November 8, 2008

Are you keen on the Bookeen Cybook?

Original post on August 17th 2007.

Another "look-alike" eBook recently introduced, this time from "Bookeen" (Paris, France).
See their main web page here.

What a name! Is they really "Cyber book"?

Three main functionalities like the Sony reader:-

  • Books
  • Image viewing
  • MP3 listening

According to the specs page it uses the new eInk "Visplex" formulation with improved white and contrast and faster response times (see a previous post on the Vizplex intro).

They claim a good "8000 page flips battery life".

They seem to have decided to use multiple formats for books, including MobiPocket and claim to have 50,000 titles available at intro.

Interestingly they do a subtle visual compare with the size and thickness of a real book thus:

Other blog posts on the Bookeen Cybook can be seen at:-

Scan this book!

Original post from August 16th 2007.

Find here an interview with Brewster Kahle of the Open Content Alliance on the subject of digitizing public domain books.

The Laptop gets obsoleted?

Original post from August 2007.

OK, that’s a sensationalist headline, worthy of “The Sun”, just to grab your attention! So, let’s get on with it before I lose you….

Recently we have seen tremendous growth is sales of laptops for business, mobility and home use. Many people buy for home use, but never travel with it; due to the smaller size and the fact it can be easily folded up and “packed away” when not in use.

Desktop usage is reducing to a smaller number of people with specific needs such as high-end processing power, massive storage, lots of display real estate, and very specific peripherals and input devices. Tasks with these specific needs include graphic design (less so), video editing, CAD/Mechanical design, software and electronics design and development and others.

The laptop can be considered the future of computing for the masses due to it’s mobility and form factor and space efficiency, for a few years at least, and I look forward to HP making a lot of money out of laptops!

The New Laptop

But, from a research and future concept perspective – what will be next after the laptop?

Not surprisingly, my bet is some future form of the mobile phone. This is not a novel idea by me. My personal thoughts can be traced back to discussions with SriG, Anji and other HPLabs India employees during a visit to HP Labs Bangalore. In such emerging economies, where areas have leapfrogged completely the deployment of fixed-line telecommunications in favor of mobile they foresee the possibility of leapfrogging the Personal Computer altogether. The “first computer” people will have will be a mobile phone. The mobile phone (and the apps and services it can access) will expand in capabilities, and people will never go back to a “PC”, effectively leapfrogging it (at least for the masses).

Where the eReader fits in

What’s this all got to do with the subject of this blog, reading?

What I discuss here is a future “device ecology” including the mobile phone and the eReader, which are useful as standalone devices in their own right

But, they can be combined into device combinations to produce new abilities for the user (at some trade-offs of space and weight etc) on different points of the entire “computing” spectrum – from your “I always carry it” mobile phone up to your full-blown “travel kit” (phone + laptop + iPod + book/paper/eReader) at the top that provides the functionality, usability and mobility to basically obsoletes the laptop.

I’m tempted to go further down this spectrum, as I’ve always been interested in the wristwatch as an “always carried computer”, and have ideas for it – but I’ll save that for the future….


Before diving into ideas for devices and combinations, what tasks do I wish to get done? I don’t think much here will surprise you and most of you probably regularly do many of them already. Let me know any big ones you want to do that I don’t have here:-

  • Make phone calls, using numbers and saved contacts
  • Receive and send e-mail when on the go, have access to stored e-mail archives and files. Viewing real estate required will depend on the e-mail and the complexity of it and attachments. Likewise, the need to input small or large amounts of text will vary with e-mail type and content.
  • Manage my agenda, with (readable) day, week and month views. Create new entries with notes, attached files, etc. Send and receive appointments when on the go.
  • Receive calls, know who’s calling. Take call or send to voice mail
  • Manage an extensive contacts list for mail, e-mail, phone, SMS, IM, etc.
  • Consult the web from virtually anywhere, sometimes for small chunks of info, sometimes for larger (area) sizes of web pages, sometimes to download files and/or documents.
  • Manage voice mail calls
  • Read books, on the go
  • Stay informed of news, web, RSS, newspapers,
  • Listen to music from my owned music library
  • Receive and listen to podcasts, mainly audio ones, while traveling and driving in my car
  • Watch downloaded/sent video’s, programmed video (TV), occasionally a full length film.
  • Run office-like applications, but also a number of other ones that I can buy or download or access remotely.
  • Take notes, both handwritten and typed
  • Take voice-notes
  • Create simple graphics (powerpoint, etc) requiring pointer input.
  • Project presentations and other applications, whether the same as the direct view display or not.
  • Locate my position in the world and plan routes to other places, get directions
  • Read and review documents, annotate them (typed and handwritten) and highlight them
  • Play some simple games
  • Take and view photographs, manage photo collections.


Mobile Phone / PDA / iPod

Nokia N95

Most of you will have a good appreciation of these devices, how they are evolving (especially with iPhone and Nokia N-Series) where they can go, and where you would like them to go.

Advances in each of: low-power mobile processors and graphics controllers, FLASH memory storage, wireless and mobile radios, low-power color displays, batteries, touch screens, still and video cameras, etc plus higher levels of integration, design and usability are making these devices mobile multi-media computers already – with more to come.

