Wall Street Journal Kindle Fire Edition

Update 1/28/2012: They (WSJ) have provided a software update - latest is now - before was You can check your current version from settings | More | applications | WSJ.

You can update by starting from home screen, going to "Apps", then "Store", then Bottom Menu, then "My Apps", then "Update Available" then on WSJ hit "Update".  Before this update the app would often freeze. Now it is working as it should, with articles loading crisply, and no problems with downloading the whole paper each morning.

I recently got one of the first Kindle Fires. At $200 I figured the price was right, and while I can read Kindle books and my Wall Street Journal from my Android phone, the (phone) screen is small, not to mention battery life is a problem. Furthermore, I figured I could make the Kindle Fire pay for itself, as the difference between the WSJ print edition and the online only edition over the course of one year is --- $200 (regular prices here, not promotional intro offers).

So when the Kindle Fire arrived there were several disappointments and some wins. The disappointments were basically

  1. It's a bit slow and a bit clunky. Web pages can take a while to load. Some times when you hit a link or an app icon nothing happens and you have to mash it again. Not as crisp as an Android phone. 
  2. Battery life is mediocre at best. More than a day's worth of reasonable use but not much more than that.
  3. Maybe this is obvious in retrospect but you don't have the universe of Android Apps available to you - the apps have to be written specifically for the Kindle Fire.
  4. There was no WSJ app (that is until yesterday). You could read the WSJ via the browser, which meant that you could access lots of content, but it required that you constantly re-size the screen and that you're essentially streaming the content - there is no way to cache the content on the device from the browser.
The upside is that the display is quite vivid with good resolution and for me, at least, once you've decided which content you're going to consume (book, newspaper, magazine - haven't done much with music or movies yet) the experience is quite compelling.

At first the rumor was that the Kindle Fire WSJ app would be coming out Thanksgiving week, and then that was pushed back to the week after Thanksgiving which was this week just gone by. Somewhere around 5PM on the Friday word hit Twitter that the app was available.

I've been using it now for about 12 hours and I can say that while it's sure to get better, it's pretty darn good already. The app downloads and caches some number of past issues on your device (don't know the exact number yet or whether it's configurable or whether they just remain until manually deleted.

They've managed to impressively maintain a lot of the look and feel of the print edition - much more so than the WSJ app for Android phones. It's hard to explain what I mean here and there needs to be a simple word to describe what I'm talking about. It's the notion that reading a physical newspaper is a more complex activity than it might appear at first glance. I think it's a notion of multiscale as well as a notion of rich contextual hyper links. There are times when you're deep in an article and you're aware of nothing else. But there are other times when you're scanning the page and looking for what to read next. And then there is the idea of how to present associated content like photos, charts, film clips etc. A rich newspaper reading experience is emphatically not just a collection of articles - it's a way to experience content at multiple scales and seamlessly go from an article to a cartoon to an editorial to a photo to another article - then grab another cup of coffee and go back to your previous article. I think ideas of how to do this in the tablet space will continue to evolve over time.

While they don't have everything in the Kindle Fire Edition they have an impressive amount. For example, I never could find Letters to the Editor in the phone app - they're there in the Kindle Fire app in the Opinions section.  They could have (and possibly in the future will) integrate the interactive online content - commenting on articles by the WSJ "community" but from what I can tell that hasn't happened just yet. You can do that from a browser but not from the app.

So all in all it's a fine effort from the WSJ folks with perhaps the promise of improvements and enhancements to follow. Finally I have to say that the idea of getting the newspaper dropped off at the front door every morning is a quaint one, but I really think one which is going the way of the milkman, the iceman or full service gasoline stations. It just feels more efficient to get my content from the ether then to have the guy or gal drive by in their car before I get up and toss some newsprint on my driveway, then lug same to and from work every day only to finish up by tossing it in the recycle bin.


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