December 23, 2008

New cheap eBook reader from Foxit

Foxit, a brand unknown to me before this, enters the eBook Reader market with a low-cost device called the eSlick.

It seems to be a no-nonsense, no-frills device along the lines of many I have covered here previously over the past year or more such as :

You can see Engadget's review of it which builds on the PC World article.

The specs are fairly standard, including:-
  • 6" E Ink® Vizplex screen 600 x 800 pixel resolution at 166 dpi, 4-level gray scale
  • Size: 7.4" x 4.7" x 0.4" (188×118×9.2mm)
  • Weight: 6.4 ounces (180g) battery included
  • Color:Color: Black/Gray - (Back: Deep Gray)/White - (Back: Light Gray)
  • Connectivity: USB2.0
  • eBook Formats: PDF, TXT, Any printable document(after converted to PDF using included software)
  • Sound Formats: MP3
  • Internal Memory: 128MB
  • Storage Memory: SD Card (2GB included. Supports up to 4GB)
Making it a small, slim, simple reading device filling a different segment (hopefully) from the more fully featured, connected Kindle.

According to Engadget/PCWorld it won't be available until January (talk about bad timing!), initially from the Foxit web-site, then later retail. So despite the low-price it won't make it into any Christmas stockings.

Based on Foxit being a software company, and this device being suspiciously similar to previous device designs, I'd say this is Foxit taking some of their PDF handling capability and branding an eReader from the same Outsourced Design & Manufacturing (ODM) firm that supplies those other similar devices.

December 19, 2008

Bookeen CyBook eBook Reader updates

Bookeen (bookeen web-site) seem to be revving up for the festive (and hopefully for them "buying") season with their CyBook generation 3 eBook reader.

I've covered the CyBook previously in this blog, in order from oldest to newest:-

The newsletter they sent to me explains that they will be dropping prices for Christmas. They say "significantly", but it will be up to the resellers to determine the end price it seems.

They are extending their distribution out of continental Europe with WHSmith (UK), Archambault (Canada) and BooksOnBoard (US).

And they are tackling the awareness/familiarity/knowledge problem around eBook reader devices with kiosks in stores where you can view and touch a CyBook reader - a good move.

I balk at the statement of eBook reader devices being a "trendy" X-mas gift.

And last, but not least, they say that the number of titles available in the Mobipocket format (.PRC) that is natively supported by the Cybook, is now up to 112,000 titles.

They need to get a PR agency more proficient in English, English punctuation/proof-readying or character sets on the web/e-mail as almost all their statements in the Newsletter are stated as questions, often with the question mark at the start and the end of the sentence, as a Question is in Spanish, although they miss the up-side-down question mark symbol.

December 18, 2008

More Battery lifetime? Yes thank you?

Yahoo!Tech reports (via PCWorld) that Mary-Lou Jepsen continues her line of work from the OLPC project in her new company (PixelChi) to extend the battery life of laptop computers by attacking the area of the laptop's display, and how it integrates with and is managed by the laptop.

The OLPC display and laptop designed by Jepsen included some innovative design features that significantly extended it's battery life. These include a high-res, monochrome reflective display mode (great for reading monochrome content in anything from moderate to strong lighting conditions) and the ability to power off much of the display driver circuitry when the display contents are not changing.

The OLPC was designed for a particular purpose and operating environment, and now she's working to take such innovations and new ones to commercial laptops with the hope of extending battery life to beyond 20 hours and maybe to as much as 40 hours (without extra battery backs it is presumed).

One of the keys is how the display driver circuitry is integrated with the display, and the control of it. Thus her company will be producing designs for most of the laptop. This system approach is needed when optimization is required in a particular area, as plugging together standard components will get you "standard" results.

Many of these innovations should be applicable to any eBook readers that decide to go with LCD displays (e.g. the JetBook covered elsewhere in this blog), but much less so to E-Ink or other bi-stable display technologies.

But, if such improvements can be delivered to LCD displays, then that could put eBook readers using color LCD displays into the same range of battery life as some existing E-Ink readers - hence bringing Color and faster update rates and interactivity to the game.

Off-course other display technology developers (such as E-Ink) are attempting to increase refresh rates and add color, so it's an obvious collision course. But as consumers we can only hope that one or both technologies arrive and we have healthy competition and choice in the eBook reader market.

Also, as demonstrated by the OLPC with it's monochrome reflective display mode, we may see these displays in laptops that are transformable into workable eBook readers - giving us new hybrid style devices.

December 17, 2008

Do e-Books have a future in iTunes?

Wired reports on efforts by publishers to ready their content for publishing in e-Book format, on multiple devices and platforms, but with the iPhone featuring highly among them.

There are a growing number of eBook reading applications available for the iPhone (despite Steve Jobs claiming that "people don't read anymore") and I have covered a number of them in this blog.

Also, it seems that many individual books are being released as standalone "self-reading" applications on the App Store.

I can only think that this is an easy way for publishers to do the eCommerce for each book, and have the browse and purchase experience tightly integrated into the iPhone experience, as well as being a way to surreptitiously make the "App Store" a "Book Store" by making "Book" = "App".

I don't have numbers on the size of the application-book combination download versus the book content alone, but it must be much bigger as the book content itself can be as small as a few hundred KBytes without images. Thus they will start to fill up your iPhone/iPod memory more quickly.

Is that an issue? What happens when you delete a book (App) you've read? Can you get it back for no charge later?

I assume you cannot read the same book content on your PC/Mac where iTunes is running?

Don't expect much in the way of integration across publishers, or the ability to look-up a word in a dictionary/thesaurus from one publisher while reading a book from another.

One positive aspect is that there shouldn't be any format concerns (a Book can always read itself as it is the reader!), and you will always have a compatible and up-to-date reader software for each book you buy.

Having books sold via the App Store or iTunes will enable Apple to neatly track sales and decide whether they want to do something about it or not, such as providing explicit support for eBooks in the iTunes store, in the iPhone "Apps" store and in the iPhone/iPod itself.