Take a look at the spec sheet of the Nokia N95 and it will blow you away what it packs, including Wi-Fi, GPS, mobile TV reception (DVB-H) and TV-out. Note that Nokia are not calling the N-series phones, but mobile multi-media computers!

The Apple iPhone is pushing other complementary vectors of user interaction, design and comfort/fit, including a much needed rethink of the UI and some basic applications and functionality.

Most of the following desired functionality is already available in one device or another:-

  • GSM phone
  • Stereo headset (wired, or bluetooth) with mic for calls, conferencing etc.
  • Digital camera, with reduced size and increased frame rate for video capture and calls.
  • SD FLASH expansion that holds cards of tens of GBytes
  • GPS
  • Wi-Fi, GPRS, 3G, etc
  • Touch screen for finger and/or stylus, handwriting recognition.
  • Push e-mail and push data
  • Bluetooth
  • Media player for audio and video
  • One combined power and dock connector.
  • Can connect to other computer via USB, to mount it’s storage and to act as a wireless “modem” – no active sync nonsense. Can USB charge when so connected, enable MANY charging points around the world.
  • Fast, low-power, bright display – maybe OLED in the future

Over and above what is currently available would be:-

  • Able to handle additional displays to its own, with larger sizes and different resolutions. There are existing phones with TV out, and PDAs that can do VGA out with an expansion card.
  • Tens (or hundreds) of GBytes of internal storage such that you can store all your info.

What are the shortcomings of this future mobile phone? Well sometimes you need:-

  • Larger (in size and number of pixels) displays
  • Large amount of text input (speed, accuracy and comfort)
  • Higher precision graphical input
  • UI manipulation without holding the device in your hand


Here I project the future for an eReader, starting with the SONY eBook as an external form factor, and adding a color, flexible, bi-stable, dual-sided display to it such that you can get two pages on it comfortable. For more on the current SONY eBook read my review of it in 3 posts on the subject from a couple of months ago here on this blog.

For simplicity’s sake, let’s represent it with the photo below of a piece of foldable ePaper.

The display can show two full pages (A5) as shown, or fold flat and rotate and show one double page size (A4). This would give 4X (yes 400%) the actual display area of the Sony eBook in a device with the same, excellent, size and form.

I propose a VERY LONG battery life (weeks and thousands of pages of reading, like the Sony device), zero power while reading and very lightweight.

It should be stripped down and targeted at the reading function, not adding features to make it a portable media player, mobile phone or a TV viewer that eats into battery life significantly.

Its storage capacity should be small to medium, while cheap and low-power (moderate about of FLASH).

I propose a bi-stable reflective color display that consumes power each time the display is changed, but that CAN be changed frequently – so that it can do video rates and interactive user interfaces when combined with other devices – with the consequent increase in power usage. i.e. display power usage increases with refresh rates.

It can be effectively front-lit either by ambient light, or by a dedicated front-light when combined with other devices.

A few, very simple, page navigation functions designed for reading. Limit other buttons and avoid menus and make it book-like.

Spurred on by how well the iRex digital stylus input works I propose it allows note taking, annotating and highlighting of documents being viewed using a passive stylus. I would like a two-ended stylus like Wacom’s with an intuitive eraser function “on the other end” – no menus! Only power digitizer when stylus undocked.

I would like a touch panel separately from stylus/pen input (just like a book!), but suspect that will not be possible without too much impact on power consumption.

It has a “Dock” connector for combinations discussed below.

The eReader is obviously used for reading: books, newspapers, magazines, downloaded documents, e-mails downloaded as documents. It would also allow viewing of downloaded maps.


Mobile keyboard, touchpad/mouse and mobile dock

Similar to previous folding keyboards for iPaq and Palm, etc. I can do without yet another device needing powered or charged and so would prefer a totally passive keyboard that when used with the phone adds very little to phone battery drain.

A touch pad maybe required that would complicate that. If it must be powered/charged separately then turn this pain into a feature by considering making the keypad the phone/pda it’s power connection and recharging station. If volume/weight increment can be minimized maybe also USB hub, including USB connection for a mouse. There are folding mice that will fit into a PCCard/CardBus slot (MoGo Mouse?)

Possibly have an LED front-light in it for eReader screen when connected, not needed for self-lit phone screen.

Home/Office Dock

This would be similar to the docking stations we use with current laptops and pdas. The goal is to be able to walk in the door with your phone in your hand, plug it into one connector/socket and be instantly in a high productivity environment with all your data and settings.

Hence it would recreate my current docking and desktop environment with something like this all connected to the dock:-

  • Full-sized keyboard
  • Mouse
  • 1 or 2 LCD displays
  • Power IN to recharge the phone/pda
  • LAN
  • USB Hub or multiple USB connections directly to dock
  • Headphones/Mic connections

And some other things I don’t have but that I know others use:-

  • Local mass storage and/or backup
  • Local (USB) printer
  • Graphics tablets


I find this aspect lacking in many current laptop, PDAs, phones, iPods, eBooks and especially when they are used (or at least carried) in combination. Hence consider power as part of the overall problem, for each individual device (e.g. common voltages and connectors) and the system as a whole when multiple devices are used.

