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Old 07-25-2010, 07:17 PM   #1
zetareticuli
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PDF Functionality in Kindle

I am not a Kindle developer but I am developer for embedded systems and I have done development for many types of devices. I don't understand what Amazon's problem is with the PDF support in the Kindle e-readers. I mean, the Kindle is now mature enough that it can have a very good PDF viewer. It took me and a colleague of mine at work just 10 days to add amazing PDF on screen support to a proprietary system including reflow, a single-line magnifier, multi-column display, 7 different zoom levels, and other nifty things. All we needed was the framework and the source code of the original platform. Evidently, Amazon has these things for the Kindle e-readers. From a technical standpoint adding kick-ass PDF support and features to the Kindle devices is so simple that the fact their PDF support is so poor is beyond me. Evidently, there must be other reasons other than technical for such poor PDF support.
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Old 07-25-2010, 07:42 PM   #2
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It is not just Amazon. Sony has terrible PDF support on their readers. I'm not sure if any e-Ink reader from any manufacturer has a good PDF rendering engine that works well. Even Acrobat Reader for computers is lackluster IMHO.

PDFs were never meant to be used on readers, they were meant to allow people to exchange copy protected documents designed for printing. For example, if a manufacturer of software wanted to electronically deliver a customer a tamper proof User Guide and did not want them to change it and redistribute the modified document. Or a lawyer wanted to distribute a legal document without worrying about it being modified. Unfortunately, PDFs got repurposed and were soon used in many other ways. Too bad as PDF is a terrible, memory glutten document format. They are not that flexible or usable even on a large computer monitor.

Last edited by jswinden; 07-25-2010 at 07:45 PM.
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Old 07-25-2010, 07:52 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by zetareticuli View Post
I don't understand what Amazon's problem is with the PDF support in the Kindle e-readers.
PDf was developed long before ereaders, and 5"-6" displays, it was intended for native size display and reflows poorly on smaller displays. Blame lies with Adobe and the lack of development since, not with any of the ereaders.
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Old 07-25-2010, 07:52 PM   #4
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I agree. However, now that we have to use them it is unfortunate that these vendors are not putting the resources required to deliver a complete PDF viewer. At least on Windows and Macintosh computers there are applications that offer many more features. While I am not saying port these complex, memory hungry applications to the portable e-readers, at least give them the functionality needed.
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Old 07-25-2010, 09:37 PM   #5
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Amazon want you to buy kindle books, not read PDFs.
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Old 07-25-2010, 10:30 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by markr View Post
Amazon want you to buy kindle books, not read PDFs.
However, everyone else seems to realize that pdf support or the lack of it is a deal breaker for many people. PDF support was the best thing that happened to the kindle, IMHO.
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Old 07-26-2010, 09:04 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jswinden View Post
It is not just Amazon. Sony has terrible PDF support on their readers. I'm not sure if any e-Ink reader from any manufacturer has a good PDF rendering engine that works well. Even Acrobat Reader for computers is lackluster IMHO.

PDFs were never meant to be used on readers, they were meant to allow people to exchange copy protected documents designed for printing. For example, if a manufacturer of software wanted to electronically deliver a customer a tamper proof User Guide and did not want them to change it and redistribute the modified document. Or a lawyer wanted to distribute a legal document without worrying about it being modified. Unfortunately, PDFs got repurposed and were soon used in many other ways. Too bad as PDF is a terrible, memory glutten document format. They are not that flexible or usable even on a large computer monitor.
That's not correct, amazon have by far the worst PDF support, they are intentionally crippling the device, irex has had very good support for them, with the inherent PDF limitations, a long time ago.
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Old 07-26-2010, 09:19 AM   #8
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I am convinced that if Amazon wants their Kindle devices to succeed in the eyes of the technical and academic readers, they are going to have to improve PDF support sooner or later. Even if they have to cut some of their losses on Kindle books. There are not many Kindle books for academics. Most Kindle books are bestsellers, New Age, classics, etc. Only a very small percentage of Kindle formatted books are scientific and engineering books.

Adobe PDF is probably not the best choice for an ebook format. However, almost all academic documents including research papers, scientific journals, engineering, etc, are in PDF. PDF is the dominant format for the scientific and technical. That might change in the future but not today. Today you definitely want and need as good PDF support as possible.
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Old 07-26-2010, 10:27 AM   #9
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I'm glad I'm not the only one concerned about this.
I've just bought the DX Graphite, and while I am quite happy about the screen contrast, I can't help noticing all the problems with PDFs. My primary use is for academic journals; books available in PDF and subscriptions to magazines not sold by Amazon from other countries. While I can appreciate that PDF as a format was not designed with e-readers in mind, I wonder whether there are specific technical limitations blocking Amazon from implementing the following:

- improved rendering of serif fonts (a LOT of fonts used in PDFs look very low-definition on the Kindle, grey instead than black)
- more flexible zoom options (so that I don't have to crop manually most of my documents)
- allowing users to mantain the position of the magnified lens across pages (so you don't need to move it around again, every new page)
- full screen (so to gain 0.5 inch in the screen)
- recognition of landscape-oriented docs (such as slides, so that one doesn't have to manually rotate them before loading them to gain good readability in landscape mode)
- toc (honestly, most of the documents I use don't have it)

I can understand that text reflow can be problematic with magazines and other documents on multiple columns, but by fixing some of the issues above, reflow would become less of an issue

Is any of this hard to implement?
Are there "secret" commands I am missing?

