Posts Tagged ‘Sony’

Hey Apple, where’s the e-paper?

February 2, 2010

Simon Jenkins writes in Friday’s Guardian:

“I am amused that each development of the e-book renders its pages more like print on paper. Its LED gets more like daylight, its page-turning more finger-friendly, its packaging more appealing”.

His point is that e-books seem to be trying to replicate the experience of reading a ‘real’ book, but in fact the comment about LEDs becoming more like daylight disguises an important technology issue and it is one of the distinguishing features between previous e-readers and the Apple iPad. That is, we have the e-book, but where’s the e-paper?

To date, the e-books that everyone has heard about have used electronic paper – essentially a black and white screen that replicates the optical properties of paper and is therefore easy to read. Vast research efforts have gone into this, particularly from UK companies such as Cambridge University spin-off, Plastic Logic. These displays can be read for long periods of time, in a variety of light conditions (without eyestrain), and use far less energy than conventional displays. This therefore means lighter batteries, a significant factor in the weight of any portable device. Whilst these factors were all meant to help an e-reader seem more like a book, they have also resulted in e-paper devices being more environmentally friendly devices than standard laptops, in terms of in-use energy consumption at least.

What’s interesting about the Apple iPad is that it is not moving in this direction. It features an LED backlit display and Apple seems to be gambling on the added interest of a colour screen to override any shortfall in readability (colour e-paper displays are not yet available commercially due to quality and design issues). As an e-reader its primary function seems to be dedicated to making Apple a major player in the electronic book market through its iBook service. In this respect I’m sure Apple will be successful and unless a colour e-paper product (or equivalent) comes along fairly sharp-ish it seems at least possible that their new device might kill the e-paper product category.

A taste of the Sony e-reader

October 29, 2009

We’ve had a Sony e-Reader around the office for a few months now and we’ve used it from time to time to read a few heavyweight pdf documents on long train journeys. But it is only in the last few days that I’ve really got my teeth into it and used it to read an entire book.

Firstly, on the positive side, there is no doubt that it has saved me lugging around seriously heavy chunks of paper on a number of trips. The e-ink screen is good and after years of squinting at laptop screens when I inadvertently end up in a sunny window seat on the train, this is a real joy to read in bright light. It’s also pretty readable in low light. The ability to be able to zoom in on a particular page is also excellent.

Less positively, the page refresh is on the slow side, maybe a second, and this has a noticeable affect on your reading. I also found that the inability to thumb through a book or flick easily from one chapter to another became annoying after a while. You can do these things with the device’s various buttons, but it’s just not as intuitive. I’d also like to be able to scribble notes on pages which is a feature that’s only just been added to the new version of Sony’s device. As a Mac user I was also a bit annoyed that it took several months before Sony had a Mac OS version of their eBook library software.

Sony, of course, are not alone. Indeed, the launch this month of an international version of the Amazon Kindle has generated a lot of newspaper reviews (including an unusually excoriating one by Lynne Truss in the Sunday Times). Some even think these devices will be this year’s Christmas hit. Booksellers Barnes and Noble have got in on the act with an exclusive device called The Nook, which has just launched in America.

More interestingly, Spring Design have announced a dual screen device that has an 6″ e-ink screen area for book reading and another, smaller, LCD screen for Web surfing. The idea is that as you come across hyperlinked items in the book or report you are reading you can click and be taken (on the second screen) to the item in question. This points towards making e-books a different, more interactive experience to the traditional book (which has been much discussed in publishing circles).

Looking at these devices though, I have to say, I think there’s a huge, crisp, perfectly formed piece of fruit about to drop on this market. At the moment it doesn’t officially exist. It’s the Apple tablet and I suspect that will be the Christmas hit. In 2010, that is.

Are e-readers too unemotional?

July 14, 2009

We’ve been experimenting with a Sony e-book reader in the office for the last couple of months. So I was interested to read a comment piece by Peter Crawshaw in the Bookseller magazine about them as they finally seem to be taking off, especially in the States, following innumerable false starts over the years.

He refers to a piece of analysis from Entertainment Media Research which looks at how emotionally engaging books are compared to e-readers. In this context, emotional engagement is the process by which we get hooked into our reading material and swept away into another world. The research shows that while people view books as one of the most emotionally engaging entertainment vehicles, e-books are seen as the least.

Crawshaw suggests two issues with e-readers. One is simply that the technology gets in the way. There is something timelessly effortless about holding a book and automatically turning pages as you read. Somehow, the clicking of little buttons on the side of your Sony or Amazon Kindle doesn’t have this automatic quality. Personally, my experience is that the tiny delay while the page of text is redrawn by the reader does interrupt the flow. Of course this may change as we become use to such devices and they become slicker.

A more important point he makes, I think, is the tendency for e-books to be interactive, with added video snippets and links to click. All this he argues may be great for certain types of content (for example learning material), but is less so for the delicate flow of good story. Crawshaw wonders whether traditional publishers will begin to alter their content to fit the expectations of a more interactive way of reading, and thereby lose what he calls “the wonder of an unhurried story.”

Kindling the flames of e-book controversy

August 4, 2008

Matt Jukes’ Backpass blog has alerted me to news that Amazon are looking to release two new versions of their e-reader. One will have the same screen size as the existing design but a new, cleaner design and the other will have a much larger screen. There are rumours as to whether the larger screen version might be aimed at students, who will be able to store electronic versions of the bulky textbooks they currently have to lug around.

Although Kindle is not available in the UK, it is likely to arrive sometime in the next year or so. Sony’s e-reader, Sony Reader, arrives here in September and the iRex’s iLiad has been available for a few months. One of the big issues that potential buyers will need to think about is that there is a lot of manoeuvring in the market around standards.

Work is underway on an open, XML-based standard called EPUB through an organisation called International Digital Publishing Forum. The other key standard is PDF, which is very widely used for electronic documents and is now an ISO international standard. Sony’s reader supports PDF and the company has just announced that they will support EPUB in a forthcoming e-reader. By contrast, Kindle only supports Amazon’s own standards MobiPocket and AZW. It does not support Adobe’s PDF although it provides an ‘experimental’ converter. The iLiad supports PDF and Mobipocket.

You can read more about the emerging debate over e-book standards on the recently launched JISC TechWatch blog which I write for. Suffice to say though that in the market place, the battle lines have been drawn.


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