Providing they don't restrict purchase and downloads to Wi-Fi only (like they do for music) then they could provide a great browse and purchase experience similar to that of the Amazon Kindle (only faster, being 3G, and in color), providing a more mobile (but limited in screen size and outdoor readability) reading experience.

December 16, 2008

More folding displays for mobile phones

Remember that toy doll (for boys!) that existed a long time ago, called "Little Big Man", well now we seem to be entering into the period of the "Little Big Phone" enabled by folding displays.

At last we will be able to have a decent screen real estate for reading/viewing the types of media that need it, but that can be folded up into a small package for the pocket.

I have commented in a number of previous posts on the READIUS device here (best to search for READIUS if you want to review them) which promises (and has been for a while!!!) to be the first such device to market. It's not a full-on phone, but of a hybrid device with a monochrome E-Ink display and a focus on reading, although that includes reading RSS feeds, news items and not just books.

Recently I commented on a Folding OLED display for mobile phones demo-ed (see video included in that post) by Samsung.

Now, we have another technology announcement on flexible displays from ITRI (Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute) which does quite a lot of research on display technologies, reported by PCWorld and Engadget.

The PCWorld post is the better description, but Engadget post a gallery of images (from ITRI/Pilotfish) for you. Unfortunately neither of them provide much details on the technology itself, or expected availability dates (except Engadget in the title).

It's not a product announcement, and new display technologies seem to resist the transition to market strongly and hence companies struggle to meet expectations after their technology demos and announcements get people existed. ITRI

They show a number of product mock-ups (repeat: mock-ups) of a mobile phones using the display, by design firm Pilotfish.

I suspect the mock-up is just that, and not functional. That's why we don't see video of the image changing, nor the unfolding/folding process.

Sorry to put a damper on all the excitement around the concept design images (which is what they are for, right, to generate excitement) but I think the design mock-up images most probably don't reflect the performance of an EP (ElectroPhoretic) Display in this timeframe.

If they plan to commercialize in 2009, then it will probably be reflective and not as bright as shown. Wthout more details on the display technology itself that's just guessing. Strangely, ITRI's own site doesn't cover this in any Press Release, or News item so it's not easy to find more details. A search of the site doesn't reveal anything on this work either.

The most likely guess for the actual display technology in 2009 would be a monochrome E-Ink display like that planned for the READIUS and the Plastic Logic reader (also covered here recently
at this post), leading to something looking more like this...

December 5, 2008

The new technology devil - eBooks!

See the "dissertation" on TeleRead blog here on how we are again demonizing a new book technology, just like 500 years ago.

imageHistory replays itself!

Originally books were handwritten (copied) by specialized scribes, often with extreme artistry.

Then one day a new technology was "invented" - the movable type printer, which promised cheap, mass production of books that (shock! horror!) would ALL LOOK THE SAME, and were ugly. They put the scribes jobs at risk and the end of an art form loomed.

This new technology was the devil incarnate, and "real books" were under threat.

Fast forward 500 years and the same type of argument is happening with eBooks. They are "just not the same" as real paper books, and surely will never take off, much less take over?

The details of this specific argument aside, we just never seem to learn do we?

New technologies that intersect with art and culture and that break long tradition come under attack.

There is a lot of talk about the limitations of the new technology and we separate into two polarized bands, those for and those against. Those who stay on the fence are the worst, they won't even take a "position"!

Surely, if it were all limitations then it would no doubt fail on it's own - lack of- merit no, and no attack would be necessary?

In these cases we seem to fear the new technology. But surely if we look back, taking the growth of the printing press as our example in this case, the new technology has contributed hugely to society and culture.

December 3, 2008

Turn Your iPhone Into an e-Book - get romance everywhere

The adoption of the iPhone/iPod Touch as general phone, media and internet devices is known and more than covered.

It appears that they are also being adopted as devices for reading eBooks, although when based on free download numbers you never know. They do seem to indicate a lot of interest.

This can only be encouraged when mass media such as J.D. Biersdorfer over at the New Yorks Times covers the fact and the Stanza reader for them.

It seems that publishers are catching onto this quickly, and scrambling to make their content available in the Stanza and other eBook reader formats supported by iPhone eBook reading software (see also "eReader" and "Classics" covered in earlier posts on this blog).

One recent addition is "All Romance eBooks".

If you have eContent you'd like to sell and see this as an opportunity to capitalize on, then the TeleRead blog has some tips and links to help you out here.

December 2, 2008

Cafescribe - A resource for student

CafeScribe state on their web-site that:

CaféScribe is all about helping students save money and get better grades. Our digital textbooks and free MyScribe reader take you where traditional printed media can't. Think of us as textbooks 2.0.
Thus they seems a good resource for students looking for eTexts and a good follow-on to my previous post on the economics of buying your text books in electronic book format for using with the Amazon Kindle.

Now, off on a personal rant....
Stop talking about saving trees for goodness sake!
Trees used for paper making (as opposed to hardwoods in the Amazon - a different Amazon! - Rain forest) are a crop, just like rice or wheat. They get planted, they grow, get taken care of (thinning etc) and then get harvested and used. The land is allowed to rest, remains are ploughed under, it gets planted and the cycle starts again.

Permanent cutting of trees and deforestation is a different problem, and not caused by people reading books on paper for Pete's sake.

The issue about using paper books is mainly about energy usage, and hence CO2 and other pollutants production, in their production and distribution. Some energy can actually be regained from them (through burning in thermal power plants). Water usage could be a problem, but is not usually in the regions where paper manufacture takes place, where water is abundant.

I will make sure to post some future posts expanding on this subject, including some links to serious studies on the subject. These studies are complex and depend a lot on the assumptions made for the analysis. Examples would be:-
  • How many people may use a paper book through re-sale over it's entire life?
  • Where are the printed materials produced, how far to ship them to point of use, and by what transport means.
  • Do you read in daylight, lighting that would be on anyway, or have a reading light?
  • Did you buy a computer or eBook reader JUST to read a given set of contact instead of on paper?
  • How long do you leave your device on for beyond the time needed for reading, and how much energy is used in that time?
  • How much energy is wasted by your computer when it is OFF, by the power brick?
  • Can your computer/device be recycled when out of date? How much energy used to recycle that material? Does it have heavy metals that will leech out?
  • etc etc etc.
Don't listen to simplistic "save more trees by buying eBook" arguments by electronic vendor's who's ONLY business is in selling you that device. Inform yourself, and consider your overall energy use and production of pollutants.

