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Reverse Engineer Finds Kindle's Hidden Features

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the under-the-hood dept.

Handhelds 108

bensafrickingenius writes "CNET's Crave site has an interesting article on Amazon's Kindle eBook reader, and the extensive reverse-engineering that fans of the device have accomplished. The site specifically points out the work of Igor Skochinsky at the Reversing Everything website. His work on the Kindle's Root Shell has revealed some fascinating goodies: 'Among the ones uncovered and described on his blog are a basic photo viewer, a minesweeper game, and most interesting, location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position. There also are some basic location-based services that call up a Google Maps view to show where you are and nearby gas stations and restaurants.'"

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Flagged. (5, Funny)

headkase (533448) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910742)

...location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position...

Ok, that's it I'm never buying my "Catcher in the Rye" through Kindle... (Apologies to Mel Gibson).

Re:Flagged. (1, Insightful)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910808)

I'd be much more worried about buying the Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, The Anarchist's Cookbook, or Yertle the Turtle than Cather in the Rye.

Re:Flagged. (2, Funny)

Dun Malg (230075) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910898)

Whoosh!

Re:Flagged. (1)

MBCook (132727) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911044)

I figured it was a movie reference (after all, it said Mel Gibson), but I'll admit I didn't get it. But I responded with some other books that would be more worrying... and Yertle the Turtle. I took a chance.

Re:Flagged. (1)

InvisblePinkUnicorn (1126837) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911134)

It's the only movie where you'll see Mel Gibson portray a character named "Jerry".

Re:Flagged. (2, Insightful)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917282)

Well, Yertle the Turtle is a book full of dangerous ideas, the turtle at the bottom over throws the entire system and topple the king leading to a non hierarchical state where all turtles live free, the final line is undoubtedly an incitement to revolution. It's exactly the sort of thing they don't want you to read.

What the Yertle? (2, Funny)

Facetious (710885) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910908)

Yertle the Turtle? Granted, my knowledge of Seuss has been waning since the first grade, but I don't remember the good Dr. at any of our underground resistance meetings.

Re:Flagged. (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21911076)

Cather in the Rye

Catheter in your Eye?

Catheter in the Rye (0)

smitty_one_each (243267) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912196)

...is certainly more comfortable than the alternatives.

Re:Flagged. (0, Redundant)

weg (196564) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912902)

I'd be much more worried about buying the Communist Manifesto, Mein Kampf, The Anarchist's Cookbook, or Yertle the Turtle than Cather in the Rye.


I don't think it makes much of a difference whether you buy that stuff for your Kindle or you order the (physical) book via Amazon and they ship it to your place.

Your Kindle is watching you (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21910890)

Big Brother knows where you go to read.

Re:Your Kindle is watching you (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21910988)

"Sir, it appears that headkase is holding his underground resistance meetings in the restroom."

Re:Your Kindle is watching you (0, Offtopic)

headkase (533448) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911404)

OMG!!!1!! They;ve located our Secrit HQ!!! Frank, Joe, let's get out of here!!! Frank?? Joe?? Oh yeah, they're just figments.

Hottest Accessories for 2008! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21911438)

The Kindle silicone case w/anti-dust(TM) technology and Faraday Cage

More info (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21910798)

If like me, you don't know what a Kindle is, here's a Wikipedia link [dwarfurl.com] .

Re:More info (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21910854)

dwarfurl != wikipedia.
Generally speaking, dwarfurl = goatse

Dooknot clik - -youll be ROCKROLL'D (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21912354)

whut doo u call a stoopid cat?

-DARFUR!

All these hidden features ... hmm (0)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910844)

Photo's, location?

Where's me tin-foil hat?

Saver? (4, Funny)

ZuluZero (1159015) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910858)

What, no "Don't Panic" screen saver? Who writes these product requirements anyway?

Re:Saver? (1)

Reece400 (584378) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910980)

If you read further, you can load pictures onto the SD Card, and set anything you like as the screensaver :D, very neat.

Re:Saver? (2, Informative)

Idiot with a gun (1081749) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911114)

eInk displays can't have images burnt in (short of physical trauma to the screen), and they only use power when the image changes. So using a screensaver would merely eat up all of your battery life, and not really protect the screen at all.

Re:Saver? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21911252)

But it would look cool. As a big fan of Apple products, that is all that really matters to me.

