS has done nothing to improve it or to build a viable ecology for it since. They are now ceding the market to Amazon and others without a fight.

    Second, MS Tablet PC was a superior tablet 7 years ago–and MS has done little to improve it and next to nothing to build a viable ecology for it since. They now appear to be poised to cede the market to Apple without a fight.

    Third, MS has not only done nothing to improve the landscape, they appear to have withdrawn from the developer support space altogether, having (apparently) shutdown all of their developer resources that supported the pen and not having published an article on ink in well over a year–just at the time they could and should be piggybacking on all of this Tablet-this and Tablet-that hype.

    I swear, if the mythical Apple tablet has ink support that is even halfway decent I may well become a convert to the fruit.

  5. Todd says

    Let’s add another one to the lise: The text input fields of Zune software (developed by Microsoft) are not pen aware. I and several others have requested support on the Zune forums, but so far, no love from MS. It really grinds my gears.

  6. GoodThings2Life says

    I want to agree, but when it comes down to it, Kindle for PC is just like Firefox– it’s written by a 3rd party and it’s ultimately up to the 3rd party to write the applications and include functionality. Their exclusion of the functionality can be explained away by any number of reasons that are exclusive to Amazon alone.

    Where I do agree is on the premise that Microsoft developed this technology years ago and has essentially done nothing with it. Oh sure, a few feature improvements here and there, but nothing NEW in ages.

    OneNote is fantastic, but that’s about all there is. Why hasn’t Microsoft done anything to make Outlook more like it is with Tablet Extensions for Outlook? Why isn’t Windows Live Writer tablet friendly? Why isn’t the Zune player tablet friendly?

    Most importantly, why hasn’t Microsoft done more to promote the functionality that exists so that Amazon, Mozilla, others and Microsoft’s own teams will take advantage of what’s out there?

    For as much as I hate Apple, they do one thing right that Microsoft hasn’t done well since the 90′s… they actually market their technology (honesty in the advertising is another story, but at least they have a significant presence). Their product names are simple, their products simple, and they market it to people who want simple, and every new version includes more functionality without really compromising that simplicity.

    Going back to the Microsoft tablet, though, it’s great when TIP support works, but when it doesn’t it’s cumbersome at best to make it limp along, and irritating at worst to have to flip open the keyboard. That doesn’t inspire simplicity, and worse, what have they done to improve it or gain more support? Hell, I had to ditch Kaspersky Antivirus a few years ago, because it wouldn’t even recognize the pen as a mouse… the pointer would literally stop at the application border until I used the actual mouse!

    So yes, they should be embarrassed about the state of Tablet PC’s, but not because of Kindle, because of their own inability to develop for and market the technology. Either make it more universal in the OS so that ink/pen-support isn’t an additional need for developers to consider, OR improve and market it so that developers want to pay attention to it… especially Microsoft’s own.

  7. Loren Heiny says

    Amazon may be more responsive to accessibility issues now that they’ve settled a class-action lawsuit against them for Kindle classics not providing out of the box audible reading support for all functions–not just reading text (if the publisher allows it).

    In a way, this may make Amazon more aware of the role of accessibility for all fields and actions in a PC program. Maybe. We’ll have to see.

    Now in terms of the code, it’s definitely compiled with Microsoft’s Visual Studio, but that doesn’t mean that the program necessarily adheres to all accessibility features that Microsoft provides. Now, if you try Spy++ (which comes with Visual Studio) on the app while it’s running, you can inspect the names of the fields/windows and the like….and guess what, they have Class names like QWidget, which if you look up on Bing/Google is an open source cross-platform GUI library used here and it looks like by Nokia to render the app on the screen and support input. It appears that this open source library is not Win32 accessible aware. So I’d start there and see if accessibility can be added to that library. (http://doc.trolltech.com/3.3/index.html). Maybe Amazon will add it for us, maybe someone in the accessibility group at Microsoft will do it, maybe someone in the community will prototype it. I’m in the midst of cancer treatment so I’ll pass the baton on to any takers.

  8. feralboy says

    As a bit of irony, I think I’ve heard Microsoft representatives use the term “ink” more in than last few months than they have since the launch of the initial tablet PC edition of XP. It’s all part of their “Natural User Interface”, or “NUI” plan it seems. Sure, these mentions have been little more than cursory, but everytime NUI is brought up, ink is too. While I don’t think it was the guiding principle behind the developement of Windows 7 any more than it was behind the original development of the original tablet PC, it now seems to be the marching orders. What does that mean for us in the short term? Probably not much, but going forwared we can hope that as part of their NUI efforts, ink finds itself much more front and center in their development plans.