Device Combinations

Phone + Keyboard/Dock

I would use this combination now, except that for my phone/pda (iPaq) the only folding keyboard (I can find) for purchase is a Bluetooth one and I don’t want to worry about power for that.

By supporting the phone/pda vertically it enables hands-free operation on a flat surface.

This combination has the same phone display limitations but allows for extensive text capture, note taking in meetings, longer e-mail writing, even projection of presentations etc but is still very portable.

Phone + eReader

You can see an earlier post on the iPod-eBook idea, where the iPod provides storage and a means to get content onto the iPod. This combination is similar in that the Phone provides the eReader with mass storage, communications, interactive user interface where users manager and selects content from a collection.

  • Download content acquired over the air by the phone and/or stored on it’s mass storage. All info on eReader is synced to larger storage on phone, subset on eReader is managed by user, with automatic settings (e.g. news subscriptions, etc).
  • Increased screen for reading of e-mails, documents, presentations etc that is hampered by the small phone display.

Whenther a physical &/or electrical connection is required is a topic for discussion, with something like Bluetooth as an option.

The eReader must maintain its function of being an “off-line” device for work/leisure reading not requiring frequent connections to power, so avoid draining either devices’ power when connected together.

Phone + Keyboard/Dock + eReader == Laptop

While a page is being viewed, if not required the smaller phone display may power-off, or it may be used to show additional info (like the system tray in windows, alerts, menus etc) in a way that doesn’t interfere with main display/window.

While a “page” is being viewed/read on the bi-stable display the phone CPU and other parts may power-off completely to save power.

Task Table

In an attempt to bring it all together I’ve created this table of the tasks we wanted to do, and different possibilities for doing them with the above devices and combinations of devices. It’s rough but you’ll get the idea.



Phone + keyboard


Phone + eReader

Phone + eReader + keyboard

Make calls using dialed numbers and saved contacts. Receive calls, know who’s calling. Take them or send to voice mail

View small info.

Take small handwritten notes.

Take long notes during call. Hands free when not.

Show linked information, documents for caller.

Take handwritten notes and drawings.

Share drawings on-line.

Take long notes during call. Navigate large amounts of related info.

Manage voice mail calls

By voice (hands free and car etc).

Small view.

Large view

Type replies to voice mails as e-mails.

Receive and send e-mail when on the go, have access to stored e-mail archives and files.

On-line small view and small write

Offline large view

On-line large view

On-line large view and large write

Manage my agenda, with (readable) day, week and month views. Create new entries with notes, files attached, etc. Send and receive appointments when on the go.

Manage an extensive contacts list

Small view.

Limited text input.

Large view.

Large view

Consult the web from virtually anywhere, sometimes for small chunks of info, sometimes for larger (area) sizes of documents

Small view.

Limited input.

Small view.

Input text.

Large view, markup, annotate, navigate.

Large view and large text and graphics input.

Read books, on the go

Very small, only essential info.


Download new books, manage large collection.

Stay informed of news, web, RSS, newspapers,


Small view.

Off-line large view

On-line Large view

Listen to music from my owned music library

Yes. Limited view.

Yes. Full collection view and cover art etc.

Receive and listen to podcasts, mainly audio ones, also while traveling and driving in my car


Take typed notes.

Take HW notes.

View liked info.

View and edit linked info and take notes.

Watch downloaded/send video’s, programmed video (TV), occasionally a full length film.


Small view.

Large view.

Run office-like applications, but also a number of other ones that I can buy or download or access remotely.

Limited view and UI.

HW input.

Limited view and UI, typed input.

Full view and UI. HW input.

Full view and UI. Typed input.

Take notes, both handwritten and typed

Limited input, limited view.

Large amounts, limited view.

Handwritten, ICR later.

Limited input, large view.

Large input.

Large view.

Take voice-notes, send them on, dictate from them.

Yes. Limited text input via ICR.

Full typed text input.

Full view of notes. ICR input.

Full view of notes. Full typed text input.

Create simple graphics (powerpoint, etc) requiring pointer/tool input.

Limited view.

Larger view, simple graphics app.

Larger view.

Full app.

Project presentations and other applications, whether the same as the display being viewed or not.

Project, with limited UI.

Limited HW notes.

Project, with limited UI. Capture extensive notes.

Project, larger view and UI.

Handwritten notes.

Project, larger view and UI.

Extensive typed notes.

Locate my position in the world and plan routes to other places, get directions




Offline large view


Easier web address and location input.

Read and review documents, annotate them (typed and handwritten) and highlight them

Small view.

Small HW notes.

Small view. Type comments/annotions with small UI.

HW notes, markup and anootiations. Off-line ICR.

HW notes, markup and anootiations, instant ICR.

Full view.

Typed and HW notes, markup and anootiations, instant ICR.

Full view.

Play some simple games


Simple board-like games.

Full view graphics.

Take and view photographs, manage photo collections.

Take. Small view.

Off-line large view subset.

Large view, manage large collection.

