Well so far as things go in the UK, the choice is currently limited to either Sony’s eReader or the iPhone, but this shortcoming (come on Capitalism hurry up – more choices please) also allows us to delineate the debate rather nicely into All in One or Single Use devices ?. For the time being let’s imagine that Google/T Mobile’s Android is also available to buy, that Samsung create an App store similar to Apple’s for their Omnia, the Kindle is for sell and, what the hey, the Plastic Logic Reader is also on the market.
The question is: do you opt for a multifunctional device, or are you happy to lug around your single use eReader along with your phone, camera, laptop, mp3 player, lunchbox, etc?
Jeff Gomez has been writing about how he is finding the Kindle and although, “the slate gray Victorian sky tone of the Kindle screen doesn’t at all match the ultra crisp resolution found either an iPhone or a Pocket PC, he actually like[s] the fact that the Kindle is (more or less) just a device for the reading of content.” The reason being is that the book has always been a ‘destination’, somewhere to go, rather than a device to take a photo with.
Alison Flood has been using the eReader since its launch but feels “the buttons down the side of the screen seem a bit old-fashioned compared with the iPhone’s touch-sensitive interface” and is in favour of an all in one that will “really make the market take off.”
The point of a dedicated device though is that it is designed to emulate the book and the experience of reading a book, as Jeff mentions. The crucial component is Eink (it’s quite fascinating how it works) that requires an external light source for it to be visible and the text materialises before your eyes as you turn the page rather than requiring you to scroll down. The use of Eink is what really sets these readers apart from their multifunction cousins.
Esquire magazine have even managed to make a front cover using Eink that could be a sign of things to come.
This technology exists because it seems that backlighting isn’t really conducive to reading fiction, but is yet ample enough for reading emails, blogs and news articles. I think it’s the fact that reading from a computer is not conducive to fiction. You can’t really get comfortable with a laptop or a desktop for that matter.
Does the iPhone offer a viable alternative to dedicated devices then in terms of practicality? It has a decent sized screen and any number of applications built for eBooks. Reading novels on mobile phones is certainly popular (and profitable) in Japan so I popped over to the iPhone App Store to see what was on offer. I found Lexcycle’s Stanza application sitting at No. 1 which in the first six weeks of being available, for free, was downloaded 200,000 times.
In addition you have access to thousands of free titles that no longer retain their copyright. It’s also user friendly according to this This Guy as it takes 5-30 seconds using Wi-Fi to download a title and the whole of the iPhone screen is utilised for reading. I imagine that all it would take then is a little getting used to as I would be very keen to take advantage of thousands of free books (rather than a paltry 160 – Sony).
Vitally though, and this is the clincher for me, which I must quote in full, is:
Stanza features built-in support for HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word, and Rich Text Format reading, as well as all the major eBook standards: unprotected Amazon Kindle and Mobipocket, Microsoft LIT, Palm doc, and the International Digital Publishing Forum’s new epub Open eBook standard.
It supports all major eBook formats! At long long last. Kassia Krozer on Booksquare points out that -the first law of digital media [is]: Make legal products easier and more cost effective than pirated products. What Stanza is enabling the discerning consumer to do is buy eBooks from any channel and move files between devices. I’m sure some restrictions apply – i.e. not being allowed to buy from Amazon.com to get a cheaper book and so on but essentially you can access any electronic title both old and new.
As there is a chance the technologies inherent to both single and multiuse devices will converge I can see reading eBooks gaining in popularity. It is just a question of getting used to it and then, I imagine, it will seem more natural. It will be up to the producers of the content to make sure the books are presentable, and more importantly readable, on any electronic device and they put the same amount of care and consideration that goes into producing regular books into eBooks as this will be a contributing factor in determining how well they are received.
Now, if only the iPhone were available on Orange…
Wow – I could really do with a phone like that!
I have to admit that I’m not usually drawn to gadgets but there is something really nice about the i-phone that makes me think that its going to be a lot sooner that I end up buying one of those (or something similar) than an eReader.
If I’m honest, I can’t imagine using any of these devices to read a book on! I much prefer a good, old-fshioned book as I don’t enjoy reading for long periods on a screen. I think any eReader would have to be part of my phone…I don’t need another device that I risk losing/breaking!
I think multi-function devices are the future for convenience. No one wants to carry an phone, a music player, a video player, a book reader and a GPS around. They just want one small device which does it all. I am the biggest advocate of these in the world and had video playing, interenet enabled, GPS PDA’s 5 years ago so I love them. The convenience of these devices being able to access loads of contents and provide me with something to do is staggering.
However convenience and pleasure are two different things. If I want to just listen to music nothing beats a live performance or decent stereo and speakers, if I want to watch a film an iPhone can’t compete with a cinema or big TV. If I want to read, nothing comes close to a paper book for me.
Although I prefer the experience of reading a book (the weight in your hands, the papery smell, the flick of the pages), I can really see a reader coming into its own when I go on holiday or travelling for any length of time. I usually use up a sizeable chunk of my baggage allowance on cramming enough books into my bag to last me while I’m away, so the idea of having a library of books available on this little device in my backpack is very appealing.
I wish I had had one of those when I was a student – would have saved my back I imagine! (Although wouldn’t have been able to afford one then…damn!)