    In truth, I’m pretty satisfied with where we are with ink. Like everybody else, I’m would like even tighter adherence to their NUI principles. In the end, ink should be as effortless as using the keyboard. While ink will never be as fast as keyboard input, that’s never been the point. It’s all about using the right tool for the right situation, which makes NUI so compelling.

    And Loren, I’m sending you thoughts of strength and recovery.

  9. Loren Heiny says

    And here’s a fairly recent discussion of how the Qt can now handle “input panels”:

    http://labs.trolltech.com/blogs/2009/08/31/new-api-for-input-panel-virtual-keyboards/

    It appears like it’s a new feature so maybe this explains why the Kindle Reader for the PC which uses a Qt lib doesn’t support the TIP directly on a Tablet PC. I haven’t tried the new version of Qt, so I’m not so sure that this API really gives new Qt apps automatic Tablet PC support or not. Maybe someone knows.

  10. bluespapa says

    I ought to be able to mark up any page or window of anything on a Tablet and save it (or not) for my own purposes.

    Right now, I can do that only by printing a page to OneNote, using RitePen (but only with the screen, being able to scroll) only if I save to Evernote, or with Sympodium software and hardware where I teach and nobody knows how to use them (because it isn’t easy or apparent).

    It’s obvious, and in the six years of commercial Tablet production, pen input, pen integration, and pen manipulation is still an after thought unless you are in OneNote.

    Kindle for PC, and frankly all of the schemes that offer me books that I can’t take notes on with a Tablet, are equally infuriating and begging me to break the DRM so I can copy them into OneNote to read and take notes with. The Sony Ebooks that permit this are a step in the right direction.

  11. Modnar says

    @Paul Harrigan & @Loren Heiny
    The reason why Kindle for PC (and more so specifically QT) doesn’t support The Tablet Input Panel is that they are using Custom made Text Boxes etc and don’t notify the OS of the accessibility of those controls (which gesso plugin does for Firefox which is integrated in Firefox 3.6 so Firefox doesn’t need Gesso any more) and as such they mean nothing to the operating system so hence it can’t bring up the TIP.

    Still yes it is kinda sad there isn’t any vague sort of inking what so ever but unless MS asked nicely I can’t see Amazon doing this at all.

    But it does kinda highlight the failings of MS with the Tablet Ecosystem where it is a highly niche product and its still possible for it to go somewhat more mainstream but realistically it never will.

    The complete lack of more and recent tablet software should push me more to release small useful tools and apps I have made for myself. And slowly starting on a courier like clone so see what its like on a normal tablet :P

    Also as an aside if any one is thinking about the The ink format MS uses well here is a quick rundown:
    Its called Ink Serialised Format (Shortened to isf commonly when used) it is a freely available specification (http://download.microsoft.com/download/0/B/E/0BE8BDD7-E5E8-422A-ABFD-4342ED7AD886/InkSerializedFormat(ISF)Specification.pdf) under the Open Specification Promise which in a nutshell means no one will be sued for patent breaches and is free to implement their own solution to it and throw that under practically any license. Although it took a while for it to get to this point.

    ISF is commonly used in MS Tablet development for storing and retrieving data about points and strokes that where collected (can be technically any pointing device eg mouse, digitiser etc) on things such as points, pressure and somewhat rarely used angle of pen as well as custom info. Since practically all MS tablet related libraries etc use this it makes sharing ink between pretty easy such as getting ISF from text and performing ink recognition on it (eg a prototype I had that did ink recognition server side from a client Silverlight App)

    The fun part is that it is possibly to convert a platform specific ink such as ISF into another. An example of this is converting ISF into InkML (a rarely known and hardly used W3C, kinda stale working draft so its not a finished spec like HTML5) through an old project InkML toolkit http://inkmltk.sourceforge.net/ so it is possible.

    Also is there any other sort of spec for transferring digital ink between programs that is digitiser based?

    -Jason Horrocks

  12. Bruce Miller says

    GoodThings2Life:

    Kaspersky just needs .taptip and.inputpersonalization added to exception rules as Trusted. It’s there to prevent malware adding desktop clicks.

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