The Guardian - eBooks, a user’s view

I saw recently this article on eBooks from the UK newspaper "The Guardian".

I quote: "Curling up with a good ebook: It has long been predicted that traditional books are about to be replaced by little machines on which you can download any novel you fancy. But the technology has never really been up to the job - until now. Here Andrew Marr , who treasures his smelly, beautiful library of real books, spends a month with one of the new gadgets"

This “book maniac” was very reluctant at the start, but gradually found some ways in which an eBook can complement (not replace, heaven forbid!) his paper books in a number of ways. He highlights a number of advantages that have come-up elsewhere, such as:-

  • Great for taking a lot of books in a small space & weight when traveling. Especially when you are an avid reader and either read many books at the same time, or can get through a heap of books during a holiday. This feedback also appeared in Focus Group feedback from HP Labs Bristol’s own user testing.
  • It can help reduce the pile-up, and later junking, of a lot of paper for “time sensitive” reading that is never gotten too. This person being a journalist gets a constant stream of stuff to read (in paper format), a lot of which expires after a few days and never gets read. He appreciates how an eBook could allow him to handle the physical mess of papers, and also avoid the paper waste produced.
  • Likes the note taking and annotating feature. He seems to be an avid scribbler, writing a lot on types books that many of us would never write on.
  • He was able to “get beyond the device” and get emerged in the content and forget he was reading a gadget. This is a must aspect of the reading experience that needs to be pushed on.

Things he finds lacking:-

  • The collection aspect. He has a large collection of books going back to childhood, and these physical artifacts evoke memories every time they are seen, touched, smelled etc. Many of them with extensive notes on them.
  • Smell and touch of a real book that is part of the book-owning, book-managing and reading experience. This also came up in HP Labs Focus Group feedback. I quite like his suggestion of a cloth-bound cover that will acquire (or come preloaded with?) a dank, musty, old-book look and feel and smell. (WYSIWYG = What you smell is what you get?)
  • Page turning is still too slow. Yep, eInk and others have got this message a long time ago and the whole industry is working on this aspect of eInk and similar displays.

First trials of eBook content on iPhone

Original post from August 16th 2007
I pointed in earlier postings to how I'd seen a few iPhone adverts, images and reviews showing photos of the iPhone with newspaper content being read on-screen. You've probably seen other news of people reading micro-novels (or even full books!) on existing mobile phones during their daily commute on public transport.

Well now the publisher Harper Collins is starting a trial of eBook preview and purchase on-line targeted at iPhone users.
See the full text of the article here
The iPhone is not yet available outside of NA, so if there are any iPhone users out there willing to test drive this (even just the free preview part) and submit a review, I'd be delighted to post it here.

Networking the Book

Original post from August 1st 2007

Adam Dewitz on his blog posts about Networking the Book where he describes how Manolis Kelaidis, a lecturer at the Royal College of Art in London, UK has made the traditonal paper-based books interactive by embedding circuitry and wireless network technology. I won't repeat it, just follow the link above if interested.

This is somewhat related to the European "Paper++" project that included work by ArjoWiggins (the paper company) that was using conductive inks to make books interactive also.

Ben Vershbow at The Institute for the Future of the Book provides an analysis on the ergonomics of Kelaidis’ book and it implications as a competitor to electronic display-based books.

Jinke Hanlin eReader

Original Post from July 3rd 2007

Here is some back-issue news on another Asian provider introducing a similar eBook design using eInk. See full details on Jinke website.

They seem to have introduced no fewer than six variations on the product, some seem to have different operating systems and readers - maybe targeted at different media types/customers although it's not obvious to me.

One notable difference in this device is the "Palm Pilot" style handwriting input panel below the screen.
There seems to be one model (V2d) that has two displays on it in book format.
Prices range from $299 to $349 for the products that show it.

Their web is a bit clunky and the icons at the bottom for all the different models all take you to the same page, only showing two models. So follow this link to the Products section that shows more of them, but still not all!

STAR eBook from Taiwan

Original Post from June 28th 2007

eREAD Technologies is a Taiwanese company that has recently introduced the STAR eBook in Taiwan. Here is their English Website.

You can find a posting describing it in more detail here, on Linux Devices web or read more in their Product description on their web.

Seems to be along the lines of the Sony device, probably using same eInk 6" display from PVI.
It maybe slightly slimmer and is white with a less cluttered design with less buttons and keys.
Display and battery performance seem similar to Sony.

As pretty much everyone else, they have "done their own thing" eBook format-wise.

It seems from their web that eRead is collaborating with a French Newspaper, see here.

Ricavision Home eReader

Original Post June 28th 2007

I found this posting on Sideshow Devices for a Windows Sideshow device that is an eInk based eReader intended for the home.

It's a concept demo made by a company called Ricavision that seems to be working with (or leveraging the names and marketing dollars of) Microsoft and Intel.

Here is a link to a PDF Press Release of it.

The gist of it is that it's an eInk display eReader device with wireless (Wi-Fi) connectivity back to the PC running Windows Vista. It's configured on the PC as a sideshow device and hence it can act as a display for the Windows machine, content to view can be pushed to it (and cached) and it seems it can also control to some extent the Windows PC (from the Sofa?).

