E-Ink word processing with Amazon Kindle

I love the Amazon Kindle’s E-Ink screen.

It’s gentle on the eyes, reads easily in sunlight, and creates a distraction-free environment for reading. I wondered, then: how can I use the E-Ink screen for writing?

The challenge is that the Kindle doesn’t have any ports for external keyboards. In addition, the device’s operating system is limited and doesn’t offer much opportunity for developers to build applications.

There are some solutions that bring word processing to E-Ink screens. Stand-alone E-Ink monitors are now available, but expensive. Alternatively, Max Ogden has a great tutorial on how to jailbreak the Kindle to SSH into the Raspberry Pi. His hack provides a portable setup for focused coding and writing.

Jailbreaking felt tedious, though, because of sparse and outdated documentation. I wondered if I could instead use the JavaScript-enabled Kindle web browser to display what’s typed on another machine in real-time (a la Collabedit).

The result was Typewriter, a Meteor app that brings distraction-free writing to the Kindle. After firing it up, I point the Kindle’s web browser to the Meteor app’s IP address and port. Because Meteor synchronizes data across clients, what I type into the computer’s browser instantly appears on the Kindle. It actually feels a little magical. The screen is surprisingly responsive to keystrokes, considering network and E-Ink refresh latencies.




Typewriter periodically saves drafts in a backup folder in case I accidentally delete my work. I couldn’t figure out a clever way to display the cursor position, but Typewriter generally works well for writing first drafts. In the future it would be nice to run Typewriter on a Raspberry Pi so I won’t have to keep a Macbook running on the side.

At a broader level, this hack illustrates the power of Kindle’s JavaScript engine. The browser can be a foundation for presenting applications in E-Ink, stretching the boundaries of what’s possible in an otherwise locked-down operating system.

GitHub

Thanks to Charlie Marsh for reviewing an earlier draft of this post.


Productivity ⋅ January 2015