Should Kindle updates be optional?

Should Kindle updates be optional?

There are three long threads right now in the Amazon Kindle community about recent software updates for Kindles:

Announcement Kindle Software Update Version 4.1.0

Announcement New software update for Kindle Touch

Announcement New software update for Kindle Fire

Each one started with an official announcement from Amazon.

They then go on from there with customer posts, and there are some things that you’ll find in all of them:

  • “Thanks, Amazon!”
  • “This sucks!”
  • “How do I get the update?”
  • “I don’t want this! I bought it, I should get to choose.”

I don’t intend any of those to be specific quotations from individuals, by the way, but just representative.

It’s that last one that prompted this post.

For me, there’s no question that each update (and I think it’s great that Amazon does this many updates) brings things that people like and things that people don’t like. Many people don’t like how the wireless on and off function has been buried deeper on the Mindle, for instance. Understood…I can find some positive elements to it, but for most people I think that’s a negative. I also think that Amazon will change it back in a future update.

Given that, it’s the concept that Amazon shouldn’t update your Kindle without asking that intrigues me.

I have a couple of comments about that.

You do own the physical Kindle, in a manner similar to owning a copy of a paperbook. If you want to use it to stick under the leg of your coffee table to keep it from wobbling, Amazon can’t stop you from doing that.

Amazon isn’t forcing you to take the software update because you own a Kindle. If you never connect to Amazon’s servers, you won’t get it. You could have a Kindle, and just sideload Project Gutenberg books on to it, with it deregistered from Amazon. You won’t get the update.

They force you to get the update if you are going to use the Kindle service.

There are some justifiable reasons for that:

  • It’s much easier to provide Customer Service if people have the same version of the software. Customer Service is expensive…one of the significant ongoing expenses after someone buys a device (at least, with good companies)
  • An update may fix a problem, again reducing Customer Service calls. Suppose there was something that randomly deleted a book. If Amazon didn’t do an update that would fix it, they would get tons of calls on that…and have unhappy customers to boot (even if they could fix the deleted book through a Customer Service call)
  • An update may be necessary to meet some requirement of the content providers. One of the most publicly lamented updates allowed publishers to block text-to-speech access to individual e-book titles. Rightsholders were apparently threatening legal action against Amazon if they didn’t allow it, or were certainly complaining about it. Providing TTS was legal…however, my understanding is that it is also legal for the rightsholder to block it (as long as they have at least one edition of each e-book, even if it requires certification of a print disability, that allows it)

Amazon might also just want to do something…like providing a link to Twitter or add more language dictionaries.

Yes, those examples largely benefit Amazon, and if a customer wanted to skip them and still use Amazon, why can’t they?

Well, it’s in the Terms of Service to which customers hypothetically agree that Amazon can do it. In the

Amazon.com Kindle License Agreement and Terms of Use

it says:

“Automatic Updates. In order to keep your Software up-to-date, Amazon may automatically provide your Kindle or Other Device with updates/upgrades to the Software.”

So, no question: Amazon has the right to update your Kindle.

Should they do it without asking your permission in each case, though?

Based on the threads, there are clearly people who think they shouldn’t. I wonder…what if Amazon said you don’t need to take the update, but that they won’t continue to service your Kindle if you don’t? You know, sort of like they let us put third-party apps on our Kindle Fires, but warn us that we are then responsible for any damage those apps might do?

I suspect this poll will go overwhelmingly one way, but I”m curious to see…I don’t like to assume.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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9 Responses to “Should Kindle updates be optional?”

  1. Beth Jesch Says:

    I gave my mom a Kindle and if the updates weren’t automatic she would never get one because she would be overwhelmed with the manual directions. Even if they made it an option on your manage your kindle page it would be hard for her to figure out what to do and where to go (tech challenged).

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Beth!

      That is an excellent point! I wish I’d included it in the post. ;)

      One of the successes of the Kindle has been the reduction of “friction” between the reader and the content. Non-techies wanted to just pick it up and start reading. To have the Kindle ask a question can be jarring…your paperbook doesn’t ask you a question before you can read. :)

      Yes, the Kindles may restart in the middle of a book to do an update (I’ve heard questions about thatJ, but once it is done, you are back to normal (usually).

      Again, wonderful and important point!

  2. Martin Says:

    I would like to know why they haven’t updated the DX to allow for highlighting and note-taking with PDF files. I bought the DX (with its bigger screen) specifically to make reading PDF files easier, but little did I know that they keep the DX in the same category as the 2nd generation kindles. The other 2nd generation Kindles are white, while the DX is graphite-colored and looks like a larger 3rd generation Kindle.

    My regular sized 3rd generation Kindle Keyboard can highlight and take notes in PDFs… but its smaller screen makes PDF reading rather cumbersome.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Martin!

      As you note, the Kindle DX is really a second gen Kindle, in terms of the software. I don’t know, but there may be technical limitations that affect updating it. I know that Amazon has said that for some issues for earlier Kindles. The ability to highlight and take notes in a PDF is probably a challenge to the active memory…I would guess it needs to essentially convert what is close to an image.

      That’s not to say that it couldn’t be due to prioritizing other models, of course. The Kindle DX is the #23 bestseller in electronics in the Kindle store…considerably behind many more recent models.

      My intuition is that we are likely to see another larger screen model (it might be a backlit device) before we see an update for the DX, but I’m just guessing.

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I share Martin’s frustration that Amazon seems to have abandoned the Kindle 1 and the DX. If it weren’t for those of us who were brave enough to take that initial plunge and buy the first Kindle when it was still very expensive and kind of clunky the rest of the family of Kindles would never have been born.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Yes, but in the words of Super Chicken, “You know the job was dangerous when you took it.” ;)

      My understanding is that the Kindle 1 has real hardware limitations, which in turn limits the amount of updates they can put on it.

      This recent post (so you’ve probably seen it) has my attitude about being an early adopter:

      http://ilmk.wordpress.com/2012/06/02/we-are-not-guinea-pigs/

  4. jjhitt Says:

    I could see having an “opt-out” setting so that updates had to be a manually process. I wouldn’t use it, there’s no real long term advantage in using out of date software, even if you don’t like the new changes.

    I’ll chime in too.. the K2 needs an update. Mine has problems dealing with my 11,000 plus titles (mostly freebies) stored in the cloud. I’ve gotten to where I expect it to reboot (at least once) whenever I do a sync.

  5. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I realize that the jog dial places a lot of limitations on what a Kindle 1 can do. You can scroll up and down, but there’s no way to scroll side to side. Still, it would be nice if Amazon gave use some of the larger font sizes on the K1. Surely that would be a software issue. And there are things on the K1 that were abandoned that I’d like to see come back. I wish it were possible to change the battery on a K3. Mine has gotten to the point that I have to recharge it every day. When that happens on a K1, I can just pull off the back and plug in a new battery. I also much prefer the keyboard on a K1. The keys don’t wear off, they are easier to press, and there’s a row of numbers.

  6. Tom Semple Says:

    I think the ideal would be to have updates automatic by default, but provide an option that requires ‘approval’ before applying the update. It should be device/app specific, perhaps controlled on the account’s MYK page. Users may have specific workflows/hacks that may be disrupted by an update, and they need time to evaluate them. Note that on iOS/Android the necessary control is in place.

    Personally I’m always eager to get the updates and usually try to get them as soon as possible. Only rarely have I been disappointed.

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