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Old 01-01-2005, 05:42 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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New battleground for 2005: the e-book

Times Online has published an interesting article hinting that reading e-books on dedicated e-book devices could be ready for mainstream in 2005.

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There is already a healthy market for written material that can be downloaded on to a handheld computer or a mobile phone, but even the most die-hard geek will admit that back-lit liquid crystal screens are a strain on the eye, and the battery power needed to read an entire book is vast.
The article mentions two dedicated e-book readers: Sony's Librie and Matsushita's latest version of the Sigma Book, both of which require energy only when a book page is being turned (the Librie uses E-Ink technology, the Sigma Book uses Kent' Cholesteric technology).
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Old 01-01-2005, 10:19 AM   #2
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Short "comment" version:
IMHO, 2006 or 2007 is more likey to be the year.

Long "essay" version:
I think we have _almost_ reached the point in the evolution of human-vs.-computer society that this may begin to happen. I don't think, though, that anything truely "mainstream" will happen this year although what proves later to be the first mainstream entry may begin its life in 2005.

Apple has succeded in making portable audio mainstream _almost_. It is mainstream within the limits of that portion of the population that are heavy computer users and has made usage practicle for those that are only, what I term, "software only skilled", that is those that are the equivalent of a driver that can drive a car well but have no idea how to fix one. They can fill the gas tank and load/unload the truck after a grocery trip but anything else requires a trip to the repairman.

eBooks become "mainstream" only when devices and services are on the market to allow similar non-techy usage. As long as the user must be aware of the aspects of differing file formats with any more detail than they now about different ice cream flavors (like chocolate/dislike strawberry = can use Mobipocket/can't use LIT ...) and need to own and use format converters eBooks will be outside of true mainstream society and religated to the computer nerd world.

Apple has proven that there is the possiblity that a publisher can make this happen. For audio, its taking (present tense because I don't feel the expansion into mainstream is quite done yet) a company in the position to be both publisher and hardware innovator. There isn't any company out there, or at least visible at present, that is in the position to do this with eBooks; a partnership will be necessary.

One problem hindering the successful move to mainstream is the extreme difficulty companies have in successfully balancing their craving to be everything to every customer (read: greed) and the limitations of current (including that seen in prototype) hardware. There aren't any displays, even publicly shown in prototype, that can do it all extremely well although a few are close.

The current expansion of the eAudio market (iPod, et. al.) into the eVideo market it in its very early stages. We are beginning to see some early precursors to what will probably be truely successful mass markets devices. The dispalys for these _DEMAND_ color and high speed refresh while not making much demand for resolution. Current PDA displays can match broadcast TV and sub-notebooks match digital HDTV with ease.

eBooks, on the other hand, want the characteristics of the Electronic Ink class of display. Slow refresh is fine, but extremely hirez and very low power demand are essential.

Those publishing media traditionally (print, DVD, CD, broadcast/cable, ...) make the most money from video and audio. Print is becoming an "almost ran". Any 2005 product that is significantly better for eBooks that what we had in 2004 will be limited to eBooks and audio books.

I think the big money, this year, will push toward apeing the iPod success with video products rather than eBooks though, personally, I long for a boom marked in ePublishing. I don't watch TV anymore (no broadcast TV out here I'm closer to Cuba than mainland USA, and I don't have cable) and I read 3-5 books for every movie (theater or DVD) that I see.

I'm happy enough with the state of eBooks as they are, but I have the skills to find and convert a more than adequate range of literature (there is no hope of living long enough to read all of the books at Project Gutenberg that I want to read much less any newer works). Prior to moving largely to eBooks, my reading was rarely things you could find more than one copy of at a Walden Books or Bookstop class of chain store if they had it at all. The current commercial eBook distribution rarely offers much that I want to read.
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Old 01-01-2005, 10:20 AM   #3
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This Get's You Thinking About Futuristic Things!

Exciting news every time we hear about getting closer to mainstream acceptance.

But I have a theory... Exploding ebook production, lower prices, and general acceptance won't come on the current path. Barring a spectacular piece of hardware by a famous maker and lots of advertising, I expect ebook adoption to continue fairly slowly as a ground swell from the hobby/techie crowd and pass by word of mouth.

