January 8, 2010

Skiff reader from Hearst Corporation


Hearst has been interested and active in eReaders longer than most "publishers" with early projects and investments in E-Ink among others. Now they are taking the step to producing their own reader and making their large catalog of content available on it.

The Display
An 11.5 inch (diagonal?) touchscreen makes it even bigger than the Plastic Logic reader "Que" (What?! :-) ). 

I have yet to see technical specs and so I wouldn't be surprised if this has the Plastic Logic display in it, and hence a 10.7 inch diagonal display in an 11.5 inch overall device size. 

Further reading has revealed that it's NOT a Plastic Logic display with it's organic transistors on a plastic substrate, but  “silicon thin-film-transistors on a flexible steel substrate”. I'll need to review my notes to see who was working on Steel substrates, as it definately rings a bell.

The Reader
The focus (naturally) seems to be squarely on Newspaper and Magazine content, although ability to read more general content and means to get files onto the device means it could be used to support a much broader range of content types and uses.

If the screen really is 11.5 inches then the device will be large and a bit unwieldy to carry around I expect, and maybe limited to use in mainly one place, such as at home.  Nice and slim at a quarter of an inch (~6mm) thick!

Leave that lying around on your couch/sofa and a bottom might put it's flexibility to the test!

Content Focus
If you want to do a reasonable job of presenting the same type of reading experience as a Tabloid or a Broadsheet newspaper then you really need a large device like this, and a reasonably high resolution - which they seem to have achieved. 
Otherwise you will just have to wean us off that Newspaper layout we've been used to all our life, by presenting us some additional advantages....

Connectivity is via Wi-Fi and a Sprint Nextel 3G connection (US).

The focus on print media extends (again, naturally) right through to the use of advertising content as part of the business model. It will be interesting to see the Internet users' reactions to the ads, and how their reaction compares with their very same reactions (or lack of) when they read that same ontent in a printed newspaper or magazine.  You don't hear too many gripes on the web about printed advertising, we've all grown-up with it and don't seem to mind it.

The Platform
A device being too small a concept (and business?) for Hearst, it seems this forms part of a larger, multi-device platform for delivering adverts, I mean content, (:-) ) to users where ever they are and whatever device they happen to have with them.....with apps for mobile phones, other readers, Personal Media Players (PC anyone?). 

If they can do a good job of synchronizing your reading (the content you have, and where you are in each piece of content)  then that will be appreciated.
One of the main problems with so many ways to consume content is avoiding sorting through or reading stuff more than once.

Different devices in that list will have different abilities to play back aspects of the Skiff multi-media content, such as Audio and Video. This device will not be able to play full-rate video with the E-Ink display, and off course all content will be monochrome (grayscale).

I wonder what Orson Wells would have to say about all this!

Even Cooler eReader line-up

Interead has expanded their line-up of COOL-ER eReaders at CES.

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/04/interead-expands-cool-er-e-reader-line-up-announces-additional/ and at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/04/interead-expands-cool-er-e-reader-line-up-announces-additional/

The News
They have introduced connected models, with Wi-Fi and 3G (via AT&T in North America) and the addition of a touch screen.

They are also working to make more content available, presumably to be delivered over Wi-Fi and 3G with these new models later in 2010. In particular the agreement with NewspaperDirect will make over 1,300 newspapers and magazines available. So, with a couple of well chosen moves they have radically improved their offering.

In general I like the COOL-ER designs. Although actually very similar to the raft of standard eBook designs they have been able to somehow stay slightly apart, with their vivid colors and their clean, no clutter, designs.

With these new additions it will place them firmly in competition with Sony (e.g. Sony PRS 600 Touch Series) on design and features.

The addition of content and 3G delivery will place them in more direct competition with Amazon and the Kindle, and at the moment ahead of Sony on the connected front......although it remains to be seen who will actually deliver that first as Sony is working on it too, but maybe just more conservative about announcing it ahead of time.

Entourage Edge dual-screen reader

A pending piece of pre-CES news, but similar to a bunch of things coming out of CES: a dual-screen, combined LCD and eInk reading device....

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2009/12/16/entourage-edge-dual-screen-android-e-reader-given-lusty-hands-on/ (included embedded video from CNET)

Another LCD / eInk combination device. This is a trend recently, with a few other devices, including the Barnes & Noble Nook, using it. But this time in a dual-screen formation, so that you have a color highly interactive LCD screen and a more paper-like Monochrome eInk screen for reading.