Re:Saver? (1)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911506)

eInk displays can't have images burnt in (short of physical trauma to the screen), and they only use power when the image changes. So using a screensaver would merely eat up all of your battery life, and not really protect the screen at all.
Dag nabit, I want my green lightning [catb.org] .

Who is ur daddy... (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21910906)

and what does he do?

my names richard kimble!

im a cop u idiot!

Re:Who is ur daddy... (1)

geedra (1009933) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917574)

Hey Dick, I'm Detective John Kimble. Now get out of my soundboard!

Russians Save The Day Again (1)

curmudgeon99 (1040054) | more than 6 years ago | (#21910994)

Well, I must say that, again, we've seen some delightful programming coming out of the former Soviet Union. They just make great programmers there. Bravo to this guy for reverse engineering the Kindle.

Reverse Engineering Finds Kindle Still Useless (-1, Offtopic)

Foofoobar (318279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911054)

And Steve Ballmer is still ugly and bald. Film at 11.

Re:Reverse Engineering Finds Kindle Still Useless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21911162)

That's right. Useless until I can play Duke Nukem Forever on it...they didn't find that, did they?

Nice blog and info! (0, Redundant)

Raineer (1002750) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911062)

I always like to read things like this, it's stuff I am not industrious enough to do myself but certainly enjoy reading :D

instide there is a real printed book (4, Funny)

peter303 (12292) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911122)

With an impressive servo-mechanism to turn the pages and push them real close to the screen class.

Re:instide there is a real printed book (0, Troll)

Storlek (860226) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912600)

Oh come on, that was funny. Mods have no sense of humor today.

(Watch this get -1 Flamebait now.)

Why bother with the Crave article at all? (5, Insightful)

Abcd1234 (188840) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911128)

Honestly, why was it even included in the article posting? It's just a pointless summary of the content present in the original blog postings. 'course, I'm sure they appreciate the additional ad revenue...

Re:Why bother with the Crave article at all? (5, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911564)

This is a problem with the "Blogosphere" in general. The vast majority (not all but certainly most) just echo news from other sources, or worse other blogs. They do not offer any insight, commentary or additional information on top of their source information. It's a crapshoot whether or not they actually write ANYTHING original rather than copy+paste.

The worst is when you have a blog linking to a blog linking to the original info. FFS people...

The net effect is old news gets constantly recycled and real news gets diluted. How many times have you seen a new blog post about something that actually happened months ago? The "9V battery contains AAAA cells" thing stands out as the most recent example for me: here [makezine.com] (2 Jan 2008), here [edn.com] (9 Jan 2007), here [blogspot.com] (3 Jan 2007), here [lifehacker.com] (23 Dec 2006). You have a "story" at LEAST a year old that has been copied verbatim at least four times!

Original here [axecollector.com] (No date) as far as I can tell, since all of the above blogs link to it.

Plus, all of these blogs have comment sections, which make them twice as redundant because the comments themselves also fail to add anything most of the time. If they do you'll never find them because there are so many other palces that run the same "story."

Fight the watering down of information! NEVER link to a blog unless it provides something EXTRA to the news! ALWAYS take a few minutes to get as close to the original source as possible! If you run a blog yourself, work to ADD to articles you link to - personal thoughts, additional information, insightful discussion on the topic at hand - be UNIQUE. That's how you get a readership... by having something worth reading.
=Smidge=

Re:Why bother with the Crave article at all? (1, Funny)

glop (181086) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912228)

Exactly. And Slashdot relies on people like you to write insightful comments that add something to the news however old and repeated it may be ;-)

Re:Why bother with the Crave article at all? (1)

Frozen Void (831218) | more than 6 years ago | (#21913412)

I'm afraid the Information Revolution cannot be stopped.You have to learn to live with the Internet .Information spreading in the blogosphere by copying is a GOOD thing. Resilience to censorship and deletion is much more important then your pathetic
views on originality.

Re:Why bother with the Crave article at all? (4, Insightful)

Smidge204 (605297) | more than 6 years ago | (#21914296)

If you want to duplicate and archive that's fine. But copy and pasting the same shit over and over with a new date is at best a lazy effort to get attention and at worst a dishonest excuse to keep the cobwebs off your otherwise worthless website. I would not criticize anyone for making a deliberate attempt to archive news, even trivial news. The "victories" of the Blogosphere are few and far between, and those victories are credited to that vanishingly small percentage of Blogs that actually do something relevant.

And that is still no excuse for not adding to it. You can copy an article verbatim and still improve it's value by making some addition to it, either as a personal comment, further research into the topic, or a retrospective analysis of the article itself.

