March 12, 2009

BeBook update reviewed

Engadget have picked-up at Cebit about a new release of the BeBook eBook Reader.

At that page you can also see a video of it in action, althoigh it won't show you anything very special.

General comments about this eReader:-
  • Looks to have a nice leather (looking) case!
  • Screen is a reasonably large % of the size of the device, one of my personal metrics for a reader
  • I've just realized it's almost identical to the Papyrus eBook reader, down to the button layout and user interface navigation mechanisms and suspect the Papyrus is an OEM of this device.
  • They plan to add WiFi capability as standard by including a WiFi SD card from the factory (like the EyeFi SD WiFi card popularized for digital cameras I assume) for the same price.
  • Available in Europe only, for 299 Euros.
The Engadget comments about the WiFi costing $40 are I suspect for existing users who want to upgrade to this. They can purchase on-line then get delivered and install new firmware.

This subsequent Engadget post from Cebit talks about 3G connectivity and stylus input on-screen.

Some investigation on the BeBook website reveals some additional info, about this upcoming refresh:-
  • They blast past Sony's leading battery life claims with "7,000 page turns"
  • Not sure why, but it states the price in US Dollars - at $280
  • Wireless connectivity through one ore more platforms or protocols. (3G and/or WIFI)
  • Touchscreen navigation
  • Buy your books anywhere, anytime.
  • Wireless RSS support
  • The ePub DRM standard will also be implemented within the next few months.
But it seems it won't be out until summer.   

If it does release in summer with 3G data connectivity, and access to a large on-line store (such as MobiPocket, even if it is owned by Amazon) then it will be the closest thing you can get to a Kindle in Europe.....until Amazon releases the Kindle in Europe that is.... 

Who will make it first?

March 11, 2009

The end of paper? - Don't hold your breath

I review this long, broad ranging article on the future of the publishing industry from CNN Money.

One of the many issues the article raises is that of format. If you've ever tried, it's not so easy to read a newspaper (as we know it) on a 5" or 6" diagonal screen. Zooming and panning across the broadsheet and up and down articles in a current newspaper layout is a pain. It does improve somewhat with a touchscreen.

What will happen? Will we continue to reformat newspaper and magazines down to smaller and smaller sizes, or will we make the display bigger and bigger?

A number of devices seem to be shooting for the A/A4 size display (~8.5" x 11") and if they can do reasonable quality and resolution between 200-300dpi then they will be usable for existing content formatted for printing at A/A4 size - such as all the legacy business documents in Word, PDF and other document formats.

However, a newspaper on a A/A4 size display at 200dpi will not be so readable. To read the smaller text, zooming and panning may still be needed.

Going beyond A/A4 size with a rigid display device that remains light and portable and robust will not be easy. Plastic "flexible" displays, even if mounted in a rigid frame, may enable larger sizes, while remaining robust. But they won't be easy to fold-up or roll-up and store like a normal newspaper.

So, it seems we're on a colision course: 
  • We'll see larger sizes, maybe some growth in resolution to somewhere between 200dpi and 300dpi (Seiko-Epson have demonstrated devices from the lab at 400dpi).
  • We'll see flexibility or plastic displays used to give robustness to larger sized displays
  • We may see some attempts at foldable devices along the lines of the READIUS, but larger, but the manufacturability of those technologies may delay their commercial availability
  • Lastly, we'll need to see some evolution of formats for newspapers and magazines to make them readable and navegable on these smaller displays.
Color? Color is an issue, and needed to get to some segments - such as magazines with their high-quality and colorful adverts. 

Advertising is critical for their business model and so magazines maybe the last to make it to the eBook world. Most existing approaches for reflective color displays aren't demonstrating a path to a compelling offering, and many approaches also reduce spatial resolution - going against the needs as discussed above, at least for a device for newspapers and magazines.

The article ranges over a number of other complex business model questions and doubts, and other aspects that make it a bit confusing and difficult to identify any particular aspect to focus on.

Botttom line: Let's see some of that innovative new display technology from Plastic Logic, Polymer Vision and others out in the market, and then we'll talk again. 

