In Which The Kindle & I Part Company
Kindle, you know how our secret shame-ridden love affair began – years ago, when I first glanced away from my beloved print books. Seduced by the sleek lines of my first reader (a Kobo, sleekish, but it was no iPhone) I began to leave my books behind on the shelf. It was the hardback ‘His Dark Materials’ that caused my divorce. The book was overweight and ungainly, too heavy to hold – and to be frank, terrible in bed.
So I fled into the arms of my bright plastic Kindle. I know it wasn’t great to look at but it had me hooked. I soon discovered my new love was brittle and unresponsive, yet I remained smitten. When it shattered so did my heart, but I drowned my sorrows with a quick replacement, and soon I was hooked into upgrading my beloved every couple of years.
The infatuation turned out to be expensive and tiresome. I got through seven Kindles. For a carry-around object they broken with ridiculous ease. I graduated to the elegant Kindle Oasis and fell in love all over again, except for that afterthought of a cover, which despite being expensive unravelled and picked up dirt. The plastic frame was strong but its weak spot was the bizarrely delicate screen.
Then on Saturday, emerging from a theatre into pouring rain, it slipped away from me. It slipped from beneath my arm (being too wide for a pocket) while I was giving directions to some tourists and smashed to bits – in its protective cover – from a height of about three feet.
I went online to learn how to replace the screen, and it turns out that unlike an Apple product you can’t, not really, and even if you had the right equipment you still can’t because the screens are eggshell fragile – something they don’t warn you about when you buy one. The message was clear; if you break it you’re on your own, pal.
And something else had happened. The newly upgraded iPhones offered a massively improved reading experience on the Kindle app. Dimming the light at night was no problem, holding a phone in bed is easier than the Kindle, and some of the features are actually improvements over the physical device. Some people have a problem reading in columns, but turning the phone on its side allows for a completely normal book-like experience, way better than the Kindle.
As entertainment producers continue to streamline out the middleman hardware, single-use devices are rendered obsolete – and so it proves with the Kindle, which has almost overnight become a toaster (the sole single-purpose gadget sold into every home). Except that Kindles never became an essential purchase, and now this September phones have overtaken them.
We’ll see how it goes, but I like reading text this way (my phone is medium-sized) and the new iPhone 11’s ease of use removes the need for an awkward square of plastic that breaks if you so much as breathe on it. In years to come we may, I suspect, find them beside 8-track cartridge players in charity shops.
So print-book lovers, you were both right and wrong. Right not to switch, but it’s worth trying out the Kindle app on a new iOS.