The "Information Revolution" is more like an "Information Echo Box" - Plagarism is not revolutionary.
=Smidge=

You want dupicate info (1)

emj (15659) | more than 6 years ago | (#21913692)

It's all about reach, it's the same with newspapers they repost things years after it happens, as long as it's news for their readers. But usually blogs are better because you can actually trace where the source is.

Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (0, Troll)

Belial6 (794905) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911214)

OK, I'll admit that I don't know everything that this device might have been advertised to do, but my understanding is that it is an e-book reader. If that is the case, a built in tracking device that was not disclosed is WAY over the top in unacceptable behavior. Is it even legal to install tracking devices in peoples belongings without their knowledge? At the very least I would consider this stalking. Really, this is tin foil hat stuff. If people started complaining that they were being tracked by this device prior to it being proven it has tracking capabilities, everyone else would have thought the complainer was insane.

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1, Interesting)

argiedot (1035754) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911306)

It's interesting, yes, but not too different from a normal GSM phone. They can triangulate your position with that too to a certain degree, and police have actually used that method to find a dead man whose phone was still on. Then when they got clear they played some other tricks. I think this was in the UK but I cannot dig up the link right now.

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (4, Interesting)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911632)

I think the important thing is that the kindle tracking is a pull, not push system. That is, the kindle unit can triangulate itself, and the firmware has a hidden routine for doing that and then pulling up your location on google maps, but it's not like it's an active tracking signal that anyone can lock onto. For this thing to be used to track someone without their knowledge extra software would have to be installed that constantly relayed to an outside source with the kindles own triangulated position. As a bonus this would likely do bad things to the kindles battery life, so just keep an eye out for sudden drops in battery life following any updates.

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912560)

extra software would have to be installed that constantly relayed to an outside source with the kindles own triangulated position.

<hat material="tinfoil">
Constantly, or on request. You connect to the net and some steganographic message in some metadata (say, whitespaces in http headers) tells it to triangulate its position and send it to the requesting party. Such piece of software could be hidden quite deep in network drivers or such.
</hat>

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1)

phantomfive (622387) | more than 6 years ago | (#21918266)

No, pretty much, when your phone connects to a cell tower, the towers know where you are. If someone wants to track approximately where you are with the Kindle, they can do it (the cell modem they are using draws 3 milliamps when in dormant mode, so watching for drops in battery life won't help much). Now, I don't believe there is an infrastructure set up that records where everyone is at each moment, but you will have to talk to an engineer from one of the carriers to determine that for sure.

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (0)

badboy_tw2002 (524611) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911676)

Sure, they can get you down to a good mile or two radius, but that's because your connected to a phone and its talking to a specific tower. There's nothing special in the box thats tracking you - the mere fact that you're using a cell phone and its talking to a tower is giving away your position. Maybe a lot of people don't know that, but everyone should be aware of the Kindle's wireless capabilities - its one of the selling points!

What the guy discovered is similar to what they just released in the lastest google maps - it exposes a software "GPS" locator that's been in phones for a while now that kind of sort of lets you see where you are. Not super helpful beyond "hey, I just woke up at this strange chicks house and don't know what part of town I'm in". Of course, if you're carrying around a kindle when you go out you probably won't have that issue ;)

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 6 years ago | (#21914482)

Actually they could make this more accurate than GPS but they would have to put expensive atomic clocks into every cell tower. Not going to happen but it could and it would even work inside if you could see three or more cell towers.
What gets me is that this is no worse than your cell phone. If you have a cell phone then it could be tracked by the towers. You really don't need any software on the device.

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1)

IncidentA5 (844618) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912538)

I'd not be surprised if the EULA on the device prohibits removing the tracking feature. Do you really 'own' the device, or are you just being licensed use of the software/firmware?

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1)

osu-neko (2604) | more than 6 years ago | (#21914420)

Um, where does it say it has tracking hardware? The summary implies it has the opposite. (Clue: "Tracking hardware" is something that broadcasts your position to others. This is the opposite of what GPS or other positioning technology does. I fail to see anything in the summary which implies this device has any kind of tracking hardware.)

Re:Tracking Hardware?!?!?! (1)

erikaaboe (89681) | more than 6 years ago | (#21919070)

Not to worry, you are probably already carrying a "tracking device" in your pocket RIGHT NOW! All recent issue mobile phones have location capabilities by triangulating multiple signals off of towers. In the US it is to help 911 services locate people. In Europe, it helps the bad guys look for Jason Bourne. If you stress about it you may be able to navigate the menus and turn that feature off.