March 10, 2009

PC meets eBook - photo gallery

At Cebit ASUS showed this interesting concept device, that is a kind of merge of an eBook and PC, with dual touchscreens.

For now, all I have are the photos, but enjoy them here:

Neolux's NUUT2

South Korean producer Neolux has recently released the NUUT2 eBook reader.

They have added an extra strip LCD display, just as Amazon remove it in the Kindle 2.

It has a fairly standard 6-inch, 600 x 800 E-Ink display, but with only eight shades of gray making it come up short against the newest competition which are coming out with 16.

With 1GB of internal storage it is short of the Kindle2, but more than the Onyx Boox, but like the Onyx (and unlike the Kindle 2) it has an SD card expansion slot, USB2.0 to connect to your PC/Mac, USB1.1 to load content from USB sticks and WiFi standard (its optional on Onyx Boox).

It supports PDF, Epub and TXT for readable content, multiple standard formats for images and also multiple for audio.

For so many of the devices appearing like this one, its going to come down to how good their distribution and go to market is, and the availability of good content and an easy and affordable way to get it. Without that, I suspect you're dead in the water.

March 9, 2009

Hearst's eReader

Those of us who have been tracking the eReader and ePaper area for years will remember Hearst's early activity in this area and investment in E-Ink among others. 

Then for a long time they went quiet and we'd either forgot about them or assumed they'd lost interest. 

Well, they're back covered by CNN Money / Fortune in their article: Hearst to launch a wireless e-reader

I do wonder what the newspapers are thinking. The ones that aren't doing anything or moving, and the ones who are.

Do Hearst think this is the long-term solution and they are moving early or is this a shorter-term attempt to combat rising costs and falling relevancy.

If you were surprised when Amazon as a major on-line book retailer went into the hardware business with the Kindle, what do you think about a newspaper empire itself getting into the hardware business?

They say:
"What Hearst and its partners plan to do is sell the e-readers to publishers and to take a cut of the revenue derived from selling magazines and newspapers on these devices. The company will, however, leave it to the publishers to develop their own branding and payment models."
Does this make sense? Do they have enough content of there own to offer a closed system with enough value, or will they offer an open system to all comers with content - including their direct competitors?

As for the device it seems their "design center" will be different and around newspapers and magazines, and less around books and office documents and blogs, although no doubt it will be able to read those content types also.

Hearst is short in details, so we'll have to wait.

Why not speculate meantime though :-)
- based on a large, thin, flexible E-Ink display from Plastic Logic

Onyx and their e Boox

CES is behind us, but CeBit is upon us and has produce a new flood of gadgets, including eBooks.

I'll start with Onyx International's new "Boox" e-reader - reported via Engadget and Mobileread forums. Onyx seems to be yet another "one book wonder" from China although "Registered in America", set-up with just one product - an eBook reader. 

"Specs? Features?" I hear you say!
"The device boasts a 6-inch e-ink touchscreen with 16 shades of gray, 512MB storage, WiFi, support for various formats (including EPUB / PDF / HTML / TXT / CHM / MOBI / JPG / BMP / PNG / GIF / TIFF / MP3), and text to speech "
It uses the 6" E-Ink display with 16 grey levels and it looks pretty good.

It also offers a touch screen which differentiates it from "the masses", and in fact all others except the Sony PRS 700. Their web-site also refers to "full-screen scribble" and when viewing their videos I only see it used with the stylus and wonder if they mean stylus and not touch.

Their video shows stylus input working quite well, so it possible they have integrated a digitizing tablet, maybe from one of Wacom's Chinese competitors. That may reduce battery life if they're not smart about it. I can't see where the stylis is held in the device, if it is at all.

Format support is pretty broad including PDF, EPUB and MOBI (MobiPocket) with "more to come" they say. It offers CHM for you software types out there.

I like the list of features for their PDF reader: hyperlinks, Table-of-contents, thumbnails (for pages), highlighting, selection zoom and my favourite: Margin removal, something I do manually on PDFs using Adobe Acrobat to remove margins and make pages as big and viewable as possible.

