2008-09-09

Let's talk about eBooks and eReaders

I think it's time to air this old bag again. Since the dawn of time, well almost, eInk and eBooks and eReaders (and eSpace) has been mans dream. My friend bought the Sony Reader 500 a while back, and he quickly sold it onwards. It couldn't render PDFs and was slow (if my memory serves). A few days ago I fiddled with the all new to UK Sony Reader 505 and I must admit that I was quite impressed. The screen quality is frankly astonishing. The price isn't too bad either; £200 from official Sony Store. I'd love to have a three device set-up when I travel, or even around the house; Smartphone, eReader and laptop computer. The smartphone for anything I need when on the move; i.e walking, driving, etc. The eReader for when I sit down for a moment (train, airport lounge etc) and for my reference books and as notepad next to my laptop. Laptop obviously for all my computer needs. Where's the beef with the eReaders then..?

Well, for me there's quite a few points where these devices of today fall down. In no particular order:
1) Page changing sucks.
The flickering of the screen is absolutely mind numbingly horrible. Imagine a shot of strobe-lights everytime you change the page. Seizure galore! And it's slow. Bhlergh!
2) Available material
For now, you can get "real books", but I don't read "real books". I read geek books, news and magazines. I've never read a Shakespear book, never a Sherlock Holmes novel, not to mention the Iliad! I want to carry all my geek books with me. I have meters of them. They weigh a lot. This is where the eReader would rock. Carry around 500g of eReader or 6 meters of books..? Easy choice.
3) Connectivity.
If this is going to be like a book, it needs to be able to adapt. Whatever you throw at it, it should render. What I mean by this is that I want it to render news, I don't care what format it is (PDF/HTML etc), but I want it, and I want it universally. I don't want Sony, or any other company to dictate what news I should read. If it's "out there" I want the option to read it. But I also want it to update without wires. The batteries last for hundreds and thousands of page-turns. I don't want to carry a cable to get the latest news to the device. So it has to be able to download the books, news and magazines over the air. I don't need it to be an active web browser. In fact, this could be a bad idea, but let's not dwelve into that now.
4) Price vs. features
For me £200 means it'll be gadget of the month. Any more and I'll have to consider it, any less and I'll buy it "for the hell of it". I will not pay £600 (Iliad et al) for the ability to add notes. If a real book can handle notes and scribbles, the eBook should too. It's as easy as that. Know your competition (paper books in this case).
5) Choice of formats
At the moment you can buy a paper book and get the PDF version of the book. This is good, but eReaders so far don't render PDFs very well. And then there's a bunch of different eBook formats. This is not good. Can't you all just get along and decide on one format. How about HTML with SVG support..?! Some strict dialect? CCS contained within the eReader..?! I don't really care what format, but I do care about the fact that a book that I buy may not be readable on my reader. That sucks. Fix it!

There you have it dear eBook manufacturers. The day I can get my technical geeky books onto a £200 eBook reader that can handle notes, download news feeds over the net, and possibly switch any paper-based magazine subscriptions into electronic ones, then I'll be first in queue to get one.
And one last thing, if you make it splash proof I can read my books in the bath or on the beach. That'd be very cool.

This Plastic Logic one is quite close, but just look at the lag for the page turning and the flashing. Not very pleasant.

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