Kindles get a no-charge recharge

You gotta love products that keep getting better even after you’ve bought them. On Tuesday, Amazon told owners of its Kindle e-readers that their devices are suddenly and effortlessly more capable. Courtesy of a silent firmware download, even most earlier Kindles will now support native display of documents in Adobe’s PDF format. Previously, PDFs had to be converted to the Kindle format first, and built-in support was high on the list of user requests. And owners of the latest model with the global wireless radio get an added bonus. After six months of tinkering with the power management technology, Amazon found a way to increase battery life by 85 percent with wireless turned on. The firmware upgrade means these units will now be able to go for a week between charges with a constant wireless connection and two weeks with wireless turned off.

Waking up to find your gadget instantly improved by an over-the-air download sounds like a pretty good thing, but Stanford law professor Jonathan Zittrain sees a dark lining in the silver cloud — the power that comes with the ability to make changes in a purchased device without explicit permission. “When you can’t easily opt out, it can make everything around you contingent,” he told the Wall Street Journal. A manufacturer could “decide their business model has changed and then say we are not going to support a feature any more.” Which is true — a device maker could use a silent update to make its product less capable, but given the likely consumer reaction, it could only do it once.


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  • That a huge increase! I think battery life and cost are going to make it a tough competitor for the rumored Apple tablet.

  • sd

    “a device maker could use a silent update to make its product less capable, but given the likely consumer reaction, it could only do it once”

    Ya think??? Consider the cat-and-mouse game Apple plays invalidating jailbroken iPhones with each release. Or the numerous one-step-forward-two-steps-back Microsoft “updates”.

    A device maker which “updates” its products to make them less capable may indeed suffer the wrath of a buying public *over time*. But to think that *one* update of that nature would do the trick ignores inertia and the ability/willingness of the users receiving the change to seek alternatives.

  • John Murrell

    Yeah, sd, you’re probably right. Sometimes consumers will take a remarkable amount of abuse before they rebel.


  • Leigh

    Experience with Apple has shown that consumers will accept new and ongoing limitations and not only like them, but defend them.

  • Bruce

    So long as Amazon can download changes to the device without the user’s consent or knowledge, and can unilaterally delete books that are downloaded, I will never own a Kindle. I also worry about Amazon tracking not only my choice of reading material but even how long I spend reading a particular passage. Google has already passed browsing information on users to the federal government and there is every reason to expect Amazon to do the same if has not already done so.

    The only thing George Orwell got wrong was the date – he was 17 years off so pretty closel.

  • Dilly

    Thought you might be interested: Syracuse University, where I’m in grad school, stopped selling the Kindle due to shortcomings in accessibility (for the blind). Seems a little heavy-handed (they still sell books last I checked), but some people are clearly annoyed.

  • dermbuilder

    Bruce, Orwell had one other thing wrong, he thought that the government would be the villan, but it seems that business is even more to be feared!