December 1, 2008

Direct download your Stanza eBooks to your Apple iPhone or iPod Touch

Over here at TeleRead forums they explore the direct download of eBook content to the iPhone or iPod touch for the Stanza eBook reading software.

I've commented on the Stanza eBook reading software for iPhone/iPod Touch previously in these posts:-
The news is though that now you can download content to read directly to the device, from the device, from the BooksOnBoard web at least when downloadign non-DRM-ed epub formatted content.

If there are any readers who have done that, then please share your experiences by submitting a comment to this post.

Cyber Monday Nintendo DS - yet another eBook platform in the making?

TeleRead blog has a veritable splurge of news and rumor or speculation on the Nintendo DS (Lite) as a possible eBook reading platform. Here are the main links if you want to read more:-
The DS does have great little screens (note: small!) and a great battery life, touch/stylus screen for page turning and annotation. It can already be used for eBook reading with non-Nintendo expansion cards, micro-SD adapters and cracked firmware and games. Will a official Nintendo push make a difference? Probably.

Note how the DS when showing Japanese eBook content (here) is portrait two-page "book-like" device!

With all the recent news and growth in use of Apple iPhone and iPod Touch as a reading platform, and some previous efforts for Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) are we seeing eBook reading becoming a "functionality" of virtually all computing and consumer electronic devices?

If so, is there a space for a dedicated, or at least optimized, device for reading eBooks - with a specialized display (E-Ink and the like), optimized battery life, and ergonomics optimal for handheld reading in multiple places and while on-the-go?

Off course if technology developments produce displays and devices that don't need to make those trade-off decisions ("Multi-media or eBooks?) then we'll probably see devices with all of these functions.

Amazon is offering a special Cyber-Monday price of just $99 for the Nintendo DS here. See Engadget coverage here. That's a great price! If you consider it a valid eBook reading device then it's the cheapest around I think.

Your thoughts welcome, post a comment.

November 28, 2008

More on Plastic Logic electronic newspaper reader

Here are some more details and discussion on the Plastic Logic electronic reading device announced a while back from the future of things blog.

Previous posts of mine regarding Plastic Logic's work include (in chronological order, from oldest to newest):-
This latest TFOT post doesn't add a lot over those previous posts of mine I think, but I'll let you decide that. It's a recompilation of old news.

For example, Hearst was an early investor and hasn't been active or sayign anything about the E-Ink, E-paper or E-Newspaper space for years now and the writer doesn't offer any news from them.

It mostly serves as a reminder that this device has been announced and hence should be coming soon, although we've been saying that about the Polymer Vision Readius (see previous posts here and here or search for Readius in the search box at the top left of this page) for almost two years now and I still can't hope or request it as a Chrismas stocking filler.

If the larger size of the Plastic Logic reader suits your application and where/how you think you will use and carry an electronic reader, then it sure is pretty!

Your text books on your Kindle - an economic analysis

Jason Perlow over at ZDNet Blogs takes a closer look at some of the economics of owning a Kindle eBook reader and buying electronic, not paper books.

He decides to take a look at two markets, or use cases: higher education and consumers.
I say "use case", because some students at higher education will be consumers of other types of content also, and consumers may do study on their eBook reading devices.

He (rightly I think for this exercise) pretty much limits himself to the economics, and the other advantages (less weight, convenience etc) are left out of the equation. It's an economic analysis.

There's also the problem that most of the text books wanted by higher education students are probably not available in Kindle format at the time of writing. He limits it to legal purchases of content.

His (reasonable) summary for one scenario is that the Kindle scenario could save a student $132.00 per semester, which over 8 semesters amounts to $1056 minus the cost of the device to leave a total saving of $700. Alternatively, the break-even time for "investing" in a Kindle is only 3 semesters, then it's all beer-money with the savings.

So, now I see the need for some enterprising individual to index all the text books needed for each degree or course imparted, and checking that all of the text books required are available in Kindle format -> a "Kindle Textbook Checklist". Sounds like a good mash-up of University web-sites and Amazon Kindle Store project to me! Anyone interested?
You can then offer to certify a given study course as "100% eBook compatible".

Not counting the re-sale of the paper books after using them, and recuperating some (he estimates half) of their value is a major problem with the analysis that makes it more favorable to the Kindle.

We need some real (US for now, due to Kindle availability) students to come in with their perspective and set us all straight.

This analysis also raises an irksome point among eBook purchasers. What about the right of first (re-)sale for eBooks? If a student could sell on those "used" eBooks like they could the paper books, that would change the result somewhat.

Questions remain for me about how content production and sale for education will change when good reading (and maybe writing/annotating) devices become available at the "right price" (anyone know what that is?) for students. We may well see collaborative authoring of free texts, or professors or institutions putting their content in the open for free. One example of that is MIT's open course-ware initiative. THAT would change the economics a bit!

Will text book editors, educational institutions and resellers ever drop prices significantly on this type of content and dynamite it all, making the economics of buying your text books in eBook format a wash and opening up the other advantages of eBooks for this application to all?

P.S. Why do people insist on using the word "literally" when it's clearly not literal? The Kindle cannot literally be "A closed book". One, because it's not a book, it's an eBook reading device. Two, because it has no way of being closed. It is a closed book, figuratively.

November 27, 2008

Black Friday eBook deals at NewEgg

May be "Black Friday" doesn't need to be so black after all, thanks to JetBook with this great eBook offer.
Seems to me like they should call it the "Jet-Black-Book" :-)

JetBook ups the ante and addresses those thrifty "financial crisis" buyers with an agressive $198 offer (with free shipping!) to be found at NewEgg, a hundred dollars cheaper than their usual (white) version.