The giant leap will probably come when important niche markets create instant demand.... say an educational supplier packages something really nice for schools to integrate into curriculum in a way that provides cost benefit, simplicity and answers all the support and how-to questions for the schools.

Same idea for corporate users, for manual replacements and intranet content on the go. I suspect that we will see either bluetooth phone connectivity or docking stations or built-in smartphones along with e-book reader hardware. That will mean that a company can get current into into the hands of field personel efficiently. And it should be easier to use than a laptop for those that only need read-only kinds of devices.

Two-way devices will probably fall into the tablet pc or laptop category, so ebook readers won't exactly take over the world, but there's a lot of smart people out there who can find even better ideas and make them work now that the technology is close. There's a lot of money to be made, and a lot of benefits to be gained.

If nothing else, just think of how many bookshelves there are out there. I have hundreds of physical books myself, and I look forward to a day (probably after I'm dead and gone, though) when all this content is in electronic form.

Instead of all those shelves of books, imagine a vsingle shelf of ereader devices in each home. One for novels, one for newspapers, one for cooking, etc. And when doing research, why not a bunch of devices used all at once to emulate a deskfull of books and journals spread out for study.

Or even better, how about when desk surfaces themselves are ebook displays and the surface can display all that content in whatever style you desire.

And then continuing the futuristic thoughts, maybe even 3-D holographic ebooks that hover in the air before you, but look just as solid and real as the old fasioned book. No tired arms from holding it up!

Or the displays might be used as a sort of private command center display that you interact with... Kind of like that movie. Can't think of the name, but I think it was with that guy from Top Gun. He has all these screens up on displays all over the room and is speaking and pointing and waving this way and that to get just the right material displayed on command to solve some crime!

Whether these ideas are on the right track or not, there's good stuff coming!
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Old 01-01-2005, 02:49 PM   #4
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Agreed, we are still a ways off from the watershed event, though these happen without much warning (tsunamis come to mind ... ). Something will need to satisfy an already existing need to make the jump. Things like Dan Bricklin's VisiCalc and all the similar applications, through Apple's online media store that makes the iPod a success, that trigger a large demand.

Still, I think we may see the birth of such an event this year or next, but may not recognize it at first (like the poor souls who saw the seas recede prior to the tsunamis and didn't realize the need to run, that such events always mean the impending arrival of massive waves.)

Quote:
Originally Posted by BobR
Or even better, how about when desk surfaces themselves are ebook displays and the surface can display all that content in whatever style you desire.

And then continuing the futuristic thoughts, ...
futuristic = 1930's. Read "As We May Think" by Vannemar Bush (attached) to see how old this idea is. BTW, Bush is the inventor of the concept of hyperlinked text and this is the original popular press article from the mid-40's where he discusses what are now Web Browsers, eBooks, and electronic reference materials with full text search.

Quote:
Originally Posted by BobR
... Kind of like that movie. Can't think of the name, but I think it was with that guy from Top Gun. He has all these screens up on displays all over the room...
"Minority Report"
Attached Files
File Type: pdb AsWeMayThink-VBush.pdb (26.1 KB, 257 views)
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Old 01-01-2005, 03:06 PM   #5
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Dwig, All good points. Actually, my post was a response to the original posting and didn't see your comment until later. But it seems like we were on nearby wavelengths.

I especially think your observation about making things work for the average non-techie is important. People have to really really want to do something before they will even go so far as what people do for iPods. I don't think there's that natural drive for ebooks, so someone is going to have to figure out how to make it really simple.

Yes, that's right... Minority Report was it!

