No matter what Amazon does, there's always going to be a fissure between ebooks and printed editions. One is something you read on a screen through a series of taps, while the other is a collection of paper that you move through with your fingertips.
But the two are becoming more similar, if only slightly, thanks to a Kindle software update being released Tuesday. Called "Page Flip," the new feature allows you to easily (and quickly) browse pages in your ebook without losing your place -- a major convenience for any book that encourages you to reference previous events, characters or terms.
Page Flip essentially does two things: It remembers your current location in a book if you move to a different one, and it allows you to see an overview of several pages at once. That overview includes exact snapshots of the pages, so you'll see visual markers like inline images or highlights you've made. Take a look:
You could essentially scroll through the pages of the book, allowing you to see the content at a glance. And notice the "Back to 35" button -- that's new, and tapping it will bring you back to your previous location.
Here's a video that shows a woman bragging about the feature to a child who's otherwise minding his own business with a paper edition of The Return of the King:
It seems pretty basic, but there hasn't been an intuitive way to do this with any version of the Kindle, which was originally released in 2007. Page Flip will work with actual Kindle ereaders, beginning with the 2013 Paperwhite, in addition to the Android and iOS apps. Once you receive the update, you'll get a message explaining how to use the new features.
The update exemplifies Amazon's continued commitment to making its ebooks feel natural. A recent version of the Kindle ereader has a smaller frame that you can clasp and use with one hand, for example.
You can imagine that some newcomers to ebooks might be compelled to switch from paper if the experience more closely mirrors what they're used to. That means more Kindle ebook sales, which means more money in Amazon's pocket.
Not for nothing, the update also makes the Kindle app more similar to its competitors. Google Play Books on Android already lets you browse through pages and see exact snapshots, for example, but it lacks Page Flip's ability to quickly jump back to your current position:
If you haven't received the Kindle update yet, check back later. Amazon said it will begin "rolling out" to users starting Tuesday morning.