I quote:

"The Ricavision Home E-Reader enables the user to cache a large number of pages, including entire books, on the device so it can also be used out of wireless range of the Windows Vista-based PC. The Home E-Reader also includes stylus capability. It uses SideShow as the primary GUI and Windows Vista as the means by which pages are actually rendered for display on the device.

As small and lightweight as a single book, the Ricavision Home E-Reader allows users to download and take along newspapers, books, and documents, or upload them to share with family, friends, or co-workers.
In addition, the stylus capability enables the user to make notes that can be easily transferred to a PC and then transmitted to others. If desired, friends or colleagues can add their own comments or edits and return the notes to the original user."

Not sure I 'get' the big advantage of this over an un-tethered eBook that connects back by USB to the PC.

I suspect the big advantage is that if you do it like this, using the new SideShow functionality from the newly introduced Windows Vista - then you can count on a lot of visibility, a few references in Bill Gates' keynotes, and a pile of Microsoft Marketing cash to help get your start-up's product into the press and the blogs (like this one).

Fujitsu FLEPia color eBook

original Post June 20th 2007

Most of the info here is taken from this Gizmodo article on the Fujitsu FLEPia color ebook, plus a few cut and pastes from other sites. As the Fujitsu post only seems to be in Japanese people are translating it with varying degrees of accuracy.

Resolution: 768x1024 (XGA)
Colors: 8 or 4,096 (depending on the mode; 8 colors refresh in 2s; 4,096 colors refresh in 10s)
Size: 210x304x12mm (A4), 158x240x12mm (A5)
Thickness 12mm
Weight: 480g (A4), 320g (A5)
Body colors: White pearl, pink pearl, silver
Features: Touch panel, scroll button, six function buttons
OS: MS Windows CE5.0
Security: AES-128
CPU: Intel XScale
Connectivity: WiFi 802.11b/g , SD Card, USB 2.0
Stereo speaker built-in, head phone connector
Lithium polymer battery with 50 hours run time.

Confusion over pricing abounds. Anything between $12,685 (A5) and $21,137 (A4) for each of first 10 samples, or for first ten samples.
Someone who seems to speak Japanese states on Engadget “they plan to produce just 10,000 - 100,000 units in 2008 and start shipping worldwide up to a million pieces in 2009 with prices of about $310 for the small unit and $500 for the large size.”

$310 would undercut the Sony eReader slightly for A5 size, although this is color, lower battery life, etc.


I still haven't seen any mention of where the display technology is coming from, and maybe it's Fujitsu's own.

Mile high book club

Original Post from June 20th 2007

Recent flights to and from Boston (via Heathrow) gave me the time to do some reading. I was able to finish my second eBook on the Sony PRS-500 eReader (the first was "The World is Flat" by Thomas Friedman, and the second was "Blink!" by Malcolm Gladwell).

Battery level continues to be excellent with the Sony reader, only now (almost a week after my return and into my third eBook) has it required it's first charging since I started using it, maybe a month ago. My confidence in this is high now and I would take it for a multiple week trip without a charger.

I played quickly with its music playing capabilities, but it only had two pre-loaded songs on it. It seemed to work fine and I could read and listen to music from the same device. Battery drain would be a concern, but with only two songs I didn't get that far.

I was able to read reasonably comfortably (whiter screen and more contrast would always help) in daylight, airport lighting, full cabin lighting, strong sunlight through the window and night-time with overhead "spotlight".

The Sony eBook is relatively discrete and from a distance I think people suspect you are reading a normal book (slip-in book covers would complete the illusion), and the lack of an emmisive screen helps. I didn't get any "what's that geek doing?" looks, and just one inquiree by a British Airways ground staff person who was interested in eBooks, had seen the Sony in a magazine and asked me if he could buy it in the UK already.

This low-profile makes you more comfortable with whipping it out for a read, whether you are consciously or sub-consciously aware of your possible geek-ness.

Waiting for take-off I looked around at my fellow passengers, many of whom were also reading. It struck me that I had the smallest, lightest and most portable "book" around. In comparison, some real books are massive. This time it would fit in the "thigh" pocket on the outside of my combat trousers (although the flap wouldn't close).

While reading the bi-stable screen, with the device consuming no power, the airplane speaker announced "please switch off all your electronic devices". I was tempted to get into a really good discussion with the hostess, that in fact my device WAS off, even if I was still reading the screen - but I behaved and was a good passenger.

To what extent can such a device cover the need for a laptop?

  • Text Input. This is a limitation at the moment. One solution could be to be able to plug-in a portable folding keyboard (I'd avoid the bluetooth ones, which give you yet another device to keep charged). I have never really played with them, so that's a future investigation.
  • Limited screen real estate. In previous posts I commented how little of the overal device frontal area is dedicated to the screen (~50%) and to real content (~32%). Increasing this would improve the device greatly. Ideally I want a folding, color, ePaper display that when the device is opened gives you 200% of the device area for screen use. This would enable use by multiple applications (eBook, eNews, eMail, eDocReader, etc).
  • Communications. The biggest issue with the Sony eReader (even for book content) is it being "tethered" to a PC and it's internet connection to get content. Improvements in this area will give you a device with a life of it's own and increased utility.
  • Recharging. A personal gripe. One AC adapter for all of my devices, or at last a global DC power standard I can just "hook into". Could be USB.

