Canadians get a Kindle surprise

The e-book reader available in Canada isn’t Amazon’s top-of-the-line device

Canadians get a Kindle surprise

As a software developer, Shane McCallum keeps himself abreast of the latest tech trends. As such, he was willing to jump through a few hoops last summer to get his hands on Amazon’s popular Kindle book reader before it was officially made available to Canadians in November. Though he lives in Revelstoke, B.C., McCallum tricked Amazon’s U.S. website into selling him one of the devices by masking his computer’s ISP address and setting up a fake American account. He then had his Kindle shipped to a post office box located a short drive across the border from his parents’ home in Rossland, B.C.

Such are the travails of the early adopter, but McCallum says it was worth it. The “DX” model McCallum bought, with its 9.7-inch screen (the original Kindle has a six-inch screen) and more than double the capacity of the previous generation Kindle, still isn’t available in Canada. An Amazon spokesperson says the earliest it would be available in Canada would be “some time next year.” McCallum bemoans, “After a few years working in the tech industry, you realize that Canada gets these things pretty slowly, if it gets them at all.”

It doesn’t end there. The version of the Kindle available to Canadians comes with a key feature—an “experimental” Web browser—turned off for all websites except Wikipedia.

The Kindle, which allows users to wirelessly download books and read them on a screen that’s easy on the eyes, was launched in the U.S. nearly two years ago and updated earlier this year. In fact, by the time Kindle was made available to Canadians for US$259 plus shipping and import fees, it had already been rolled out in about 100 countries for nearly six weeks, making Canada one of the last places on earth to have access to the device billed by some as the biggest thing to happen to books since the invention of moveable type. It’s a depressingly familiar situation for Canadian gadget fans. Apple’s iPhone didn’t arrive in Canada until a full year after its release in the U.S. And we’re still stuck with regional blackout messages when we try to view, a slick site developed by American television networks to air their content online.

Although Canada often touts itself as a tech-savvy country because of things like broadband Internet access, many Canadians can’t be blamed for feeling like they live in a technology backwater. Most observers blame Canada’s status as a small market for the situation, but there’s evidence that Canadian rules about content may also play a role in delaying the arrival of devices and services.

All of which raises the question for would-be Canadian Kindle owners this Christmas: should you buy one? The answer depends on how badly you value owning the latest and greatest. While the Kindle has won high praise from critics and put e-readers on the digital map, it is now just one of several similarly capable devices on the market, including the Sony Reader Touch, which sells for about $400 in Canada.

Moreover, many experts expect the Kindle will be old news in a few months. Rumours are swirling that Apple will release a touchscreen tablet in the spring of 2010 that would be a mash-up of an iPhone, e-reader and laptop, complete with a colour screen and full Web-browsing capabilities. “The Kindle is a very early, 1.0-version of the technology,” says Kaan Yigit, the president of Solutions Research Group in Toronto. “It’s kind of a one-trick pony in that it doesn’t do anything else well. It just does books.” While that makes sense for Amazon, which is in the book business, it doesn’t necessarily make Kindle an ideal companion for consumers who want more multimedia flexibility, according to Yigit.

The publisher of Sports Illustrated recently released a video online that depicts how the magazine might look on a touchscreen tablet similar to what Apple is believed to be developing. The eye-catching mock-up includes interactive pages that mix printed articles, crisp photos and video, which the Kindle is incapable of handling. The rendering makes the Kindle look overly studious and even somewhat dated with its black and white screen and dozens of tiny buttons.

Still, for many, the Kindle may be the best option, since there’s no guarantee when Apple will launch its tablet. Or, more importantly, when that device will be available in Canada. Of course, there’s always the option of making a clandestine run across the border.

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