Amazon copies Oyster’s best feature

December 12, 2015


Amazon is taking one of the best features from Oyster, the book-reading service that shut down in September, and making it available on its Kindle Fire devices.

Much of Oyster’s team joined Google in September to improve that company’s Google Books service. At the time, the company’s co-founders said they planned to “sunset the existing Oyster service over the next several months,” and a note on the service’s website says that particular sun will finally set in January 2016.

In response to that news, I wrote a eulogy for Oyster’s willingness to experiment with new features while competing with Amazon and its control on bookselling. Among the things I would miss the most: A feature that reduced the amount of blue light shown by a device whenever someone wanted to read late in the night.

That’s the feature Amazon is rolling out to its Kindle Fire devices starting today. Amazon is calling the feature Blue Shade, and it’s included in an over-the-air update to the Android-based operating system that powers Amazon’s tablets. (That update, like many software updates nowadays, costs nothing to install.)

“Blue Shade uses specialized filters to limit exposure to blue light. It also offers warm color filters and the ability to lower the display brightness to an ultra-low level for comfortable nighttime reading—even in a dark room,” Amazon said in an emailed statement. “Customers can also fine-tune the color settings to their personal preference, with the device intelligently adjusting the color filtering so that at any color or brightness, the blue wavelength light is always suppressed.”

Tools which limit the amount of blue light cast off by a device are popular. A desktop utility called F.lux has been downloaded a reported 15 million times, and was popular on iOS devices until Apple told its development team to nix the app. Other software tools often include a “night mode” to serve a similar purpose.

“Studies have shown that evening exposure to blue light from tablets may suppress our bodies’ production of melatonin,” Amazon said in its press release, “which can prolong the time it takes to fall asleep, delay REM sleep, and reduce the level of alertness the next morning.” Blue Shade is supposed to fix that issue.

It will be interesting to see when Blue Shade makes its way to other platforms. Despite the popularity of its Kindle Fire tablets during the holiday shopping season, I suspect that the majority of Kindle users read on devices which don’t bear the Seattle-based company’s smiling logo stamped on their plastic chassis.

I asked an Amazon spokesperson whether and when Blue Shade might jump to other platforms but haven’t yet received a response. I’ll update this post if I do.

There are still some issues that might prevent people from reading e-books. Some might oppose Amazon’sbusiness practices; others might fear the loss of comprehension suffered when reading an e-book instead of a physical book; and still others might not be interested in reading a book no matter the form it takes.

But now at least one of the best features introduced by a startup that ultimately failed to take down (or even stand toe-to-toe with) its Goliath won’t be cast aside. Here’s to hoping that features similar to Lumin and Blue Shade make their way to other reading platforms — iBooks, Pocket, Instapaper — in the near future.

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