"Fiona"? (3, Informative)

autophile (640621) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911280)

A root password of "Fiona"? Wasn't that the name of the girl in Neal Stephenson's novel _The Diamond Age_? The one who was educated by the nanotechnological Primer book?

--Rob

Re:"Fiona"? (4, Interesting)

froon (1160919) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911740)

Nice catch [wikipedia.org] there. Fiona is the daughter of the Primer's developer though, not the main character.

Re:"Fiona"? (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911844)

The fact that they left it that easy, shows that they they knew this was coming and did not care. Cool.

Re:"Fiona"? (1)

mattkime (8466) | more than 6 years ago | (#21913010)

Isn't that also the first name of Fiona Apple?

Annoying pop culture reference or 1337 geek reference - you decide!

Re:"Fiona"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21913724)

Common name in media also,
Shrek
EuroTrip come to mind,

also used throughout porn. Which do you think is the most likely?

Re:"Fiona"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21913506)

Quite possibly Fiona is reference to Shrek's princessly spouse. Beware, she is an undercover ogre (ogress?) and she can beat hackers into pulp!

Re:"Fiona"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21913958)

Max Headroom fans might recall Fiona as the character played by British actress Amanda Pays.

Re:"Fiona"? (1)

Oktober Sunset (838224) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917386)

Hey, isn't the name of every woman named Fiona?

Cellphone CDMA location (5, Informative)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911284)

...location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position

All current CDMA chipsets have location capability, due to E911 requirements for cellphones. They go through all sorts of gyrations to get a fix quickly when starting the GPS from cold (can't leave it running all the time or it would kill the battery), and to get a fix in "difficult" environments like urban canyons. They get a rough location by triangulating on cell towers, determine available satellites, doppler and code phase estimates, then tell the GPS what it should be listening for. Instead of taking several minutes from a cold start, they get a fix in a second or two.

When you get a cellphone the service agreement will say that you agree to be located if you call 911 (read it, it's there). Any other location must be initiated by you, or with your permission, due to privacy issues. I did software for dedicated CDMA location devices and users got a special service agreement from Sprint. It said if you buy and use this thing, you are agreeing to be located.

It's pretty slick.

...laura

Re:Cellphone CDMA location (2, Interesting)

insignificant1 (872511) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912204)

Are they really "triangulating" using cell towers? Or are they doing something like finding a rough area for the phone by which the cell the phone is associated with and which towers can see the phone? So if towers X, Y,and Z can see your phone, but X has strongest signal, you are probably in a certain area and closest to tower X.

Triangulation, technically, is using the angles to a target from two known locations to determine the target's location. I don't know if the base stations have the ability to tell what the angle to a cell phone is; I thought they only had signal strength information.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangulate [wikipedia.org] for more info

Re:Cellphone CDMA location (4, Informative)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912300)

Do a search for "AFLT". They estimate the travel time from multiple cell towers (easy with CDMA) and work from there. They call it triangulation, though it's a lot closer to hyperbolic navigation.

...laura

Re:Cellphone CDMA location (1)

PipsqueakOnAP133 (761720) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917090)

I believe that in addition to AFLT, the Qualcomm chipset used in the Kindle has GPSOne/AGPS built in.
AGPS uses the AFLT to ask the towers to download almanac data to fast-start an actual GPS satellite receiver, or process the fragments received by the satelite to narrow down the location to the same resolution as a standalone GPS, without the startup time and delays.

This means that within a 3 seconds, you'd have a general idea which 1 mile block you're on, within a 7 more seconds, you should have an actual GPS fix. (instead of downloading the ephemeris for 30 seconds and then calculating, which is what a standalone unit would do.)

Re:Cellphone CDMA location (1)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917440)

I believe that in addition to AFLT, the Qualcomm chipset used in the Kindle has GPSOne/AGPS built in. AGPS uses the AFLT to ask the towers to download almanac data to fast-start an actual GPS satellite receiver, or process the fragments received by the satelite to narrow down the location to the same resolution as a standalone GPS, without the startup time and delays.

They all do. gpsOne uses a number of methods to determine location.

If the network can tell the GPS approximately where it is with AFLT, it makes it a lot easier for the GPS to figure out exactly where it is. They work together; it's all part of the same solution. When you program the GPS chipset you tell it what kind of fix you want: AFLT, listen to satellites and do the number crunching locally ("MS-Based"), or listen to satellites and send the data to a remote server for processing ("MS-Assisted"). I've done this in Brew, though I've seen J2ME code to talk to the GPS as well.