That offer won't last long, so follow it now or never.

I have covered the JetBook device in two previous posts:-
  • The original version in this post.
  • And in this post covering an update of theirs, targetted especially at travellers.

Kindle and PRS-700 compared

The Amazon Kindle Review blog does a direct comparison here of the version 1 of the Kindle eBook reader with the 3rd gen Sony reader, the PRS-700.

Noting their obvious partiality to the Kindle, they chose to list their (perceived) advantages of each and let you decide.

When they say "back-light" as an accessory for the Kindle, they mean front-light.
When they say "front-light" for the Sony, they mean side-light.

In general, I agree on most their points, except the Kindle keyboard which takes up precious real estate that I want to see filled with a display AND makes the device look ugly and NOT like a device mainly for consumption or reading.

To put that another way, if I took the two lists of advantages and could combine them into a new device with all of them, would that be a device I like and would want to own?

Yes, with the exception of the keyboard.

FUNAI announces development of "newspaper quality" electronic ink display technology

FUNAI have announced a new technology for ePaper that is causing a bit of a stir and lots of interest. There is excellent coverage of it at the TechOn Japanese web site which I summarize and comment on here (see references below)

Its an electrochromic technology, that is monochrome for now:
Gray scale representation is also possible with pulse width modulation. Although the device supports only four levels of gray scale at the moment, it will be possible to provide higher levels in the future, the company said.
with plans to move to color in the future. It remains to be seen whether via putting a color filter on top of this monochrome technology, or via an inherently color display as hinted at by some of their patents.

They able to do a very fast update (0.1ms) of each pixel.

No TFT Active Matrix is required, it using a line scanning passive matrix addressing scheme. That should make it cheaper, easier to manufacture and easier to move to flexible substrates (for conformability or robustness advantages). Although it seems they need to have a controlled gap in the display which complicates the move to plastic (or at least flexible plastic). They have their sights set on it though:-
The latest prototype was manufactured by using a glass substrate. Spacers are dispersedly located in the device to maintain the gap of 50μm. Another device that employs a plastic film is also under development, the company said. It aims to reduce the price of the latest device to 1/3 of that of the existing LCD panels.
They hint at a multiple pass line-scanning to increase contrast or the dye's optical density.
Because the contrast reaches 100% within 0.1 seconds, the device can smoothly display images on the entire screen just like an active matrix panel. At present, the device scans the screen two to five times before the contrast reaches 100%.
They claim:
A6-sized image within 0.1 seconds when the electrode density is set to 3 pieces/mm.
A6 size being one quarter of A4 or A size or 105mm x 148mmm / 4.13inches x 5.83inches

The reflectivity of the white state is very high at 80%! (remember, monochrome)

The side by side comparison of the display with newspaper, does make the white reflectance, black density and contrast ratio look very good and competitive with newspaper (which is not as white and reflective as standard office/copier paper remember).
The resolution is not so good, but that can maybe be improved.

Their white reflectivity vs. contrast diagram here illustrates very well where it lands compared to print, E-Ink like EPD displays and LCD, although remember that this diagram cannot tell the whole story. Color capability and spatial resolution being at least two other factors when comparing to print, but it's still impressive.

One disadvantage versus competitors such as E-Ink technology is that it is not bi-stable and needs a voltage to retain the image.
In other words, the device requires a voltage to retain an image on the screen, and it is not a bistable ultra-low power device like e-paper.
But the actual power consumed to write and hold the image may make that a non-issue:
The power consumption is 0.16mW/cm2 for writing and 0.08mW/cm2 for holding.
But 0.08mW/cm2 is not a lot!
Doing the maths I make that for an A6 display: 12.4mW for an A6-sized display


November 26, 2008

800 Newspapers for the iRex Digital Reader

iRex Technologies announce here on their official blog (i-to-i) with pomp that the iRex Digital Reader (specifically the DR1000 model) will now be a reading platform with 800 electronic newspapers available to be read on it.

These 800 newspapers have appeared overnight "in one fell swoop" through the porting of the Newspaper Direct PressReader Software (which has until now only been available for PC, Mac and some SmartPhone/PDA platforms) to the iRex DR1000 eBook reading platform.

Here is a 2m20sec demo of the PressReader software on the DR1000 (no sound).

The general reading approach appears to be to display a full page (not two-page spread) layout on the large DR1000 display, and then have one level of zoom-in to read and article. At that zoom level you can then pan around to read the article in it's original (sometimes crazy!) article layout. All those manipulations in the video are done using the stylus (remember, no touch screen!) although I suspect keys/buttons can also be used.

Newspaper Direct, as you may suspect from their name is a company dedicated to the direct delivery of newspaper around the world using digital means.That is not necessarily restricted to electronic reading of them, as they could be printed-on-demand close to where they are to be read.

The equivalent Newspaper Direct press release can be found here

If you have an iRex DR1000 device and are raring to get started, you'll have to wait until December when the reading plug-in is due to be released.

Folding Quantum Dot display anyone?

Hot on the heels of my earlier post on a demonstration from Samsung of a "folding" OLED display here is a Technology Review article on Quantum Dots displays and a new manufacturing technique for them being worked on by a start-up called "QD Vision".

Compared to the state of development and manufacture of OLEDs, the story is two-sided.

We already have small OLED displays in manufacture and use (mainly in cell phones and portable TVs), so in that sense the state of OLED technology is MUCH more advanced than Quantum Dot displays.

However, there are known difficulties in making large OLED displays (as well as some difficulties with their lifetime), which is one area that the proponents of this quantum dot technology think they may have a fundamental advantage - at least with this new technique described.

So, in a sense they hope to come from significantly behind, and overtake OLEDs in larger size displays and take the market from LCD displays.

What do they claim to offer over LCD? Mainly lower power, maybe slightly lighter and thinner. Then off course if they can make them flexible that's a game changer.

What do they claim to offer over OLED? Brighter, sharper color, and off course maybe easier (cheaper?) to manufacture at the larger sizes.