Submit comments on what would your ideal configuration be for a device that increases it's overlap with what a laptop does for you, without necessarily replacing your laptop.

New York Times Reader - success & review

Original Post from June 19th 2007

Install and Set-up
Eventually I was able to get the New York Times reader software to work.
They have (for me) a confusing / troublesome sign-up process that confuses Member ID, Name and e-mail and also seems to fail occasionally.
I can’t get it to work thru firewall/proxies.
After registry, you need to also “activate” your 30-day free-trial on the web using the “green button”, which was not obvious.
Initially I couldn’t see any Help link or menu and no README was shown on install.

After starting, it seems a few minor bugs remain with dialogs remaining open and unable to close them, and I had at least one hang. This seemed worse on first usage, and improved after a PC restart.

I was concerned that first download would be huge with the last 7 days included, but no as only the current day's edition is downloaded initially.
Each day in the previous seven day period is downloaded on demand when you request to read it, causing a slight delay to start reading it. This delay is mitigated by the fact articles within a day’s edition are downloaded incrementally - so you can start reading before all articles for a day are downloaded.

Daily edition adapted nicely to the wide-screen on my laptop, filling it neatly.

There is no page scrolling, or scroll bars. Each newspaper section is laid out on one screen no matter the window size. It seems that articles have a priority order with more space assigned to the higher priority ones, then less and less until the latter ones are only headlines. Thus a section of articles is squeezed into the available space. It is possible to change the font sizes for readability and the articles are scaled-back in order to fit on the screen.

Articles are highlighted with a grey area when mouse-over to show their extent. Clicking on the headline/article summary takes you to the full article, with “good-res” photos, etc. Some longer articles take up more than one page (screen) and so there is a “Next page” button to move to subsequent screens. Still no scrolling. Works with keyboard cursor keys to navigate pages too.

Read articles are shown with their headlines in a grey color.
There are buttons for “Back to section Index”, etc.

I notice that some articles get reused across sections (e.g. in Science section AND Technology section) and across days, mixing in with new articles. Thus sections always appear neatly full. Not sure if this is only done with unread articles or with all articles.

Overall they have put quite a lot of attention to detail and the “page layout” in particular, in order to avoid scrolling and filling the spread aesthetically with articles of most interest.

The edition (if you are connected) can update and change while you are reading it.

They have created a “News in Pictures” function that is a slide-show of the major news articles.

Some adverts have Flash style animation. This didn’t distract me as much as I had expected, I guess due to being used to flashing banner ads and such-like in a web browser.

The natural comparison (without having stopped to think about it), when reading on my computer on an upright LCD screen, was the web browser.

There is a Windows System Tray icon for synchronization in background. It only appears when the reader is open (which seems a bit incongruous) and goes away when the reader is closed.

In the Windows Start Menu you will get a New York Times group with a menu entry for the reader and an “Empty Cache” entry. Initially I thought this was the cache of past days articles and it started empty. It turns out this is in fact a command to empty the cache. It is a DOS batch file and gets started in a DOS window – strange.

Content drives my reading time and frequency and the very US centric news (and too much baseball! J) lost my attention after a while.

If you are American, or live in the US, and hence have a strong interest in the content, or like the New York Times and want a PC based news reader then this is a pretty good option for you and the best I have come across in terms of layout and readability (newspaper like, not a string of RSS headlines) and navigation.

Circulation reporting of e-editions
In the US (and in other countries too) there is an association that regulates newspaper circulations and how their statistics are gathered and reported, mainly for advertising purposes. It turns out that for an electronic edition to qualify in your circulation numbers you need to ostensibly show the same content and same layout as the printed edition.

This explains a lot of the attempts at on-line newspaper to reproduce the printed layout and is an example of regulations driving design when arguably the layout, content, navigation and other features should be more driven by user needs/preferences and technology capability than by reproducing print in another medium. But advertising dollars is what moves this industry!

NUUT intros NP-601 e-book reader with Vizplex display

Those curious to see just how much E Ink Corp.'s new and improved Vizplex display enhances the e-reading experience now have an actual eBook reader they can get their hands on, although they'll have to find a way to get one out of South Korea.

Apart from that new 6-inch, 600 x 800 display (which promises twice the refresh speed and 20% better brightness than previous models), NUUT's NP-601 e-book reader is a fairly standard affair, with 512MB of internal memory, an SD card slot for expansion, and a headphone jack to take advantage of some of its (unspecified) non-reading functions. Look for this one to set you back about $300.

Nothing new under the second sun

After my recent experience of looking for, discovering and buying eBooks on the Sony Connect on-line store (see previous post on this subject) I got thinking about the lack of a physical book-shop/office browsing metaphor for electronic books (and newspapers, magazines etc).

Then it came to me in a flash! (Over a beer with colleagues actually! That brainstorming chemistry still works!)

