Wired’s Gadget Lab has a story today about new specs that are trickling out about the upcoming release of Asus’ color e-reader. It’s an unbelievable set of technical specifications with an even more unbelievable price tag. According to rumors, the Eee E-Reader will have two color touchscreens and will be about the size of a hardcover book. In addition, it will have a webcam and microphone for accessing Skype. According to the source of the leak, all this will go for approximately $165! I ain’t holding my breath on that one… Even at a higher price the device looks to be a fantastic offering. I might have to retire my aging Sony PRS-500. 2010 is going to be good year to buy an e-reader.
There have been a couple of tech news reports in the last week that focus on new plastic technologies, especially for eBook/Reader applications.
An article in the IEEE Spectrum, “Inside the Plastic Electronics Revolution“, outlines the work that Plastic Logic has done in developing plastic-based electronics. These cheap and low-power polymer-based transistors are perfect for applications like eBook reader devices and interactive signage.
Arizona State University has recently shown prototypes for flexible active matrix displays. The technology was funded by military grant programs and early devices will be used there first. The representative from ASU’s Flexible Display Center believes consumer applications may be available as soon as 18 months. According to the press release, the “electrophoretic” screens are lightweight and consume only a fraction of the power of a typical LCD.
Very cool stuff just over the horizon.
Sony just announced the latest version of the Portable Reader System, the PRS-700. Hop on over to Gearlog for a quick show and tell.
The new version is $400 and includes some nice features. Sony has added a touchscreen for page turns, including turning multiple pages quickly by swiping and holding. A welcome addition is a set of side LED lights for reading in the dark. Sony also announced changes to the online bookstore, which currently truly sucks. I doubt any changes could make it worse.
For complete specs, pics, and complete specifications checkout Sony’s site.
TeleRead has some additional information from the announcement press conference. One thing Paul Biba mentions in the TeleRead post is that this new version is a great deal faster than previous versions and faster than any current competitor. This is apparently due to Sony’s expertise in writing custom drivers and designing the display processor. A faster eReader. Now I really want one of these….
I just saw a post on TeleRead that mentioned that Book Glutton is up for a Webby award. I’d heard of Book Glutton before, but I haven’t checked it out until now. It’s a really cool idea for a community website.
The idea is that you create an account on the site and then access public domain works or user contributed texts using a slick little browser-based book reader, called The Unbound Reader. The twist is that you can open a pane on either side of The Unbound Reader that lets you chat with other readers of the current book in real-time or make annotations that are stored for your own access or shared with other users. In addition, the community aspect of the site includes reading groups that share interest in particular topics or authors. You can join already existing groups or create your own group, which might include your friends or colleagues.
The idea reminds me of the WordPress theme called CommentPress. These tools are really exciting from an instructional technology point of view. They really allow people to work together in close collaboration on a shared text. And they both provide a mechanism that brings together the strengths of wikis with the close reading of a shared document. There’s some great potential here from an educational perspective. It’s hard to beat this kind of active engagement.
Just uploaded a recording of a presentation I did yesterday on eBooks. Here’s the description:
eBooks: Promise and Reality
eBooks have been around for several years and every couple of years the technology is hyped as being ready for mass consumption. We’ll take a look at the current eBook landscape. I’ll demo several hardware solutions, including the Sony PRS-500 Reader System and alternative devices like cell phones and the PlayStation Portable. I’ll demonstrate how to use BookDesigner to convert among formats and other software tools. We’ll talk about sources for eBooks like the Gutenberg Project. We’ll also take a look at newly announced technology, including Amazon’s Kindle eBook reader, Adobe’s new Digital Editions format, and color eInk devices that were shown at SIGGRAPH this summer.
