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Old 04-23-2006, 07:51 AM   #1
Alexander Turcic
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Washington Post on E Ink devices

It's always refreshing when mainstream media picks up on stories that seem kind of old now. The Washington Post ran a story today titled, "New Digital Books Offer Better Readability." In this article, Chris Barylick talks about the future potential of dedicated e-book readers.

Perhaps most comparable to an iPod for books, e-book readers -- a breed of upcoming devices designed to hold thousands of text files and display them at the same resolution of a printed page -- could change the landscape of how books are both purchased and read.

He talks a bit about the advantages of E Ink technology and about the two most prominent e-book reader candidates, the Sony Reader and the iRex iLiad. He then goes on talking about the potential of selling e-books online with a similar business model to that of selling digital audio files online.

Like I said, most of this is old hat for you by now, but think about all the people holding the Washington Post in their hands today reading about e-books for the first time in their life. A Slashdot reader once asked the question, " When Will E-Books Become Mainstream?" The public interest in e-books has been picking up speed since the beginning of the year, and with mainstream media coverage such as this, we cannot be too far away from the answer. Don't you agree?
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Old 04-23-2006, 08:19 AM   #2
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As much as I'd like to see e-books as mainstream, I think it will be a while longer. Right now you really have to want to use e-book reader, or at least be willing to mess with document conversions and file movement and another tech gadget. MP3 players took quite a while and didn't get popular until iPod/iTunes caught on, but there's a much greater drive for portable music than portable books.

While I haven't had the pleasure of playing with one of the new e-ink devices, I think they are not going to be perfect yet for the average guy on the street. The ones that use them are either comfortable with tech devices and computers, or serious book lovers/users.

The adoption curve is ramping up, but believe it or not, I think that we might need standalone wireless ebook readers that can pull content from servers over some ubiquitous network, or inexpensive and simple ways to get content on a card or some kind of convenient storage media. Books on SD cards at your local bookstore maybe? People are unlikely to want to fool with computers and downloads and conversions to read a book. And expensive prices for e-books added to the complexity of the device will turn off the average consumer.

But even mp3 players had a rapidly increasing following and we saw devices in the local consumer electronics outlets way before iPod craze had become big.

The biggest question may not be are we at the edge of mainstream, but might be the following... "When ebook reading becomes mainstream, will it still be on a dedicated device, or will it be part of a comprehensive personal media device with e-ink display and music/video/book capabilities all wrapped up in one nice small package?"

Hey, maybe it will even be a phone with a bluetooth headset and a roll-out flexible display. But don't look for this year to be the year of seeing multiple ebook reading devices on your local train, plane or subway. It may start popping up all over, but more like a novelty item. (Like smartphones were until the last year or so.)

The main thing to remember is that the adoption curve will be slower than mp3 players and cell phones and even personal video players. People read books, but they just aren't as crazy about them as for music and mobile phones.

We'll know when the infrastructure and technology is ready when it shows up consistently in executive offices. It's a perfect tool for them, especially combined with workflow functionality and document markup capabilities. In fact, call that a prediction... when we see an easy to use e-ink reader device that is tied effectively into popular workflow software, we'll see it explode across the corporate world. Well, unless the alternatives like smartphones or umpc's do it better.

Pretty soon it's going to be hard to know what to call a device because it's going to do so much. Right now we fear convergence because of all the compromises in form factor and usability. But when the technology is advanced enough to make things easy to use, why not be able to do "everything" from a device, whether it's a handheld or origami sized?
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Old 04-23-2006, 11:29 AM   #3
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I think we need the killer app. Something for which they are so much better that it is worth the extra cost and small hassle. It would also help if the same group that has made the IPod what it is can be made to embrace eBooks - namely the "utes".

My 02 is that the killer app could be college texts. Get rid of the heavy books of today and the college kids are already comfortable with the tech part. Pretty much the same group as the IPod. Once they have them for texts, they will use them for other reading and what is popular on campus often spreads to the rest of the society. I wonder if the publishers are thinking about this?

The down side is that, sadly, much of America is too damn stupid and lazy to read much beyond Sports Illustrated and National Enquirer so reading in general may never have the wide appeal of the IPod.

Last edited by CCDMan; 04-23-2006 at 11:36 AM.
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Old 04-23-2006, 01:02 PM   #4
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E Ink readers will always be less popular than portable audio players, which are predisposed for passive consumption. But I suspect that once the Sony Reader is physically visible to the casual public, its sales will take critics by surprise. One pattern I've noticed is that nearly everyone who actually saw the PRS-500 at CES very excited by it. Do a search on CES coverage of the device and note how different it is from subsequent commentary by people who haven't seen it. By the time I actually saw the Librie, the Reader was already announced, and the new product's imminent release is the only thing that's kept me from shelling out $400 for a Librie from Japan Direct.