November 25, 2008

Folding OLED display

Well, Samsung have come nicely to my aid with a video from the FPD 2008 trade-show of a working, folding OLED display (in this case embedded in a mobile phone) that makes an excellent follow-on to the previous post about dual-display eBook research.

The video is pretty tedious (1m49s long), but there are a couple of high-points when the working, bright OLED display in the cell-phone is folded flat as the "side-ways clam shell" is closed shut.

In an update post here on the OLED-Info web site they claim it is actually two individual OLED displays side by side. The video isn't close enough, perpendicular to the displays or of good enough quality to get a really good look at the middle of the display but there is no visible seam between them.

If they can get the two displays to stitch together perfectly, and fold double and lie flat - then who cares if it's flexible? It looks great.

I can imagine this going down great in a fold-out iPod for viewing video, with a smaller even lower power display used for audio, phone, etc.

And off-course, a larger version of the same as an eBook reader (maybe with a touchscreen Sony PRS-700 like integrated into each one) that due to brightness and response times of OLEDs would also be very good for viewing photos and videos and so making it more of a generic eReader. OLEDs are lower power (especially when displaying black or darker colors) but still not as low-power as E-Ink or other reflective displays, and so battery life would be worse - but could still be acceptable and worth the trade-off for all those other capabilities.

Apple, PMP manufacturers, Laptop/Netbook manufacturers and eBook/eReader manufacturers all please take note!

November 20, 2008

Dual display eBook reader research

On the UK's PocketLint gadget web they have recently posted a video on research from Maryland and Berkeley Universities into more advanced document navigation.

As part of that research they developed further the concept of a dual-display eReader and how it can be used to ease certain types of reading, and some of the more complex navigational tasks.

This would be most useful beyond your standard "linear reading" of a book, in such tasks as document reading, cross-referencing and production by a knowledge worker, student, professor or other.

I have long advocated the two screen approach. In the future I hope technology will evolve so that in fact it can be one large flexible screen that can be used as one large screen in portrait or landscape, or as two smaller portrait pages side by side. This is my 200% goal for the "screen space to device size (closed) ratio".

The video is well done, and three and a half minutes long, so just go ahead and watch it.

November 19, 2008

eReader eBook reading software for iPhone and iPod Touch

eReader is another eBook reading application for the iPhone and iPod Touch devices.

You can see a 10minute demo video of their v1.0 release (from July 2008) here, or embedded below:

Getting the application
The application is downloaded to the iPhone from the Apple AppStore as for other applications.

Getting Content
eBooks can be purchased from major publishers (at the moment eReader themselves and Fictionwise), although they say they will be adding more sources shortly.

Books are kept on your eReader web account, even if you have deleted your local copy from your iPhone or you have not yet downloaded it to your device.

From the UI you can go to your eReader account (with a username and password login) and then select books from there to (re-)download into the device memory.

You can request multiple downloads in parallel, and it advises you when they are completed.

Premium content requires an unlock code on download, although they do "cache" them to save re-entry.

For purchases done via the device the credit card number configured on your eReader account is used.

At the time of the video (July) they state they have more than fifty thousand titles available, which is more than some eBook reader platforms.

The app has a "bookshelf" inside which is nothing more than the books on the device itself, as opposed to the books you own or available from the web.

Page turning is the intuitive, and rapidly becoming ubiquitous on the iPhone, "swipe to turn".
I didn't see demo-ed a simple "tap to turn" option that exists in Stanza or "Classics", the previous iPhone readers I've covered, but I hope they have included it.

Good features included are:-
  • supports landscape format
  • dictionary integration. A downloaded dictionary (of which there can be multiple) works across different books. Just press and hold to see dictionary entry for a word.
  • font size control.
and they state they are planning improvements in the number of sources of content and user interface and collection browsing/filtering, some of which maybe already in the 1.3 release now available

eReader seems like another well done eReading application for the iPhone platform, with more than some others have in back-end systems and available content.

These eReading applications for iPhone are following Apple guidelines and UI styles and doing a nice job of user interaction and graphics.

As a result they are already trending to convergence, with not a lot of difference between them!

The difference will be in the availability of books from the internet, pricing and integration with other possible reading devices and services.

November 18, 2008

Half a million downloads Stanza eReading software for eBooks on Apple iPhone

Apparently, the Stanze eReading software from Lexcycle for the iPhone has been very successful, with already over 500,000 downloads.

The iPhone reader application is available on the Apple iPhone AppStore and the desktop/laptop eBook software for PC or Mac is available from this section of the Lexcycle web.

The fact it is free is obviously a factor, but it does indicate the level of interest or intrigue there is about being able to read books (and other material) on the iPhone/iPod Touch platforms.

If you want to see it working in a demo, you can do so in a number of movie formats at the Lexcycle web site, here.

Among other features it does seem to have a lot of configurations options for the reading appearance, allowing you finicky readers to see your contents just as you like it.

It's available in twelve different languages and has users in more than 50 countries, aparently.
Any users out there amongst you who can give a hands-on assessment.

The Stanza Online Catalog includes over 40,000 book and other items, “in more than 20 languages.”

It can display files in the standard ePub format, and have integrated a number of web sources for books, such as Feedbooks and others.

November 17, 2008

Are you glad you have an eBook reader? How many times?

TeleRead forums post an explanation here by Ficbot of how she was pleased, 10 times over of having an eBook reader.

I have long shared her belief that the eBook discussion shouldn't be a print OR eBook discussion.

The two have different strengths and can complement each other, and that sometimes you may even want both formats of the SAME book and even buy them together.

I'm not sure when I've been "most glad" to have an eBook reader. I think it would have to be either:-
  • Travelling: when trying to travel light and not knowing which books to take. Forgetting to take any books at all. Finishing the book I was reading shortly after starting the trip!
  • Away from Home: Being at the beach house for spells in summer or weekends and not having anything with me to read in paper form.
What about eBook reader owners amongst you out there?
When were/are you most glad to have an eBook reader with you?