(Adobe Presenter Flash format)
So I’ve been fooling around more with the Samsung Sync and eBook reading and I’ve discovered a few new bits that might be helpful to anyone who would like to use the device for reading eBooks. I’m preparing for a presentation on eBooks that I’ll be giving on Wednesday, so I’m doing some experimentation with various hardware and software tools. Read more »
The much anticipated Amazon Kindle is finally here. I have to say I was a bit skeptical about the device from early images and leaks of information on the web on various gadget sites. Looking at the videos of the Kindle in action, I think the form factor is better than I expected. And given that EVDO network access for the device is free, $400 does not seem as much as it did when I was thinking about monthly fees initially. But for $400 I’d still take an ASUS Eee PC any day.
There are two serious flaws with the Kindle that I think will really hurt the industry as a whole. First, the eBook format that is natively supported is a proprietary format based on mobiPocket. By not using a format that is readable on other hardware, they will be stifling growth of the market as a whole. Secondly, it looks like the only way to get your own files onto the device is by emailing them to an address provided for you from Amazon at a cost of $.10 per email. The jury is still out on whether you will be able to use the SD card and a PC to transfer files to avoid this fee. As a very astute observer in the discussion of the device on Amazon’s site points out, the device seems less an eBook reader and more a microtransaction system for Amazon sales.
The eBook market is still in its early growth stages, and unfortunately, I think the end result of Amazon’s choices may well stunt that growth significantly. We shall see.
I received an interesting comment on my post about getting video onto my Samsung Sync mobile phone this morning. In the comment, Matt asks if I’ve ever tried to use the Sync to read eBooks. I hadn’t. But being an eBook user and fan, I took it as a challenge. Matt had already tried copying a text file over using Bluetooth and opened it using the Picsel file viewer. The results are unsatisfactory – clunky zoom and the need to pan all over the place to read because the text does not wrap. I suspect the text is being treated as if it is an image and this makes it impossible for the software to understand the document’s text flow. Matt had been on the right track after this initial attempt. He says he tried to open the browser and could not find any way to use the file:// protocol to call up the file in the web browser.
Here’s how I solved these problems and was able to read text comfortably on the Sync:
I took a Word document (it could have been any text format) and saved the file from Word as HTML Filtered. The “Filtered” option in Word 2007 strips out all the nasty Microsoft specific code that might not render properly in the Sync’s browser. I then copied the file to my MicroSD card and popped it into the phone. I navigated to the file using the “My Stuff” file browser and opened the file. Because it was an HTML file it opened directly in the phone’s browser. This result had two consequences that were an improvement over the Picsel file viewer. First, the text was sized properly for reading on the small screen, and second, the text properly flowed vertically and wrapped nicely so that no side-to-side scrolling was necessary. In addition, the browser allows you to resize the text on the page; there are three text size settings: normal, smaller, and larger. I found the normal sized text to be very much readable on my phone, and scrolling down for more text was not too bad.
Thanks again to Matt for asking this interesting question. I still find it really cool that we have these fantastic computers that we carry around everywhere with us and that fit in the palm of our hands. I feel like I’m in a Star Trek episode sometimes when I think about the ubiquity of this kind of technology.
As promised, I’m going to try to collect in one place all of the resources I have found for dealing with eBooks on the Sony PRS-500 Reader System.
First let me start with a website that is a central clearing house for all things related to eBooks and eBook readers: the MobileRead Forums. If you can’t find it there, it just doesn’t exist. There are separate forums for each type of eBook hardware – here’s the one for the Sony Reader. In addition, most of the software you would need to edit or convert eBooks for the Reader or any other platform can be found there as well.
In working with eBooks that I already have, I have found that several tools have come in handy: BBeBinder and Book Designer. BBeBinder is especially useful for converting HTML documents to the native .lrf eBook format of the Reader System. Book Designer is a much more full-featured tool for converting almost any type of text file or eBook format to .lrf format (and several other formats, as well). Of course, the files need to be DRM-free for the conversion to work.
Because PDF is such a second-class citizen on the Sony reader, one of the steps in my process is to export text from PDFs (when possible) to HTML or RTF. Once I have the text extracted from the PDF, I can use one of the other tools to create an .lrf file.
In future posts, I’ll create some walk-throughs of selected conversions, including some Adobe Captivate animations.