But the trick with the desk display is not to think of it. It's to make it real. Hope someone figures that out. Right now I think computer displays built into desks for people like tv news reporters is about as fars as its gone so far.
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Old 01-01-2005, 05:39 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by dwig
Read "As We May Think" by Vannemar Bush (attached) to see how old this idea is. BTW, Bush is the inventor of the concept of hyperlinked text and this is the original popular press article from the mid-40's where he discusses what are now Web Browsers, eBooks, and electronic reference materials with full text search.
I have this work as well, in a much cleaner HTML'ized version (care of our human eyes + conversion tools, with a nice pic of Vannevar Bush) in Plucker format. Screenshots are also attached, for the curious.
Attached Thumbnails
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Old 01-02-2005, 07:45 AM   #7
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Quote:
how to make it really simple.
This is a major part of the key.

1. Buying an ebook, downloading and then synching to a reader has to be as easy as buying music on iTunes and loading it on an iPod.

2. Choice of cheap, usable hardware ebook readers. They need to have a choice of sizes, screen sizes and styles - but all having fairly standard easy controls. Price needs to start at no more than $35 - $50 for a reader with an unambiguously good reading screen. $400 readers are not a mainstream product.

3. Reasonable DRM policy. This was another key to iPod acceptance. I don't want to feel like I'm being treated like a criminal when I buy an ebook. I'm the customer and I want to feel I'm getting value for my money. I should be able to have more than one hardware reader and I should be able to IR beam even a DRM'd ebook from one reader to another so long as both readers are registered to me, (eg. I might have an E-Ink display reader which is not backlit and a smaller PDA sized reader for carrying that perhaps also has a backlit screen for reading in bed). I should not be tied to just one reader.

4. Electronic format. I should not have to worry about this at all. My ebook should be readable on a reader by Sony, Samsung, Phillips etc. Same thing with ebooksellers - if buying a Sony ebook reader means I can only buy ebooks from the Sony ebook store the public will not go for it.


We are getting closer on several fronts but all the elements need to come together for ebooks to really take off with the mainstream.

Last edited by Brad; 01-02-2005 at 10:09 AM. Reason: typo
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Old 01-02-2005, 08:50 AM   #8
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Hacker,

Thanks for the additional version of the essay and for the correct spelling of Mr. Bush's uncommon first name. I posted a plain vanilla PalmDOC so it could reach the widest audience.

Its a highly recommended read for anyone interested in eBooks and, IMHO, a _mandatory_ read for anyone wishing to comment on the state of eBooks, the Web, or electonic libraries of any kind. You can't judge accurately where we are going without knowing where we've been and how we got to where we are today.

Many things are invented "before their time" and its a big loss to everyone when they are forgotten before they can be applied. EBooks, like Holograms and Geostationary Communications Satelites, were invented before there was the technonlogy to actually make them work. All three were invented decades before the supporting technology was there and, fortunately for everyone, they were not forgotten.
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Old 01-02-2005, 09:16 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Brad
...3. Reasonable DRM policy...
.
This is the one component of the matrix that has yet to be resolved in any satisfactory way. Purchased eBooks _MUST_ be either transportable or so cheap that I don't mind buying multiple copies. If they sell for any significant price they need to be transportable to new devices, both alternate devices as Brad mentions _and_ new devices. I need to be comfortable that when my current device dies, a new device can be purchased and loaded with my existing library.

Also at issue is what happens to the traditional paper&ink library. To move to eBooks, they need to be able to handle the DRM on a "loan" basis. There exists technology today for checking out/in software licenses. I worked on implementing such systems into our application software when I was with Macomedia (several variations over time). Libraries need a DRM system that supports such check in/out functions in both their server software and the client's eBook reader. The system should allow:
1. checkout of a license when acquiring a copy of the data file
2. the server should then prohibit additional check out
3. the license should expire in a given amount of time and have a "grace period" where the license borrower "owns" the license but can't access the book
4. license should be renewable with a new checkout by the current holder at any time during its life and for a small additional grace period
5. the license should be able to be checked in by the current holder at any time during its life or during the grace period
6. when the grace period expires without a checkin, the server should then reset and allow a new checkout by anyone
7. the DRM system should be non-proprietary so that multiple, competing vendors can create devices, reader software, eBook compilers/converters, and server systems that are all compatible with each other (like UPC codes, ISBN codes, ...)
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Old 01-08-2005, 12:33 PM   #10
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I completely agree with you Brad!

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