Off-course! Second Life! I’d set-up a book-shop in second life for all those tech-savvy book worms in the second world, sell a million and retire!

I’ve been interested in Second Life for quite some time, in particular due to an interest in anything digital and 3D, plus its virtual economy, plus the social networking aspect. But I’d never got around to using it for real, and now I had the perfect opportunity.

After the download and registration I “fell to earth” on the orientation island and started wondering around with other people who also looked lost.
I think they should call it "Disorientation Island".
That was pretty boring and it was time for bed (in the real world! I’m not even sure if day and night exist in second life!) to I stopped there.

The next day I logged in again and started using the search function with "book" as the keyword. What surprised me was the number of book clubs, or reading groups. I joined one and got some spam the next day about it.

But I was looking for a bookstore and eventually found one (on initial searching I could only find one, but maybe there are more) - Bantam Dell Books. As with many good ideas, someone had already thought of it. So I abandoned my thoughts of retiring and thought more of writing a blog entry about the experience.

A Teletransport trip later and I was standing outside in a strange landscape for a bookstore.
I wondered into the store (do they ever close?).

There was a large, but sparsely populated bookshop complete with book stands, shelves, posters, live digital signage, adverts for books and podcasts and audio books, a café and reading chairs. There was one other person there wondering around (a bit snooty, wouldn’t talk to me!) and someone seated.

The seated person's name was something Linden and so I wondered if a relation of the “god” who created this second world. They wouldn’t help either. I was looking for a staff member to help me find a book, but to no avail (just like a real store!)

If you clicked on a book you got a standard Second Life “menu” of options that includes “touch”, but no “buy” or “pick up and leaf through”. Touching it opens a link to their on-line store in a separate web browser window and you take it from their in the “real” on-line world.
So the virtual experienced ends there. I don’t know enough about Second Life to know why they haven’t enabled a Second Life purchase directly using Linden dollars. Maybe the fact I didn’t have any was a factor? :-)

There were (I think) over 26,000 people on-line, but only one other person in the bookshop when I was there and none at all when I returned a day later.

How long before Sony connect their "Connect" store with their “Home” virtual world?

I can imagine this being a way to browse and listen to Music too, before on-line purchase.

I was amused a few days later when I got some Amazon spam to sell me a new book, and the same day I saw the same book on the front page of the Sony Connect store under “new releases” to discover that I’d already seen it – in Second Life and that I wasn’t interested. Life imitating fiction?

Sony PRS-500 eBook Review - Part 3

Original Post on June 7th 2007
Install Sony CONNECT reader software from CD that comes in the box. Pretty slick, no problems.
UI decoration is a bit strange and at first I thought it was a Java app using those UI toolkits for Windows. Turns out it’s just Sony’s choice of look.

Connecting to CONNECT on-line store
CONNECT is the Sony iTunes store equivalent, with eBooks and music

I can’t get Sony CONNECT software to connect to Sony Connect store thru my firewall/proxy, so had to do this all from a location without.

The software and on-line store is almost a perfect clone of the Apple iTunes software and store, leveraging many UI concepts and organization. This makes it a quick learning process if you have an iPod and use iTunes and/or iTunes store.
They are similar almost to the point Apple could sue - but those heady days of GUI law suits seems to be over?

In the UI it also shows your local drives where you might have your own files (PDF etc) but I haven’t played yet with using CONNECT software to organize local content. It also shows separately the SD/MemStick slot on the eReader, something I complained about on the iRex iLiad.

Buying Books from Connect eBook Store
On-line book purchase MUST be done via your PC using the CONNECT software which connects to the SONY Connect store (i.e. no web purchase).
No direct purchase from the eReader device is possible. With only USB and MemoryCard interfaces and no Wi-Fi there is no real way to do that anyway that offers any advantage.
I assume they have avoided Wi-Fi for battery life concerns. They have taken many leaves out of the Apple iPod book.

iRex iLiad with Wi-Fi and their iDS (iRex Delivery System) system will be able to do this, when they have content.

The first step is to authorize your PC on the store (via the software).
Then you must authorize the eBook device connected to that PC by USB.
It allows up to six eBooks connected to each PC I think.
I have yet to understand the “portability” of content across PC’s and across eBooks.

I was struggling with the idea of spending my own money on buying an eBook for this test, but luckily due to the date I activated the eReader on I got a $50 coupon (plus 50 downloads from classics collection) for the Sony store that got me going.

The “classics” are out-of-copyright books they have remastered or acquired themselves.
They sell for $1.99 usually, presumably free to them (once remastered). Nice margins!
Hence the 50 downloads from the classics collection.

Once a book is bought and downloaded you then drag and drop it manually into the chosen eReader connected, and shown in the UI. This allows you to manage manually which books are taking up storage space on the eReader, you can remove books from device when read but keep them on your PC and reload them at a later date.

Once you have dragged and dropped into the eReader you can un-plug USB and start reading, as described in previous posts.

On the store the book covers are shown in color, but are reduced to monochrome on the eInk display. No Dilbert books on-line! :-( Bummer.