The result is extremely robust, like being able to get a location fix from deep inside a parkade, or get a fix when the device is hiding in a storage area inside the vehicle or in a fenderwell (you can imagine who might be interested in that). I've done drive tests with a device in my car's trunk, and with devices hidden in all sorts of places in my van.

...laura

Re:Cellphone CDMA location (2, Interesting)

Tintivilus (88810) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912966)

Are they really "triangulating" using cell towers?... Triangulation, technically, is using the angles to a target from two known locations to determine the target's location.
Actually it's trilateration -- using the distances to three points, rather than the directions. The basic effect is the same and most people don't really care about the gorey details. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trilateration [wikipedia.org]

They're watching you! (3, Funny)

foo fighter (151863) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911346)

OMG, Amazon is tracking Kindle users' physical locations via GPS!

It seems there is a location capability (GPS?) in the CDMA module. I cannot check it as I'm not in USA but the following shortcuts are programmed inside the browser.
Alt-1 show current location in google maps
Alt-2 find gas station nearby
Alt-3 find restaurants nearby
Alt-4 request department of homeland security respond to current location to investigate suspicious brown-skinned person
Alt-5 find custom keyword nearby
Alt-D dump debug info to the log and toggle highlight default item
Alt-Z toggle zone drawing and show log

Re:They're watching you! (2, Funny)

SQLGuru (980662) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911994)

OMG, Amazon is tracking Kindle users' physical locations via GPS!
Yep, all four of them!

Layne

Re:They're watching you! (1)

Slashcrap (869349) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917656)

OMG, Amazon is tracking Kindle users' physical locations via GPS!
User's current location: Bent over a barrel and being anally violated by DRM.

eBook readers are all wrong (4, Interesting)

charlie763 (529636) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911396)

Okay, I's like to explain what makes ebook readers so bad and what needs to be done to fix them. Most Slashdotters will recall the days of the internet appliance (remember the i-opener?). What made them so bad is exactly what makes ebook readers so bad: they are only slightly less costly than computers, but are not nearly as useful. The internet appliances were essentially full computers with low specs because they only needed to browse the web. This made them almost as expensive as real computers. Their functionality was limited. They were proprietary and one had to purchase a service plan from a specific vendor. Now we see the same thing happening with ebook readers. They are as complex as computers and are just as expensive. They have limited functionality. They are proprietary. Here is the device I would like to see. A Bluetooth/USB ePaper display. Let a person's smart phone, computer render everything and tell the display what to do. The display wouldn't have to implement all sorts of complex file formats, the external device will take care of it. A display like this could be useful beyond ebooks. You might want one sitting next to your desk or in the server room displaying information. You might attach a keyboard to it with extra battery power and processing power. Maybe a bluetooth keyboard with extra battery power for charging your smart phone and ePaper display, allowing your smart phone to handle all the processing. The main point is that someone needs to produce a simple ePaper display around which others may innovate.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

i.r.id10t (595143) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911476)

Except the iOpener was $100 (plus monthly subscription) and a "cheap" Dell at the time was still over $1000... and the iOpener was extremely useful, esp. once the hardware hacks were documented.

Like an LCD Monitor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21911684)

Like an LCD Monitor?

Re:Like an LCD Monitor? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21913244)

No, like a small ePaper display with a simple universal wireless interface (perhaps nonwireless, but preferred).

In short, exactly like he said, and nothing like what you said.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (5, Funny)

ubuwalker31 (1009137) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911766)

<i>Okay, I's like to explain what makes ebook readers so bad and what needs to be done to fix them.</i>
<p>
Thanks to that first sentence, I read the rest of your insightful comment with a really freakin annoying Jar Jar Binks voice.
<p>
Thanks

PS
Meesa gonna upmod yousa comment, since Isa hava mod points...

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21912606)

dumbass ...

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

charlie763 (529636) | more than 6 years ago | (#21917380)

I's gunna proof read nxt time.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (2, Insightful)

orclevegam (940336) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911920)

Except you've totally missed the point. Why bother with e-Ink in a fixed location like a server room? If you have access to a computer you don't need an e-ink display, and even more so if you have a regular power supply nearby. The beauty of e-Ink is that it's incredibly low power, high contrast, and portable. The drawback is that it's got a really slow refresh rate, so it's poor for interactive or animated content. None of that fits well with a smart phone or computer (well, maybe for reading e-mail on the smart phone, but who wants to carry a smart phone which is already chunky enough in addition to an e-Ink panel). The reason eReaders are useful is because they're more portable (relative to data density) than a normal book, have search capability (or at least they should by now), and don't require any of the bulk or infrastructure more traditional devices require.