The touch screen has allowed them to achieve a very sleek look, with minimum of visible controls, although it has a few on the bottom edge, out of sight - the other end of the spectrum to Amazon's Kindle (1 and 2) with the built-in keyboard.

The front circle widget is 5 button control with a central "OK" button, with "Prev" (left), "Next" (right), "Menu" (top) and somelike that looks like "Spkr" (bottom).

Although this image confuses me. Does it also have that widget on the back (unlikely!), or something made to look like it, or is that some kind of cover for the display and we're looking at the front (seems to have a different shape)?

Memory is a little short at 512MB, but they have a USB Type A Connector For USB Memory Stick, and SD/MMC Slot for memory expansion. So, you can move media around (physically) easily and take advantage of constantly falling cost of flash SD cards.

It's got a 2.5mm Stereo Audio Jack for listening to MP3 music while you read, or audio books or the "Text to Speech" of eBook content.

We'll see if Onyx stand their ground and don't fold to the Author's Guild on the subject of Text-to-speech like Amazon have done recently. That will I expect depend on the countries where this device is to be sold, and the visibility it gains in the media, and off-course its sales!

Last but not least, it's got optional 802.11g Wireless LAN, which could be handy when around home, or other known Wi-Fi access points, to download timely content. 

Surprisingly they push this feature for web browsing, with a built-in webkit based browser and on-screen keyboard.

See their English version web site at

March 8, 2009

Amazon's iPhone eBook Business

I've finally gotten some time to comment on the recent moves by Amazon to provide eBook reading and access to their eBook content on the iPhone/iTouch platform.

Thanks to readers for pointers to these articles on the subject
Amazon now provide a free iPhone application  for eBook purchase/download/reading. It's available from Apple's iPhone App Store. 

I see this as a great move for Amazon, as it will drive content purchases for Kindle and non-Kindle users alike. Although details of it are still missing. e.g. Do you need a Kindle/Kindle-account or anyone can sign-up?

People have asked me about the "competition" in eReading between iPhone and similar devices and eBook readers. I don't see them as directly as competitive, but as complementary devices. 

Often have your phone and some time to kill. When you have more time and access to your Kindle, it provides a better reading experience.

I think Amazon have done a smart thing by embracing the iPhone and not considering it as direct  competition to the Kindle.

It's also a smart defensive and growth move.

Defensive: The Kindle business seems to be going just fine for now, but if it turned out to not be the preferred reading device/experience long-term, this move puts Amazon right in the game on the leading candidate for an alternative platform - the iPhone. Also, if Apple ever comes out with anything bigger along the lines of the iPhone (like the much-rumored iPhone internet tablet) then they will be right there. If that does happen we might see some direct Apple-Amazon competition. This move clearly states Amazon's intentions and let's Apple know they'll be a fight for content on such a platform.

Growth: The market for the Kindle solution is limited, with plenty of people not wanting another device, and prefering the iPhone alone. If Amazon stuck to just selling content to Kindle users (ignoring MobiPocket, an Amazon business, for the moment) they would be missing a lot of content sales, the part of the business with the best margins.
While the rest of the world wait for the Kindle outside of the US, this also opens Amazon's content store to all those iPhone users world-wide, leveraging Apple's efforts to get the carrier agreements in place. Those agreements are something Amazon will have to replicate each time it brings the Kindle, with it's Whispernet delivery service, to a new country.

With 240,000 books in Amazon's catalog (and newspapers and magazines also) it comes straight in as great competition to other iPhone eReading solutions (which I've covered here in previous posts). I haven't seen much on the reading software itself yet, so I'll be looking to see how it shapes up. No doubt they will try and make it as similar in operation to the Kindle as possible.

Reading the same content between/across multiple devices does introduce the problem of keeping your reading in sync. Especially when the devices have different sized displays and features to adjust text size and hence pagination. Due to these, a user can't just remember a page number and jump to it on the other device as the page number for the same point in the book will be will be different on each device.

In texts with long sections or chapters that can be a pain, and have you searching through them for paragraphs you recognize until you find where you left off on the other device.

I'd touched on this useful feature in previous posts and glad to see it supported.

Now, we need to take a look at the reading software itself, but that's for a future post.