November 14, 2008

iRex DR1000 eBook reader community development kicks in

Over at the iRex company blog you can read in this post that explains how just after a week of them releasing their full-source-code to the open source community, they have seen the first "community developed" application (FBReader) released for the DR1000 eBook reader.

iRex are pushing a radically different model for their software platform with their recent open sourcing of their code, and it will be interesting to see:-
  • how many, and which, applications get developed outside of iRex
  • how iRex will handle rolling some of them back into the core platform they release or manage
  • how they affect the iRex Illiad reading experience, if you have many different applications on it with different user interaction models, layouts etc.
  • will it make anyone else consider taking this route? I can't see Sony doing it somehow.
Watch this space and I'll inform of developments.

Audio eBooks on Amazon Kindle

Over at TeleRead web you can see this post discussing audible books from (recently bought by Amazon) on the Amazon Kindle.

I tried an audio book for the first time this summer, via my iPod in my car on my daily commute to work and back - with mixed results - and I'm still not sold on the idea but try to keep an open mind.

This person's experience with the Kindle using the audio book seems to have been fine and they recommend you try it.

It makes me wonder what the experience would be like for a combined "visual" eBook and audio-book on an eBook reading device, where the page was presented on-screen AND read to you. Not sure what that would be useful for, beyond maybe learning a foreign language but it might be fun to try.

ETACO updates JetBook eBook reader - for travelers

I covered the initial introduction of the ETACO JetBook eBook reader, with it's monochrome LCD display, in my original post.

At the end of October they announced an update on it in their press release, which explains the update consists of:-
  • Now Includes Fodor's Travel Guide
  • Support for International Digital Publishing Forum's (IDPF) epub format
  • MobiPocket eBook format support
and is due to hit the streets in Q1 2009.

It will be interesting to see how they do with they're unique approach and different choice of display technology.

I haven't had the chance yet to see one in the flesh to evaluate the display (and the rest of it), but if it lives up to it's publicity shots then the display looks good.

Sony PRS-700 eBook reader reviewed by MobileTechReview

MobileTechReview have posted a very good review and discussion of the pros and cons on Sony's new eReader the PRS-700 here.

Echoing my own sentiments they consider the improvements in interaction from Sony significant. The combination of continued small improvements in button layout and use, this time supercharged also by the addition of the touchscreen, and the new interaction from the touchscreen itself make this a very nice device to use now.

But the additional touchscreen layers and their coatings in front of the display have reduced the already marginal (for all E-Ink displays) contrast of the display. That must have been a tough call for Sony to take, but they have made a statement with it: improve the interaction, despite the hit on display readability. No doubt they are now busy figuring out how to reduce the negative impact as much as possible.

MobileTechReview say "The main menu is the poster child for simple and easy user interfaces". Indeed, I was struck by the elegant simplicity of that simple screen with the big, high-contrast, simple and easy to understand (and hit with a wobbly finger!) icons. Well done Sony.

Something I didn't catch when I covered the PRS-700 previously is the landscape viewing mode is something that will come in handy for certain documents types, although with more panning or scrolling to see a whole portrait page in that larger magnification.

I notice that Sony finally got their branding head straight, and put a simple embossed Sony logo on the FRONT of the device! Duh... See me covering they're previous failures in my PRS-500 reviews: Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

So, with all these improvements in interaction, while doing a great job at maintaining the style (or improving due to less buttons) and the great battery life, what's left for Sony to fix in future revisions? I'd say:-
  • that contrast! Keep pushing it up (E-Ink's job mostly)
  • wireless content: discovery, access and delivery. This is where the Kindle (ugly as it may be) still beats it.
  • refresh speed: again, mostly an E-Ink task and they are definately working on this and making visible improvements, see my post here on E-Ink work on new controller chips.
  • then longer term we've got color etc
By-The-Way, Sony have today (Friday) turned on their new (improved?) eBook store over here: if you are interested in checking it out. I'm not sure I can identify any newsworthy changes.....let me know if you can.

November 13, 2008

Welcome to the present

For the second time, Welcome!

The work to port here past posts has finally finished and so posts from now on will be up-to-date or "in the present".

In the process of porting those previous posts, some short cuts had to be taken. So they are not all as complete or at the quality level desired, and hope to be attained moving forward.

  • Some internal links between posts, and linked to other resources had to be dropped.
  • Some of the original posts had images that couldn't be maintained, or that have disappeared in the meantime.
  • Due to the original posts being on another blog system, the formatting (e.g. image widths, bulleted lists, etc) is not always great.
So, thanks for your understanding.
From now on you can legitimately complain about such things for new posts (via comments).

In the few days since that porting effort started there has been quite a few readers. Thank you for dropping in.

You are quite an international audience already which is really appreciated. A "world view" on things will try to be kept, so any pointers, comments, suggestions, advice, complaints or news that help do that will be much appreciated.

The blog has already been visited by people from:-

  • US
  • Spain
  • UK
  • France
  • Belgium
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Italy
  • Greece
  • Turkey
  • Saudi Arabia
  • India
  • Philipines

No visits from Australia or Africa yet, and more from Asia is desired, but it's early.

Thank you all. If you like the blog or find it useful, then please recommend or forward the URL to friends or colleagues.

November 11, 2008

Your next eReader, from Uncle Sam

Just a quick pointer to this article on Wired news blog that describes the efforts by the US Army to develop light, flexible, low-power displays for use by their soldiers in the field.

Not a lot of "news" in it, but maybe interesting you were unfamiliar with the US Army work and the Flexible Display Center at Arizona State University.

Regarding the image above (from top of article), I think the article's first word is the one to apply: "Imagine".....

Nifty new eBook reading apps for iPhone/iPod Touch

This article on AppleInsider covers a new eBook reading application for iPhone called "Classics" to add to existing ones like "Stanza" and"eReader" which are available from the iPhone's App Store.

As it's name suggests it's targetted at Classic content, digitized and made available by Project Gutenberg, after some clean-up and cover design by these guys.

"Classic", rightly or wrongly in this space is becoming a synonym for "Out of copyright, and free". The app costs $2.99 at the Apple App Store.

