Posts Tagged ‘e-readers’

Announcing the Plastic Logic Que e-reader

The annual Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, is currently being held in Las Vegas. I've long had my calendar bookmarked in anticipation of yesterday being the release of Plastic Logic's Que e-reader, as its 8.5" x 11" dimensions poses it to become for periodicals what other e-readers are doing for books. From the Que's Web site:

Product Specifications

  • Connectivity: Wi-Fi (802.11 b/g), USB, Bluetooth ® 2.0
  • Memory: 4 GB (Approx. 3.6 GB available for user data)
  • Display (viewable area): 10.5-inch diagonal, 944 x 1264 pixels at 150ppi, 8 gray levels
  • User Interface: Full Touchscreen, Virtual Keyboard
  • Battery: Rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, charging via computer or wall charger
  • Dimensions: 8.5" x 11" x .3"
  • Weight: Approximately 17 ounces

Supported Formats

  • QUE has native on-device support for PDF, GIF, JPEG, PNG, BMP, ePub, and TXT
  • Using the QUE software on your computer, QUE supports printable formats such as Microsoft Office 2003/2007

The Que's touch-screen interface sets it apart from the Kindle and Nook, which rely on traditional physical input. I believe doing so eliminates a cumbersome layer between the user and the content, and the Que's ability to annotate and highlight text is an expected feature of print media, which e-readers are trying to improve upon. Given that touch screens are available on as affordable and versatile a device as the Nintendo DS, I see no reason not to apply this technology to more practical purposes.

However, the device's price tag definitely identifies it as for "business professionals": models are available at either $649 and $799. And beyond the hardware is the software — which, if previous demonstrations are any indication, still have a ways to go.

It takes a lot of clicks on Plastic Logic's various Web sites before you finally arrive at the page to pre-order the Que, which ships in April 2010. Oddly enough, the page's domain is specifications/ — Barnes and Noble? What involvement does the publisher of the Nook have in this competing product?

Computerworld, one of Plastic Logic's publishing partners, has the full story on the Que, one of 40 e-readers due to be released this calendar year.

Clumsy e-readers and elegant newspapers

The Barnes & Noble nook has recently drawn attention to the e-book market, but let's not forget the falling circulation of newspapers and magazines. They too are trying to adopt to this digital age, yet their attempts to persuade me of their savviness fall flat.

Time Inc, Condé Nast, Meredith, Hearst, and News Corp. have collaborated to create a shared vision for digital editions of their print publications. Here's a demo of their model of the future:

Does anyone else find this example unappealing? Maybe it's the use of a CGI hand instead of an actual, physical user demonstration, but the interface for these digital magazines strikes me as cumbersome and loaded more with bells and whistles than with practical features — as though the device were aimed at luring print luddites, not existing IT connoisseurs. Nothing at the homepage of the SI Tablet, as this particular model is apparently called, dissuades me from that opinion.

The benefits of such a transition may be overrated. Some print newspapers seem to be weathering both this economy and media revolution decently, with below-average losses in circulation, revenue, and staff. It's encouraging news, as hardcopy still has much to offer. In stark contrast to the above stilted proof-of-concept is this functional representation of existing technology:

Some futurists predict that the last print newspaper will be circulated in 2050, after which all written communication will occur digitally. I hope the day is longer off than that, as a healthy democracy will long have room and need for print journalism.

Why would the Atlantic publish on the Kindle?

In a publishing discussion forum I participate in, a friend recently posted her concerns over a recent announcement regarding exclusive content for the Amazon Kindle:

An article in today's New York Times announced that the Atlantic will sell some short stories exclusively on Kindle… This concept bothers me for a couple of reasons. First, the Kindle seems to be the most restrictive of the e-readers… Second, selling a short story exclusively to the Kindle is essentially creating a work that only a privileged few can ever read.

She's right that the Kindle is more restrictive than other readers, but not by much. The only advantage Sony's e-reader has over it in format compatibility is in its support of ePub files, for example. Wikipedia has a handy chart that compares all the hardware's compatibilities.

As for why anyone would choose to make their content available on only the Kindle, check out this table of who owns the e-book market: a quarter of all e-book readers are Amazon Kindles. That's twenty-five times greater than the Sony eBook Reader, and many more times still than the unproven nook. If the Atlantic wants maximum exposure for their content, it makes sense to go with the market leader. (And it's possible Amazon offered them some strong incentives to provide this exclusive content — something e-publishing fledgling B&N couldn't afford while investing in launching their own product.)