Now, I'll agree a simple ePaper display would be cool, but ultimately it would only be useful after others built devices around it, which coincidentally happens to be exactly what's happening now. I mean, you can go and order eInk displays from OEMs if you know who to talk to, but they're really aren't particularly useful without some sort of data bus to back them. Know what happens when you make a bluetooth display without any other functionality? You end up with the palm folio. See what happened to that.

Actually, they are aimed at the wrong market (2, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911940)

The market that can use these devices is any area where manuals must be referenced or should be referenced throughout the day. Think car repair. No way can anyone know everything about any car out there. Build a more sturdy form of these machines (grease/solvent/drop resistant) and let it load books on the fly from a local server. Instead of having to have bulky stations fixed throughout the center, let alone paper manuals or such, they can now follow the worker...

e-books need a business use first, then after people get used to using them at work they will want that functionality at home and that is when the sales will take off.

Besides, ironing out usage issues in a business environment is much better than a consumer market where control isn't available.

Re:Actually, they are aimed at the wrong market (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21914958)

I worked for years as a mechanic. We used microfiche readers at the time. Fast access. Very durable.

Now, the manufacturers put everything out on CDROM which is updated quarterly on a subscription basis. Fast Access, fairly durable if you choose the right display technology.

The current E-ink display is not large enough for exploded assembly views. When they get up to a 12in diagonal, maybe. Even our old fiche readers where equivalent to a 20" display. And they had tactile feedback on the scroll and pan!

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (2, Informative)

ASBands (1087159) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912070)

A Bluetooth/USB ePaper display. Let a person's smart phone, computer render everything and tell the display what to do.

A bluetooth monitor? Bluetooth can transmit at up to 2.1 Mbit/s. DVI can transmit 3.7 Gbit/s in single-link mode and 7.4 Gbit/s in dual-link mode. A 320x240 @ 24bpp would ideally take .9 seconds, but could easily take 5 seconds to fill the screen. And that is a tiny screen. 320x240 @ 8bpp would still ideally take .3 seconds. At a more standard resolution (1280x1024 @ 8bpp), a simple screen fill would ideally take 5 seconds and could easily stretch to 30. Granted, one could try to fix this problem by using a compression algorithm on the data, but PNG and JPEG aren't effective enough to fix the problem (especially in larger displays). USB would help, but it's still only 480 Mbit/s (I don't feel like doing the calculations again).

Not to say the idea is entirely without merit. A worker in a server farm could load a problem ticket (@ 1 bpp?) onto his monitor and walk off with the ticket. There might be a few specialized applications for this, but everything involves writing some sort of specialized "painting" system, which goes against the basic idea of a monitor-only system.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912762)

Current eInk displays have a resolution of about 1024x768 in 16 shades of grey and take around 0.9 seconds to update. 16 shades of grey requires 4 bits per pixel, giving a total of 3,145,728 bits per frame. At their maximum refresh rate the displays can handle, that means 3,495,253.33 bits per second. To squeeze that through a 2.1Mb/s bluetooth connection you'd need a 1.66:1 compression ratio which is pretty trivial with lossless compression for most images. More realistically, you'd want to run something like an X11 or display postscript server on it and just send vector commands.

I was running half a dozen X11 terminals over a shared 10Mbit link years ago, and for everything except Netscape (which used a lot of bitmaps for the UI) they were fast and responsive.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

ZorbaTHut (126196) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912882)

Microsoft's RDP protocol, with 300kbit upstream, is quite responsive (as long as you aren't trying to display heavy graphical images). I've heard that it's better than old-style X, but there are better open-source equivalents that are being worked on.

The one problem with this is that as the protocol gets more and more complex, the horsepower needed on the clientside gets larger and larger - and eventually you end up sitting there thinking "why didn't we just put an OS on this thing in the first place".

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

Mr. Underbridge (666784) | more than 6 years ago | (#21913838)

One additional possible application is a driver that only updates changed pixels, for applications in which most of the screen doesn't change between paints.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21913142)

Old Slashdot Proverb read: Opinion with no paragraphs not worth reading.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

SharpFang (651121) | more than 6 years ago | (#21913202)

No.