I think the killer app of these devices is substitution of printers, not books. Most of my non-working time at the computer consists of reading online content that I would much rather reader offline, often printing it out to avoid gazing directly into a light source for long intervals. With enough file formats supported, even if through conversion, I could not only get rid of my home printer but "print" documents from my laptop that want to read offline when I'm nowhere near a printer.

Without some technology like E Ink, the thought of reading entire books on any light emitting display is completely unpalatable to me, no matter what additional convergence of features is offered by alternative devices.
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Old 04-23-2006, 01:22 PM   #5
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I think a very good addition would be an RSS Reader. Fetch all your favorite Blogs and News from the net while close to a hotspot.

Cant wait to get a reader in my hands. I think i will be using it mostly for replacing the printout of online documents. And if eBooks get a reasonable price change, then i will probably be reading my books on it too. Bau as long as a printed book is only marginal cheaper than an ebook version, then i will take the oldfashioned paper version.

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Old 04-24-2006, 08:37 AM   #6
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ebooks in shop

When I can walking into any bookshop and buy a new book on an protected SD card for 5 GBP from a rack of hundreds of titles alongside the printed version then I can see them taking off.

While it's still all online then it's still for the geeks and new users and not mainstream.

The publishers need to get their heads on and start releasing new books on a card and on paper to satisfy the needs for both types of users.

I can understand their relectunce though. If I hand over a paper book to someone after I have read it then there is still only one copy. If I can duplicate the ebook and give it to someone else then I have paid for only one but now two copies exist. It's worrying from a copyright and financial point of view but a single book on a single protected SD card which can be read on only one reader at a time would be the solution to becoming mainstream in my opinion.

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Old 04-24-2006, 10:56 AM   #7
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The problem with buying an SD card in the store is that you lose one of the big advantages of electronic books: you are back to managing a physical inventory again, and that involved manufacturing costs, distribution costs, retail overhead, et al.

The second problem is what happens when the SD card becomes obsolete? Will you have any way of transfering content from the encrypted SD card to some new data carrier?

Finally, one of the touted advantages of e-book devices is being able to carry dozens of books around at a time; but carrying a reader and dozens of SD cards pretty much shoots the advantage in the foot.

Gameboy70 is exactly right: people do not consume audio and the written word in the same manner. Hence I think ebooks will remain a niche market for many years to come.
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Old 04-24-2006, 01:21 PM   #8
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SD card book

The SD card while protected should allow copying of the book from card to reader but the point is the card is the delivery mechanism which is cheap and can be bought in bookshops, airports etc. The protection element is in the ability to read the book on another reader. That could be blocked while the book is 'tied' to a single reader. If one wants to share the book after having read it, unlock it from the reader and give the card to another person.

This doesn't stop online downloads of books too but it's the ability to buy books in the real shops rather than the online ones which would allow them to become mainstream. SD cards at very small sizes, enough to fit a single book would cost pennies to make in numbers.

As for the SD format, well if the reader has an SD slot then it's not going to be made redundent as long as readers exist to service to format.

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Old 04-24-2006, 11:56 PM   #9
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Given how fast technology is progressing, I think we'll see a multi-purpose device within 4 years or so. It will be able to handle ebooks, of course, as well as music files, video, and it will have wireless capability. Beyond this it probably won't be too hard by then to have it able to read purchased books just from the text. Voice synthesis is progressing pretty rapidly, so I don't think this will be much of a problem within my above time-frame. I can easily see the required technologies (e.g. e-ink-like display but with color and fast refresh rates) all appearing around the same time.

I suppose I essentially see the one-sided use of the device and the limited screen the current reasons e-readers won't take off right now. By the time better screens appear that are competetive with the competition, there will be no reason not to include most of the above software (including voice synthesis, imho). Perhaps ebooks will even be released specially formatted to make use of the different voices such software could offer. It would never be as good as a (good) human reading, but far cheaper and easier to acquire. A release like that, something that opened ebooks up to audiophiles, audio book listeners, and as a way to view any book or magazine in electronic format...that would really catch on.

Of course, if the screen technology comes around quicker at a low enough price, then we'll probably see multi-purpose combos sooner (though without automated reading).
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