I'd love to work collaboratively on this issue, trying to create a list of needed features, if anyone is interested. Otherwise I might as well return the device and hope someone else comes up with a better support. I really *want* to like the Kindle, by the way!
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Old 07-26-2010, 10:53 AM   #10
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Kindlematic, that is an excellent list of needed PDF features you came up with. Let me ask you, the current Kindle DXG as it is now does not fit your needs? Is it worth buying it for PDF documents? Are you considering returning it solely on the basis of poor PDF support?
I think with the Kindle SDK there is a good chance the PDF viewer can be improved independently from Amazon. I am really not counting on Amazon too much for them to fix PDF functionality. If the SDK is good enough, it could very well be on us to fix it. The list you have come up with is definitely something that can be done fairly easy by Amazon since they have the framework and the source code. I think there is no secret. As others have suggested, Amazon wants you to buy books in Kindle format. If the PDF functionality is awesome, many people who are now buying Kindle books would probably read the PDF version for free. I think there is an obvious financial interest in the poor PDF support.
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Old 07-26-2010, 11:58 AM   #11
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Thanks zetareticuli.
I did not buy the Kindle for buying ebooks from Amazon. My primary interest is:
1. I'm tired of reading from a computer screen and I don't like printing all this paper
2. I have tons of reading I need to do, mostly academic documents and reports published solely in PDF format - meaning: stuff that is not nor will any time soon be sold by Amazon in Kindle format.
3. I also happen to be a subscriber of some publications also available in PDF, and I don't like the idea of printing 100+ pages a week for a magazine.

I am enjoying the screen of the DXG, my first e-reader, and I can see myself downloading some free books and possibly buying some books in the future, but proper PDF support is very important to me. I want to keep it, but I'm worried it will not improve as much as it should. Perhaps with the SDK, but we haven't heard anything since January about it.

I am sure that PDF users are an important target for the DXG, and there is no way Amazon can ignore that. The thing is: I'm sure people would even pay for a better PDF support, because it's such a waste of time, having to optimize single documents all of the time.

By the way: I have tried converting a multi-column PDF file via the free Amazon service, and it does work ok, however most of the 'f' disappear, making the document hard to read..

I would be happy to help you identifying all that needs fixing in terms of PDF on Kindle, and to test anything you might develop...
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Old 07-26-2010, 01:54 PM   #12
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Kindlematic, let me ask you something about the DXG's current PDF support. Is it just good enough to read most technial PDFs? I am considering buying one and I am trying to decide. What is your opinion on that?

As far as better support for PDFs and other neat features, yes, I am willing to put in development time to make improvements and share with the community free of charge. Now, for that we need the SDK to be good and stable enough and to support all the features. We need to sort of "jailbreak it" in a sense. I agree that Amazon cannot ignore that if it plans to reach a broader range of technical users with the DXG. Documents in the scientific world are ruled by PDF.

I don't see any other device right now that has a large screen good enough for PDF and it is eInk. Pocketbook 901 has been announced but it will be a few months. Pocketbook is famous for their excellent PDF support. I am sure that is also going to be on the 901 model.

Last edited by zetareticuli; 07-26-2010 at 01:56 PM.
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Old 07-26-2010, 02:13 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by jswinden View Post
PDFs were never meant to be used on readers, they were meant to allow people to exchange copy protected documents designed for printing.
Copy protection wasn't the goal--universal access was. PDF meant you could send your documents to a copy shop to be printed, and not worry whether they had Pagemaker and the same fonts you had, or the newest version of Wordperfect, or whether their print settings for text files had different margins and scrambled the page numbering you'd carefully added. Kept you from having to deal with how different printers dealt with postscript files.

PDF was made as a print-ready format. It was created for "what the designer set up is what everyone sees, regardless of OS or hardware settings."

It works great for that. (Barring some font embedding issues.) It's always going to be troublesome for reflow and viewing in ways the original creator didn't plan for.
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Old 07-26-2010, 02:44 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by zetareticuli View Post
Kindlematic, let me ask you something about the DXG's current PDF support. Is it just good enough to read most technial PDFs? I am considering buying one and I am trying to decide. What is your opinion on that?
I think it is ok, but it is down to personal preference: perhaps the anti-aliasing of fonts bothers me a lot, but others don't think it's such a big deal. The actual rendering in terms of preserving the original format is very good, and you can increase performance by pre-cropping files so to maximize the screen size.

I'll be very happy to help out when you start development of an enhanced PDF reader. By the way, a few months ago someone posted about progress in installing muPDF on the DX: http://www.mobileread.mobi/forums/sh...ad.php?t=76487
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Old 07-26-2010, 02:48 PM   #15
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A simple point that seems to have been overlooked here: some of the best reading on a Kindle can be done in PDF format (even better than the Kindle format) and it is also true that some of the worst reading can be done in PDF.

It really depends if your PDF document is in the optimal format for a Kindle DX screen. The way forward is to work out how to optimise PDF documents for viewing on a Kindle screen.
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