The store is not "dense enough", and you don't see as many books at a glance as you do tracks with the iTunes store or paper books on Amazon.
No recommendations like Amazon.

Online Book “Browsing”
I miss “browsing” like in a physical book store, where your legs do it for you.

So, to "discover" something you are almost obliged to do a search, and to *think*! :-(
So, not such a relaxing experience.

Also with this way of getting books (eBooks) there is no casual “finding” of books by seeing what others are reading, coming across one on people’s desks or bookshelves…etc

This is a subject I will come back to in later posts.

Sony PRS500 eBook Review - Part 2

Original Post from June 6th 2007

I started off attempting to read my own content, in the form of PDFs that I had already been reading on the iRex iLiad eBook. This innocent thought instantly revealed one big different between the iRex and the Sony eBook based on display size… on....

I chose to plug-in the SD Card containing the PDFs that I already was using on iRex and not play with USB transfer yet.

Due to the difference in display size (and some dubious decisions taken about how to render small text on the SONY), the PDF file I had been happily reading for 500 pages on the iRex became completely un-readable on the Sony and I was stuck! All that free-time, and nothing to read! :-)

First lesson: Due to the small size of the SONY eInk display, it’s basically useless for reading documents in page-layout formats such as PDF if they have not been specifically generated with this device (or similar) in mind. There had to be some trade-off for that portability.

Solving this in a way that gives a good user experience will not be trivial and a designer maybe forced to immediately take some tough decisions about the design center, document types that are being targeted, need for mobility, where documents will be acquired and in what formats they will be in, and can they be easily re-formatted on transfer to device (not with my SD card example!) or in the device itself.

So while I thought about how to get something I *wanted* to read I ploughed on with the canned content that the Sony comes with in order to have something to tell you about.

I didn’t mention this in my previous post, as I just realized it. There is a very subtle magnet catch on the flap. When closed it closes with a slight “slap” and no bounce. I assumed it was just a good flap.
This solid closing motion and sounds must be the equivalent of the car-door closing mechanism and sound influencing users’ perception of car quality!
Upon inspection I found it has a magnet that is not strong enough to really notice its pull on closing, but strong enough to hold the flap closed when the eBook is hung upside down. Nice, subtle touch.

Also, interestingly for me the SONY logo is on the back outside cover of the book, and doesn’t appear at all on the front (when closed). This still makes me pick up the eBook back-to-front (and upside down!) after weeks. It reminded me of Japanese books where you open at the back and read towards the front, and made me start my line of thinking that there are “remains” of Japanese design in the device.

My wife (a graphic designer) told me I was talking rubbish and it was intended to be on the back as a sort of branding of the book when you’re done reading it, maybe like an editorial would do on a paper back!
Opinions? (I need Ammo)

When pages changes, the screen does show some ghost images from previous page. I think more so than the iRex Illiad but I haven’t done a side-by-side comparison. This was more noticeable after one of the menu pages with its big, bold text and solid black area graphics. It can be seen between text pages during normal reading when looked for but is not objectionable to me. It doesn’t jump out at you during reading, but maybe impairs reading in a subconscious manner?

Screen Contrast
Similar to the iRex. Another test reviewer friend claims he noticed more eyestrain while reading this device (compared to a normal book). This is presumably due to reduced contrast. It was difficult to tell if it was worse than a normal book or not, but I would say it is, caused by the reduced whiteness of white, reduced contrast combined with some glare from the screen.
Maybe someone out there knows of studies on the sources of eye strain/tiredness and what are its main drivers.

There are a series of numbered buttons in a horizontal row along the bottom of the screen, and in menu mode these correspond to menus items in a VERTICAL list!
In general I think this numbered list is a very indirect method (the keys don’t match with the list items), and not exactly a human factors dream.
I wonder if this design came from a vertical language system (eg. Japanese) and the corresponding menu system where they *would* have coincided?
Anyone seen Sony PRS in Japanese and its menu system?

Page turning
The page-turning buttons are very small, and on the left edge of the device and with the cover on the device near the “spine” and in a poor position for a left hand (or right for that matter).
This causes you to shift the book in your hands every time you turn a page (which is often with these small pages). Much better would have been on the outside (right) edge of the device for the right hand to press naturally, almost without moving it from its holding position.
Yet another suspicion of Japanese (right to left reading) design remnants here for me!
The page turning function is repeated in another button at bottom left which is only marginally better, as it closer to the bottom and hence easier to reach.

The page Back/Forward buttons confuse me, as “flipping” the page to the left, involves pressing the right button.
I guess this is a standard physical/computer interaction dilemma: Am I moving the page, or moving the window that shows me a page?

I think some form of “page flipping” mechanism (like the iRex) would solve this problem and be more intuitive (at least after the first use).
Place one on each side, close to where your fingers/thumb are when holding the book for reading.

I don’t like the “joystick” approach at all for a number of reasons.
It forces you to hold the eBook differently than you would for reading, and somewhat unnaturally for me.
When I press to “enter” I end up moving in another direction and not pressing “enter”.
Not much joy in this stick.

There is still an opening in SONY’s eBook Business Unit for good Human Factors engineers.