What’s in store for eBook readers

Dedicated eReader or an iPad?

I think many New Zealanders have joined the digital reading revolution. They are purchasing eBooks on-line and reading them on a tablet, such as the iPad, or a dedicated reading device, an eReader.

Personally I think eReaders are a better device for reading – because they don’t provide distractions. Anyway, here I just want to comment on what we can possible look forward to, or expect, in upcoming eReaders.

The major eReaders available in New Zealand all do their job well. The current standard is built-in Wi-Fi and a touch screen. Choice really seems to come down to aesthetics and not actual performance (for example, the major criticism of the Sony appears to be a shiny plastic bezel which could annoy readers). Book formats could also be another factor – choosing between Amazon’s mobi and the alternative ePub open format.

Retail prices for some of the current models in New Zealand have dropped recently. It’s that time of the year  – look forward to announcement of new models in the next few months. Currently I have no idea what to expect. Haven’t picked up any rumours yet. But here are some possibilities worth considering:

Glowlight!

Barnes and Noble latest eReader is the Nook Simple Touch with Glowlight. This has  LED lights embedded into the side of the frame. Power drain is low so battery life isn’t markedly reduced. But its a great idea – especially for those with who have sleeping partners but enjoy reading in bed.

Personally I enjoy the fact that eReaders are not backlit as tablets are. Apparently that makes reading harsher. And the dedicated eReader experience is more like reading the printed page. But in bed, or on other low light situations this innovation would be great.

Barnes and Noble does not sell their Nook eReaders in New Zealand but the fact that these new eInk screens are being produced makes uptake by Sony, Kobo or Kindle likely in the near future.

Colour screens

Colour eInk screens are a possibility in future eReaders. The technology is available. These screens won’t have the brilliant colour of backlit tablet screens but should be an advantage for some books – especially comics and technical books with images. However, manufacturers of the smaller screen eReaders may prefer to produce an alternative tablet or backlit screen model, such as the Kindle Fire, Kobo Vox and Nook  colour. For them this may represent the best approach to the market.

Larger screens

The Jetbook Color has a 9.7 inch screen

This is something we have yet to see in New Zealand. I feel there is a market for these – the 6 inch screens are ideal for novels and relatively straightforward non-fiction. But text books, and many other technical books would be far better on the larger screen. Such a screen would also by ideal for pdf formats – and we often have to read other documents besides novels – especially if we are students or researchers. And a larger screen displaying a full pdf or document page will probably work better a 6 inch screen with material we need to refer back to. Something to do with storing the place on the page of an image or piece of information on a page in our memory.

Non-dedicated tablets may be preferred by many people. However the larger iInk screen dedicated devices would have the advantages of longer battery life (using the iPad as a portable device must have its drawbacks because of the battery), less distraction and more comfortable reading. High prices for large screen eReaders could be a drawback, at least until they are more common.

Ectaco Jetbook Color under trial in a Russian classroom

A hopeful sign is that the 9.7 inch Ectaco Jetbook Color e-Reader,the only touchscreen Color E Ink eBook Reader in the world, has come on the market overseas. It is being evaluated for educational purposes in some US schools and a large number of Russian schools. This eReader is clearly targeted at the education market as it comes preloaded with many text books and educational aids. The US Defense Department is also using itReviews indicate that this could be a useful dedicated device.

Removal of DRM

Journalists are speculating that the days of Digital Rights Management (DRM) are numbered. A few publishers have already abandoned it and competition, or is it antagonism, between Amazon and many publishers could lead to its widespread removal. It’s a complex issue but publishers seem to think DRM enables Amazon to achieve monopoly control and to enforce use of their eReaders and eBook format.

Some people, including many authors, really hate DRM. Readers resent the inability to really own the book they have bought as DRM often enforces use of a single device, prevents lending or passing books on to friends and family, and often makes side loading (loading books from other sources, even in the proper format), complicated.

However, computer savy readers usually have no problem removing DRM. And there is a high motivation to do so. Not for piracy or any other illegal use. But to enable use of different formats and books from different sources. As well as legitimate sharing.

Just imagine buying a print book (pBook), going to read it at home and finding that some of the pages are uncut. Easily remedied. But imagine downloading an eBook and finding that your eReader will not open it. No, not a format problem. Maybe some images in the book are is the swg rather than jpg format.  Or there are a large number of embedded fonts which cause the eReader to crash. (Actually the poor conversion of many books to a digital format is another bitch I have about publishers). I have had both problems and let me tell you that eBook sellers like Kobo don’t exactly have a functioning help department.

In such cases the books can easily be corrected by the computer savy reader once the DRM is removed. Why should they be prevented from do so?

On the other hand I know from my friends that many owners of eReaders don’t give a stuff about DRM. They may not know it even exists. They are happy to use the device as a simple attachment to a single provider, purchase all their books from that provider (usually Amazon), and never go hunting for other sources. DRM is probably a non-issue for them.

Conclusion

I suspect a glow screen may be the next common feature – in fact this has already been rumoured for the Kindle. So I would not be surprised to see it in upcoming local eReader models.

Colour and larger eInk screens would be nice. However, I suspect this may not happen soon if tablets, like the iPad, continue their market dominance. On the other hand, institutional and educational pressures could bring the price of larger screen, colour, eReaders down. That is something I would like as the ability to easily read text books, technical articles, pdfs and reference material in a larger format would be really useful.

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4 responses to “What’s in store for eBook readers

  1. Do you know about the “Readability” app/add-on?
    http://blog.readability.com/2011/11/reading-needs-a-platform-introducing-the-new-readability/

    I have it as an add-on in Firefox to improve the clarity of articles on my home desktop PC. If I come across a lengthy item that I want to read later I can press a button in “Readability” & it gets sent to my Kindle by email. Then I can read the article later in a comfy chair or in bed or on the train on the Kindle.

    This is entirely free & only works for the Kindle I believe. Lovely.

  2. Yes, – use it quite a bit. But I also use dotEPUB, which converts (almost) any web page to an ePub format (it will also do Kindle. Then I just download to my eReader all I ahve accumulated at the end of the day.

    There is also “Grab my Books” – which will put all downloaded pages into one eBook.

    Great for bypassing the printer – I use far less paper these days.

  3. Thanks, Ken.
    Do you know of a reader that does not ‘flash’ when paginating? I have looked at a few in the shops and they all seem to do that. I found this incredibly annoying and it’s one of the main reasons I would not anticipate buying one at the moment. I suspect it’s a side-effect of eInk and since the devices basically use the same underlying technology they will all behave the same.

    D.

  4. Diessoli, I have read about “flashing” in reviews but never been aware if it. I have the Sony PR650 and don’t notice anything along these lines.

    I have picked up that there is a difference between the latest Sony snd Kobo in this respect. I guess you just have to try them.

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