From the available screen shots at AppleInside and their own web ( they seem to have done a nice job on the aesthetics front, which was much needed for Gutenberg content in my mind.

I won't re-write the original AppleInside article to check it out, but just to show one more image of how they have taken a detailed and subtle approach to the content's appearance and page turning.

Whether those are the right design decisions to have taken from a readability and usability point of view, or not, I'll leave to experts to debate. But you have to admit they've done a "nice" job of what they set out to do. This attention to detail and presentation is also reflected in their web.

I'd welcome comments where from anyone who either reads regularly (or a lot) on the iPhone or who has tried this application.

5 inch E Ink eBook from Hanvon

The Chinese manufacturer Hanvon has introduced what it claims is the first 5" E Ink eBook reader. See article here from the TechOn news blog.

Specs include

  • 11mm thick
  • Formats supported: TXT, HTML, PNG, JPG, PDF, XEB, CEB, MP3, MTXT
  • 167 PPI, SVGA (800 x 600 pixels) E-Paper display
  • 1GB SD card and a mini USB port.

So, not much new really.

Hanvon has experience in handwriting input and tablets and are a kind of Wacom cloner.I can't remember from the E Ink visit, if they are the provider of the digitizing tablet in the smaller sized E Ink development platform. Based on this announcement I suspect so.

The article hints at stylus input, but the specs don't clarify it much, and I couldn't find the product on either of their web sites ("Global" vs."US" ! Isn't the US part of the world?).

Does this proliferation of low-cost, "nothing new" eBook readers (shaping up similar to MP3 market) help the category and the adoption of eBook readign devices, or hinder it?

BTW: Am I the only one who hates it when you go to a company's web-page, and before being shown any information you are forced to chose a country or region?

A second gripe then is that they often mix location (for buying in retail I presume, although with web purchase possible this doesn't make a lot of sense) with language. Please don't do this.....

More LCD bistability - Sharp

Original Post from November 3rd 2008.

Copied from news article from "Nikkei BP Tech-On on October 30, 2008".

Sharp has developed an LCD panel that has a memory function to maintain the displayed content even after power supply is cut off and exhibited it at FPD International 2008.

The panel came in 14.1-, 6.1-, 2.4- and 1.7-inch sizes. Sharp presented monochrome and 8-color display panels in 14.1- and 6.1-inch sizes, and monochrome and area color display panels in 2.4- and 1.7-inch sizes.

The panels appeared to use a cholesteric LCD material, but the company's staffer refrained from specifying it. He did not reveal the LCD cell structure, or applied voltage and power consumption for saving content in the memory, either. He, however, said that the power consumption for saving data is "relatively large."

Sharp cited electronic inventory tags, restaurant menu and public signage as applications of the LCD panel. In other words, the LCD panel is positioned as a technology to compete with electronic paper.

As for the inventory tag application, Sharp already began a test operation at a supermarket in Osaka, it said. In the test operation, product prices are displayed on a 2.4- or 1.7-inch memory-embedded black-and-white LCD panel mounted on a substrate equipped with a wireless LAN function and a control circuit to change displayed content.

"This technology makes it possible to easily switch product prices all at once for limited time offers in the evening, for example," the staffer said.

The LCD panel's operational temperature ranges from -25 to +55 degree C. So, its use is limited to indoors at this moment.

"Displayed content becomes distorted at +55 degree C and higher, while rewriting displayed content becomes difficult at -25 degree C and lower temperature," the staffer said.

Commenting on pricing, he said, "It is a bit expensive because it uses some materials that are not usually seen in LCDs. However, we can reuse our old-generation manufacturing lines for its production without making any change to them. So, pricing will probably be equivalent to that of general LCD panels when the scale of its volume production grows."

There is an article on thsi announcement here.

Ohio Reflective and Bistable

Original Post from November 3rd 2008.

Kent Displays in Ohio, US, has recently made announcements based on progress in their Cholesteric LCD display research. One such article from can be found here.

Basically they announce two things:

  • Flexible display manufacturing (or at least advanced prototyping) of their ChLCD display technology.
  • Creation of a color-changing coating (~= "display") for consumer electronic devices such as phones etc.

Not sure if it's just election-fever, or if this web typically takes this stance, but the article is quite big on the fact they are/plan to manufacture in the US. I'll try and stick to the product and technology aspects of the news.

Kent have been researching and making Cholesteric LCD displays for some time. These are reflective, bi-stable displays, thus they display images via the reflected light and don't need a back-light or light emission that consumes power. Further, being bi-stable they don't need to be refreshed and hence can display information when switched of, with power only required to change the image.

Now they announce a 320 by 160 pixel, flexible display that (quote) "lends itself to all sorts of applications that you haven't seen before.".

They are a bit short on examples of those new applications, so we'll leave that as an exercise for the reader....

Also they have furthered their research in color films to produce a (quote) "paper thin, electronic skin for cell phones and mobile devices that allow consumers to change colors with the touch of a finger. The "eGo" skin uses no power to maintain any color already rendered on the surface." a prototype of which is shown below.
HINT to marketeers......when you announce something that changes or moves.... post video, not stills!

This is an interesting area from the product design, industrial design and fashion standpoint and one where E Ink is also active (see previous posts). We should expect to see in the future these "morphing" products where appearances change, and the boundaries between product and display and decoration all get blurred. Not only could you change the color of your phone to match your clothing or preferences, but it could change its own color based on some paramter.... just imaging it glowing red hot when you have lots of e-mails or missed calls for example.

The REAL NEWS is contained in the phrase "Kent Displays now has a roll-to-roll machine that is capable of producing millions of plastic displays per year." which indicated they are making progress towards being able to manufacture such technologies with roll-to-roll processes and they claim they will enter production in January.
I'll keep an eye open for more extensive coverage of these Kent advances.

E Ink updates capabilities with new controller chip

Original Post from October 29th 2008.

Engadget (here) and other sites are reporting news from E Ink (shown here in an employee video on YouTube. I've added a few details to what you'll see in Engadget and others.