No external appliances to render the screen data.

First, you need an expensive smart phone or even more expensive laptop to have it working.
Second, battery life of the display would be moot, the laptop/phone would die hours earlier.
Third, you'd waste lots of battery life of the device on transmission.

I don't agree with any external device to render the contents. The reader, in 'reading mode' should be totally self-contained and portable. It can (and should) depend on a number of external devices for upload, conversion, purchase of books etc, but no external devices for actually -using- it please.

The way I see it, the reader contains:
* e-ink display
* SD card reader
* a microcontroller for display, keys etc,
* a postscript rendering chip
* standard batteries, preferably AAA.
* rugged case with plain keys for interface.
It would be neat if it opened like a book, providing two pages of display, protecting the screen from scratching and halving the size when not in use.

The cost is low. SD cards currently provide the best price per gigabyte of flash storage, and you're not limited with internal storage - want to carry 200GB of books with you? Buy a handful of the cards, swap as needed. Plus being a standard, spare space can be used for whatever else you want, phonebook for your phone, camera, mp3 player. Just swap the card. And as removable media, it removes necessity for ANY other interfaces. No USB, no Bluetooth, no extra sockets, no drivers needed.

Why Postscript? Because hardware to render it is 30 years old. It can be the same chip that is used in printers. Conversion to Postscript from mostly everything else is as easy as checking "print to file". It's feature-rich, mature, and has quite low requirements (6MB SIMM memory?)

Standard batteries because you can buy a bunch of accumulators and keep them charged with external charger, never worry about expensive proprietary replacements, and as technology progresses, just buy ones of higher capacity.

Keys, because they are cheap. touch-screen is fancy and cool but it costs a lot. And keys are just as good for the particular purpose. And a case that will withstand as much abuse as a hardcover book can.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

Dare nMc (468959) | more than 6 years ago | (#21915724)

even just making the Kindle show up as a USB printer, would be perfect for me, Ctrl+P away goes my current browsing for offline/sideline useage.

Rest of your points are valid, but..

Second, battery life of the display would be moot, the laptop/phone would die hours earlier.
Third, you'd waste lots of battery life of the device on transmission.

1)suggestion was make it a USB device, that would eliminate any power load on the display, if completely USB powered display, means 2 displays, one plug in at the airport...
2) Most laptops can run all day if the screen is shutoff, and minimal hard drive use. More to the point is, when using a laptop for work their is very little of the screen that I need active. IE I will have mostly static reference materials, and graphs of data. Then I will have a window that I compose my report/notes/program in.
I can't fit this on a 2#, 9" Asus eee PC. so I lug around a 19" Laptop everywhere I go (that screen probably requires 4* the battery of a 9" also.) If properly supported By apps, and the OS, that external display would be perfect, probably more since it is tougher and lighter than current stand alone LCD, than the low power aspect.

It would be good (as you pointed out) to have it store a good chunk of data. So one could start out using it as a auxiliary display, then dump the entire manual to this display, close the lid on my laptop while reading web pages, with page up/down keys...

Also I would want a attachment device so it can be attached to the 9" Laptop, not juggling 2 screens while in use.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21914100)

You've identified what you're troubled by - Kindle's like the old internet appliances and what's wrong with that - and what you'd like to see. I want to comment only on the first part.

I disagree that ebook readers are bad because they cost only slightly less than computers but do so much less.

The Kindle, like the 16GB iPod touch, both go for $399 - but so does one incarnation of the ASUS eee PC via quick search on Amazon. I'd have to believe that the eeePC does WAY more than either of the other two, but no one's going to give up their iPod touch for an eeePC because of form factor, ease of use and convenience for the specific use intended.

I've been noticing what some users have posted about how much they love their Kindles, so by extension, I would no more imagine them giving up their Kindle than an iPod user would give up their favorite device.

While there's some merit in what you say, remember that the internet appliance - by gaining market feedback (even if negative) - shaped other products and services and now it's easier than ever to get an all-in-one *something* that mom&pop can use to get a simple job done.

The Kindle may very well have many flaws - vendor tie-in, software limitations, use limitations, strict targeting, high price - but those same factors haven't hindered the iPhone very much in the market (despite what many may dislike about the iPhone, its market acceptance and happy users are undeniable).

I'm hoping that the Kindle excitement will help guide suppliers to innovate further in this field.