However, though there's something to be said for getting in on the ground floor, I think it's too early to be pledging allegiances just yet. It was just last year that early adopters of the HD-DVD format found themselves orphaned in the face of Blu Ray's victory, as this comic strip recently reminded me, for example. How many of today's e-readers will soon be similarly unsupported? The Atlantic may see the potential in taking a risk with a particular product, but I'm more than happy to wait this one out, and then through my weight behind a sure thing.

If e-books were a technology that needed my support to survive — so many people skipped the Sega Dreamcast in favor of its eventual successor that there was never the sales to warrant a successor — then I would be less hesitant. But given the nook's overwhelming presales, I don't think electronic publishing's pioneers will suffer for my economical patience.

The present and future of e-readers

It's been an interesting last week for e-readers.

First, the Barnes & Noble Nook, due in stores November 30th, is enjoying such great demand that, unless you preordered one, your order will not be fulfilled until 2010. I expect demo units will still be available in retail outlets, as I doubt B&N would miss the opportunity to market to the 2009 holiday crowds, thus generating even more sales for 2010.

Then, as a response to growing competition, the Kindle got a firmware update that offers better battery life, PDF compatibility, and easier landscape orientation. However, just like Amazon's removal of 1984 from some readers' Kindles, this update was pushed automatically to users, leaving them to wonder: who's really in charge of their e-readers?

And, despite all these advances, here are eight reasons e-readers could fail:

  1. Price of devices
  2. Price of e-books
  3. Smartphones
  4. Apple's rumored tablet computer
  5. Popular authors aren't sure about e-books
  6. Digital rights
  7. Open publishing standards, or not?
  8. Librarians and small bookstores

In evidence of #5, last week I attended a book signing by fantasy author R.A. Salvatore. As we discussed the unknown future of the publishing industry, he offered his own anecdote: Vector Prime, his only Star Wars novel and the one that infamously killed Chewbacca, sold 145,000 copies in hardcover and 500,000 in paperback. The title's e-book sales to date? 147. There are no zeroes after that — Vector Prime has sold under two hundred digital copies.

Despite these experiences, I don't think it's likely e-books will fail. As the technology progresses to offer a more pleasant user experience, and prices drop to more affordable levels, we may see e-readers become as commonplace as Star Trek's PADDs. But, as with the rest of Gene Roddenberry's vision for the future, we're still a long ways off.

Smartphones squash e-book readers in popularity

With a touch interface, accelerometers, and an online store that boasts over 100,000 apps, the Apple iPhone is fast becoming a mobile gaming device to compete with the likes of the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.

But despite the App Store's "games" category enjoying more new releases than any other category in the last year, in September and October 2009, the most popular genre of new app published was book-related. Specifically, "In October, one out of every five new apps launching in the iPhone has been a book… The sharp rise in e-book activity on the iPhone indicates that Apple is positioned [to] take market share from the Amazon Kindle as it did from the Nintendo DS." (This may not be significant data, however, as many of the book apps are duplicates of public domain novels. For example, there are over 30 apps that offer Sun Tzu's The Art of War.)

The trend toward smartphones as e-readers may have already begun. Publishers Weekly recently printed a chart of who owns the e-book market. The iPhone and iPod together have captured 22%, which makes it the second most popular e-book reader, behind only the Kindle itself. It also makes Apple's product line 22 times more popular than the Sony eBook Reader.

Are Amazon and Barnes & Noble approaching the market the wrong way by hawking dedicated e-book readers? Why spend $259 on a Kindle when you can get a multipurpose iPhone 3G for $99?

Issues with the international Kindle

I'm having trouble understanding the concerns raised by the international Kindle, as related in Publishers Weekly. I think that publishers are worried that the correct editions of their catalog will be available in the right territories, lest readers cross borders to buy books that would otherwise be unavailable to them. Is that correct? If so, didn't Apple address this issue six years ago with the iTunes Store, or Microsoft with the Xbox Live Arcade — both of which are available on an international basis? Customers need to supply contact and billing information to make a purchase, and the online stores use that data to determine which products to list. What am I missing?

Is the issue that digital rights are not currently being negotiated on a regional basis, in which case a digital edition currently available only in American markets will now be sold globally, competing with the print editions exclusive to other regions? How is that different from now? As an American, I'm pretty sure I can go to and order a book; if so, then the opposite must be true, and a Brit can order an e-book from the USA store.

The PW article repeatedly reported that the e-tailer (never heard that word before, and can't say I care for it) "has worked with publishers" on this matter. A quotation from an affected or involved publisher might've helped give the article some perspective.