They are now offering their E Ink displays (or in fact, their partners who produce full display modules, such as Prime View International (PVI) are) with an updated E Ink display controller ASIC developed in collaboration with EPSON, called "Broadsheet" (I wonder why?).

Not needing a constant refresh like CRT or LCD displays, the way a bistable E Ink display is driven is very different from your normal display.

Working with Epson is not news, previous controllers were from Epson too.

This Broadsheet controller adds the ability to perform partial screen updates (i.e. just update a rectangle of the screen that changes) and performs updates faster.

This enables reasonable speed animations (depending on the size of the area it occupies I suspect) to be done inside a "static" page.

This can be used for text-books with animated figures that show how things move or work. We saw a demo of that and it was quite compelling for educational/informative material. Imagine a science book or wiki "on paper" where diagrams illustrated how things worked, like the four-stroke cycle of an internal combustion engine.

It also can be used for newspapers ads that move and change to attract your attention. I bet you were all dying for that last one: flashy web-banner-like ads hit your newspaper! How long before we all develop an immunity to them like banner ads?

They have increased the greyscale bit-depth from 3-bit to 4-bit, or grey 16 levels, providing much better rendition of greyscale images. Unless you are a "black and white only" kinda person, then this doesn't change things much in my opinion for photo viewing. Sure I can carry family photos around (and I have a lot of old scanned family photos in black and white...) for viewing on the go, but the ones I most want to view or, more likely, share are recent shots in color.

Where it does make a difference is in books, newspapers or magazines with photo content in them that's either monochrome anyway, or gets the idea across well in monochrome.

The development kit/module includes stylus input (from Wacom and a Chinese competitor of theirs depending on the display/tablet size) and the faster display update with the new controller helps the display 'digital ink' track the stylus movement much better. It's still not perfect, but an improvements over the current state-of-the-art which is the iRex Illiad stylus implementation.

Qualcomm MEMS “e-paper” display debuts

Original Post from October 23rd 2008.

As reported here by TechnologyReview QuallComm has finally shipped their MEMS-based display technology.

This technology has the potential to be fast, bright and colorful but we think it's got limitations in size and it will be difficult to put onto a plastic electronics (read flexible) backplane.

In the photo it looks nice and bright, but just look at how bright the standard white "paint" lines and butterfly icon are on that device. I bet the photographer had to borrow extra studio lights from his buddies to get it like that!

eReader News Round-up

Original Post from October 22nd 2008.

I've gleaned a smattering of smaller news items from various eBook related blogs and web-sites and thought I'd pass them on in a big 'blob', enjoy.

BBC News Videos

Turns out the BBC News on their web have a collection of (linked) videos covering e-paper displays, e-books and e-newspapers. "Popular Science" level of detail and journalism, but still OK if you're interested in this aera. In fact, it maybe a good thing, a sign that ebooks and epaper are creeping into the popular conscience.

The recent videos seem to focus more on the upcoming Plastic Logic device. Plastic Logic is a UK-based company that grew out of Cambridge University research (although they have built their factory in Dresden, Germany). Thus, this is probably a result of the PL PR machine getting into gear and UK-centric reporting by the BBC.

Here's the list:-

The revolution of paperless paper (a look at e-paper newspaper reading technology, mainly around Plastic Logic display).
'E-paper' produced in Germany (short spot on Plastic Logic's factory for e-paper in Dresden).
How the 'paperless paper' works
(demonstration on discussion around Plastic Logic display technology and upcoming device).
E-books put to the test (they take eBookt to "experts" on books at the British Library, but a very lightweight review).
End of the book? (a "on the road" test of Sony PRS eBook in real-world situations).

Inghram and Penguin
These two heavyweights "e-ink a deal" (:-) ) about digital distribution of e-books.
Covered here on TeleRead forums.

iRex takes Illiad code open source
Covered here on MobileRead forums among other places. This has now gone beyond rumour and been confirmed by iRex. At the same time Google OpenSources Android. Are the days of closed source, even for things that appear "core", over?

iRex DR1000S Reader starts getting reviewed
Here is one such review, showing the new reader side-by-side with the Illiad.
The new one is MUCH bigger.

Carbon Nanotube Electrophoretic Display From Samsung
Some confusing news here in MobileRead forums about a new CNT technology for EPD displays.

Digital Memo Taker

Original Post from October 21st 2008.

The product shown below (from this translated version of their web site) reminds me of some of the eBook concepts I was throwing around a year or so ago, when I was discussing the idea of an "eBook reader" being the display part of a disaggregated computer, but one where the "display" would have useful functionality when on it's own...

I discussed using one of the foldable keyboards on the market, and simply "docking" an eBook reader type device into it, to produce something not dissimilar to that shown in the image above. Although I wanted a dual-A-page eBook that folded out to A4 size.

This product will no doubt be the butt of "yet another device" criticisms as eBooks are, and hence I suspect only of interest for some very special applications.

This particular one has an LCD screen, but if all it does is take notes then I could see it with en E-Ink display and even lighter/thinner and with longer battery life, beyond he 20 hours stated here. With a bistable display, you can imaging a device that "sleeps" between keystrokes...

LiquaVista at last launches something

Original Post from October 20th 2008.

LiquaVista (yet another Philips display business spin-out, based in Holland) have one of the more promising technologies for bright, full-color, fast, low-power, reflective displays: ElectroWetting.

They seem to be making surprisingly slow progress with commercial versions of their technology, but last week they announced something at least.

You can find it discussed on Engadget.

The interesting contribution short-term from them in my opinion is the fact they can do these bright (remember, reflective!) displays in almost any color, which allows for you to coordinate your display and product colors and take steps to merging the display into the product in more subtle ways, either by blurring the boundary of what is display and what is product, or using displays to change product appearance as opposed to just displaying information to be read - "aesthetic displays" I guess.

I can only echo Engadget's sentiment: "Get Crackin'" LiquaVista!!! and start delivering those "flexible, full colour, video displays" you talk about in your press release:

Their kinda-quirky web has some interesting images, info and even tools to allow you to design your own display - if you can navigate it....