Very old slashdotters will also recall this old ubiquitous joke - "In addition to our new software X doing A, B and C, naturally we were able to embed an ftp client in it as everybody needs one and you can't have too many ftp clients at your fingertips." Expecting an ebook reader to do too much more sounds like that to me.....

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

johnlcallaway (165670) | more than 6 years ago | (#21916482)

I used to download and read books on my Sony Treo. Especially the free ones, I had a huge library of text that was perfectly legible in most areas so I could turn off the backlight and read for hours. It was small enough I could carry it in my pocket, and was useful enough that I could justify taking it with me everywhere iPhone/Google phone ... you paying attention???? Too bad I carried it around in my pocket ... eventually bent it slightly and it would reset all the time.

Re:eBook readers are all wrong (1)

solitas (916005) | more than 6 years ago | (#21919010)

Here is the device I would like to see.

The device _I_ would like to see would be along the lines of a $59.99-$79.99 DVD player with a 6" diagonal screen (like I can buy now) that could read TXTs and RTFs and PDFs off of a CD. I, probably like many others, don't need to be able to USB-load everything interactively onto a device but can do perfectly well with carrying one or two CDs, CD-R/Ws, DVDs, etc. with LOTS of books on them. The storage is cheap and long-lasting and swappable/tradeable.

Give the device a USB port so I can hook up a pointing/scrolling device and I'll be happy (and it'll take the physical load off the hardware's buttons).

Presently, a cheap DVD reader can do a lot more than an expensive e-book reader - and I think that sucks.

bad feature (-1, Flamebait)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911464)

If I'm reading, I don't care where I am and I'm probably not going anywhere so location sensing seems like a pretty useless feature to add in since it would drive the cost up for no reason. Unless of course they wanna spy on their customers

Re:bad feature (2, Informative)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911720)

It is probably in the CDMA chipset anyway, since it's required by law to be included in phones. It probably would have cost them a lot more to build the device without the position sensing capability.

Re:bad feature (1)

ILuvRamen (1026668) | more than 6 years ago | (#21911862)

you mean this thing's a phone too? (I haven't read much about it)

Re:bad feature (1)

ivan256 (17499) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912172)

It connects to a cellular telephone network to allow download of books and newspapers over the internet wirelessly. I don't think you can use it to make phone calls, but it's got all the chips in it you would need for it to be a phone too.

Re:bad feature (1)

GryMor (88799) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912408)

No phone calls, but it does have a web browser under experimental features... Just tried the shortcut, and google maps is coming up (nice way to get my current location at least), but I'm not getting an actual map. All I get is the google topnav, a little location arrow and my latitude/longitude over the text 'Make this my default location', the map itself just displays 'Loading...'

Likely it's a limitation in the internal browser, something that may get fixed in the future, at which point, I would expect the google maps shortcut to be documented.

Re:bad feature (1)

GryMor (88799) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912624)

I was wrong, google maps does work, you just have to turn javascript off... And now that I can actually see the map, it's figuring my location within 6 blocks of where I actually am. Could be because I'm inside, I'll have to test some more outside.

So they can track you... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21911686)

When you buy the "wrong" books from amazon?

Is it just me, or is this another reason to not have devices attached to a network all the time?

Another good Reason To Stay With Traditional Books (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21912028)

At least my books don't secretly track my position. I mean really, this is way over the top.

...location technology that uses the Kindle's CDMA networking to pinpoint its position.

FUCK? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21912202)

Imp7ementation to and enj0y all the by the politickers Future. The hand right now. I tried,

I don't believe it (1)

afabbro (33948) | more than 6 years ago | (#21912698)

that fans of the device

From what I've seen, there's only one fan of this device, and his name is Jeff Bezos.

How do you become a Reverse Engineer? (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21913428)

Whats the name of this guy? Is he always driving in reverse? Walking in reverse? How, what and why would one become a Reverse Engineer?

The best use for a kindle (1)

cmdr_tofu (826352) | more than 6 years ago | (#21913784)

Is documented in Berke Breathed's latest comic:
http://www.comics.com/wash/opus/archive/opus-20071230.html [comics.com]

Nope... (2, Informative)

Junta (36770) | more than 6 years ago | (#21914766)

Seeing as how the Kindle doesn't even have a backlight, it wouldn't help with that.

One justification for location sensing (2, Insightful)

earlymon (1116185) | more than 6 years ago | (#21914172)

Personally, I wouldn't mind if there was a way to track lost or stolen items - especially if they contained any sort of account information whatsoever.
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