First of all, what took you so long?
That’s what I might have wanted to ask Mike Torres, Director Product Management for Amazon Kindle, during my conversation with him for this week’s Kindle Chronicles podcast.
Ever since the first Kindle was introduced in 2007, I have heard users pining for a way to move around in an e-book that approximates the ease of flipping through physical pages. Being an early-adopter-fanboy of digital reading, I used to argue that you can easily search for a name or a term in an e-Book, so what’s the big problem?
Deep down, though, I knew the piners—I thought of them as whiners, actually—were right. It was easier to move forward and back in a physical book, to thumb through pages to a place you sort of remembered with your fingers, or by noticing a page with a picture or a graph on it, or a chapter heading.
When Amazon brought Page Flip 1.0 to E Ink Kindles three years ago, it was a decent step toward easier navigation, but it still wasn’t as good as paper. You could move ahead page by page in the Page Flip view and return to where you were, and you could jump ahead by chapters. But it was still a cramped view of the book compared with the mad whirl you could create flipping through real pages.
Now comes Page Flip reimagined. New Page Flip is like the old Page Flip in that you can move left to right or vice versa page by page. The real advance is what Torres calls the bird’s-eye view.
When you click on a little icon for the larger view, nine perfect images of pages in your book show up all at once on you screen. If you highlighted in pink on one and yellow on another, you’ll see the differences if you are reading on a color screen, along with any blue bookmarks you left on the digital pages. If you changed the font to huge or tiny, that’s how it will look in the bird’s-eye view.
“We call them pixel-accurate thumbnails,” Torres told me. “What we do is we make sure the representation of the page as you see it while you’re reading is the same thing you see in Page Flip.”
On a Fire Tablet or an iPad, those bird’s-eye views really pop. I think they’re actually better than the flipping you can do in a paper book, because you can see nine pages at once, then scroll as quickly as you want to get to where you want to be.
When I asked Torres what the toughest obstacle was in reimagining Page Flip, his answer provided a clue as to why it’s taken so long to come this far in digital page navigation.
“The biggest technical challenge,” he said, “is creating a seamless Page Flip reading experience across all of our platforms. Page Flip is available on e-readers, on Fire tablets as well as the Kindle app for iOS and Android.”
It had to be tricky to bring the same navigation metaphor to E Ink Kindles and tablets, and the experience is different. I’d say it’s clearly better on tablets, because color gives you more landmarks to recognize as you go whizzing through the bird’s-eye view. But it’s okay on the black-and-white screens, and a definite improvement from Page Flip 1.0.
Torres has worked at Amazon for three years, joining Team Bezos after 10 years at Microsoft. He said he made the move because he has always been a voracious reader and couldn’t pass up the chance to work on the Kindle.
We talked for a good 20 minutes about Page Flip and finished up with how his young children are reading and a little David Allen shop talk. It turned out that we both use Apple Watch to keep our minds free of next actions that are better stored in the Getting Things Done system. We use Siri to offload stuff by voice to our wrists and thence into the cloud of all digital knowing. Life is good.
Amazon flipped the Page Flip switch on millions of books Tuesday, the day I spoke with Mike Torres. It doesn’t involve a software update that you download from Amazon.com. They just turn it on somehow. And presto! You can zoom around your Kindle book and know you’ll always be able to return to the page you were on when you started.
Now if they can just figure out how to make a Kindle smell like a used-book store or a birch tree, there will be nothing left to pine (or whine) about!