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Today’s e-Book Hardware Options

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STATUS REPORT

 

Today’s e-Book Hardware Options

 

by Genene Miller Coté

 

On my computer I keep a log
of all the books I read. My annual average is 102, so you can see that I love
to read. Notice that the list is on my computer? That is because my computer is
the other half of my brain.

 

And yet, for all my dependence on
my computer, I have had a longstanding love/hate relationship with technology.
I love the potential, and I hate waiting for the potential to be actualized.

 

e-Book publishing is a case in
point. e-Books have the capacity to expand the variety, portability, and
accessibility of books. e-Book readers are still a work in progress. What
follows is a report on current e-book hardware alternatives. Later this year,
I’ll cover e-book software and e-book distribution mechanisms.

 

Needed: A Single Standard

 

Over the last five years, I have
been alternately amused and frustrated as I have evaluated various readers.
Some—like RocketBook, hiebook, Franklin Reader, and Cybook—aren’t
even produced anymore.

 

Today the most popular e-book
reader is the eBookwise-1150. It resembles a paperback book—heavier, but
about the same size. The monochrome screen is backlit so you can take it to bed
and turn out the lights. For straight reading it works well, but don’t try to
look at pictures; the graphic quality is too poor. The price is right, around
$100. Unfortunately, it is maddeningly proprietary. The eBookwise-1150 uses one
of two competing e-book standards.

 

If e-books are to succeed in the
long term, the industry must adopt a single standard. Remember that MP3s, CDs,
and DVDs all succeeded in large part because of portability from device to
device.

 

Currently, each e-book device
manufacturer makes a decision about which format(s) to support, and that
practice has led to a proliferation of proprietary formats. Most people are
aware of the big ones: Adobe PDF, Microsoft LIT, and the Palm eReader. Other
device-dependent formats include hiebook and Franklin.

 

The good news? Almost every device
will accommodate simple formats such has HTML, text, RTF, and Word, and most
PDAs use some version of Windows that allows you to read e-books formatted as
either PDF or LIT files. Today, if you sit in any public place, you will see
many people (mostly young) staring into their little devices and reading. It
took me about two weeks to decide that no matter how convenient it seemed, my
eyes were too old for print on a BlackBerry, a Palm, an iPAQ, or any other
pocket PC.

 

<span
style=’font-size:11.0pt’>E Ink and Other New Entries

 

In the last year the outlook for
e-reading has changed dramatically. The catalyst was the introduction of a new
screen technology, the Electronic Paper Display—also known as E Ink. What
is it? Simply, it is a thin light display that has a paperlike, high-contrast
appearance and consumes very little power. Words on the screen look very much
like words on paper and are much easier on the eyes than LCD displays.

 

The first announcement of an E Ink
reader came from iRex Technologies, a Netherlands company. Its
device—which is called iLiad—is extremely light (13 oz) and thin;
the ergonomics are great, and the screen is about the size of a paperback
(4.5″ × 6.5″). Like many new electronic products, it is pricey,
almost $800. No reading in the dark, because the E Ink screen is not backlit,
but the technology works well in bright light, so you can actually read at the
beach.

 

What’s not to like (other than the
price)? Plenty, as it turns out. First the setup: vague and convoluted. Even
with a good deal of experience, I found it frustrating. Once I could start
trying to read, there were other problems. It froze; the PDF viewer did not
work well, and there were numerous software bugs. Most of the problems I
experienced can be chalked up to the fact that this was an early release. That
is the price you pay for being an early adopter. My other complaint: very
limited available content.

 

Last month, with great fanfare,
Sony released the Sony Reader PRS-500, which uses the same technology. The
price point is much better, only $350. The screen is slightly larger (5″× 7″), and the device is slightly lighter (9 oz). About 10,000 books
are available for it. However, in true Sony tradition, the e-book format is
proprietary, and you must buy books at a premium through the Sony Connect
Store.

 

Unfortunately, the one thing these
readers have in common is a painfully slow refresh rate on the screen; it takes
a loooong time to turn a page.

 

Alternatives are available. You
can use your desktop or laptop computer as an e-book reader. A tablet PC works
well at a cost of about $600, which sounded pretty reasonable after the
iLiad—until I remembered that you can buy a new laptop, complete with
keyboard, for about $300. And smart phones—for instance, Nokia—are
popular e-reading devices in Japan and Europe, where approximately 50 percent
of book sales are reportedly to cell-phone users. Of course, dedicated
gadgeteers will find a way to read a book on anything from the Sony PSP to the
iPod.

 

Coming Up

 

Over the next six months Hitachi,
Jinke, and Panasonic will be releasing E Ink–based readers. There are
rumors that Amazon, Hewlett Packard, and Apple will be creating new e-book
readers as well.

 

On the horizon, there’s the OLED
(organic light-emitting diode) screen. Using technology Kodak created as an
alternative to LCD, it has fast display and high contrast, and the screen is so
light and thin that it can actually be rolled up like a scroll. Cell phones,
MP3 players, and video cameras have already incorporated OLED technology, and
e-books are said to be coming soon.

 

The e-book promise is incredible.
Maybe soon, implementation will catch up to potential.

 

Genene Miller Coté is a
publisher, a software developer and a marketer with a decade of experience in
e-commerce and Internet-based marketing strategies. Her company DigitalPulp
Publishing (www.DigitalPulpPublishing.com) and its DPPstore (www.DPPstore.com)
were created to help authors, self-publishers, and independent presses take
advantage of the e-book opportunity.

 

 

 

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