Quick comments
The design looks a bit thick, and laptop/netbook like when closed.
Watching the CNET video: it's big! Like a decent-sized laptop with a display on both sides. Too big and bulky in my opinion.
Being powered by a Marvell processor and running Android I expect a good battery life, if the LCD display consumption is kept in check.
It's good to see we can get away from Windows and Intel devices in order to push the envelope on battery life, and not be constrained by processor compatibility and OS/UI compatibility. But as always, such divergences need a really good implementation, or the difference just becomes a pain, not an advantage.

The Winning concept?
The various designs we are currently seeing are all attempting to overcome the eInk display's longer refresh times and lack of color, and to provide an interactive content browsing/discovery/selection means while providing a more paper-like reading experience (reflective not transmissive/emissive) once the content is selected for viewing.

These combinations are fun and innovative, but surely a stop-gap measure. We need that first color, fast refresh, low-power (or bi-stable and hence low/zero power while not being changed) , reflective display to happen. Watch this space for a couple of posts coming related to news on that front from LiquaVista and Qualcomm.

When (if?) that color ePaper display does happen, then a number of different design concepts currently being explored are going to collapse into one or two.

It would be color, I'd expect TouchScreen, and useful for reading and interacting with; Content discovery, browsing, searching and selection will be more part of the media itself, with less of a distinction between browsing, selection and reading - like how you read a newspaper or a magazine...

Then the main remaining questions around the designs will be:

  • one screen or two?
  • size
  • who can really crack the user interface?
Apple with the iPhone took some important steps for all of us to make the content the UI (no scroll-bars and other window management gadgetry there) and we may see more of that if they really do a tablet device soon.

See an upcoming post of mine here on the Microsoft Courier concept UI being shown for some ideas on combining different types of content into a more reading-like (than computer applications oriented) interface.

January 7, 2010

CES eReader deluge about to begin, stand back

Well, eReaders really seem to be the thing at this years CES show.

It seems everyone who stayed very quiet (show-wise) during the last year of crisis kept their heads down working hard on eReader devices and display technology.

I'm wading through all the eReader related announcements, using Engadget as a starting point, and the list is growing pretty big and I've got a bunch of posts backed-up to write.

So, over the next few days I'll be busy posting them all for you.

Due to the sheer number of them, I think I'll keep the initial post short, and then for the most interesting ones (requests taken, use the comments link below!) I'll dig into more details and supplement the information from Engadget more with other sources, and my own thoughts.

Again, feedback will help me determine where best to focus my efforts.

Let the flood-gates open.....

It's called what!?

Well, it's finally made it, a new exciting ereader device from Plastic Logic, and just as (or more?) importantly, a new technology for transistor manufacture has made it to market via this eReader: Organic Transistors.

With information from Technology Review (http://www.technologyreview.com/computing/24323/?a=f) and Plastic Logic's own site (http://www.plasticlogic.com/)

At CES Plastic Logic has announced the "Que"!
They can say what they like about it being pronounced "Q". For Spanish speakers (which includes myself as I live in Barcelona, Spain) this naming is just too much fun to pass up! They have named the device "What".
"What?" I hear you say.
Yep. What!

What's been announced!
I can hear echos of Abbott and Costello's famous "Who's on first" sketch that can still put me in stitches.
For those who have never seen it, or need a refresh, see it on YouTube.

Try it out with a friend or workmate today at lunch!
"Have you seen the new eReader called what?"
"No, what's it called?",
"Yes, that's right." have fun.

The Technology difference
Do you care what type of transistors it has? Well, only in so far as they can be made on plastic, instead of the rigid and fragile glass required for most display transistors. That buys you flexibility (if you can use it), robustness, and less weight.
The image forming surface is the same eInk technology you're used to seeing and hearing about in other readers.
The trade-off (for now at least) for organic transistors has been slower transistor performance. But as they are used to drive a display (not the processor or memory), and it being a slowish eInk display, that is not a problem.

This technology has been a long time coming, and they have struggled to get it into production, so it's quite an achievement for Plastic Logic. Let's hope the process has a good yield to help keep prices down and availability up, and the reliability matches glass and our needs.

They have announced two distinct models, a 4GBytes version and an 8GByte version with 3G and Wi-Fi connectivity. I think eReaders are getting caught up in a GByte race that isn't really needed. Most eBooks, even ones with images (remember these are generally monochrome eInk devices), are quite small.
A friend who is a voracious reader has been reading eBooks for years and has books stacked up to read in the future, and in total "only" has 3GBytes! I don't think you need 4 or 8 GBytes on-board.
Do you want to archive all the newspapers you read?
Do you need 75 filing cabinets worth of readign with you?
No. But, Flash is so cheap, and people compare to MP3s and MP4s/PMPs, so throw those GBytes in and avoid this discussion altogether!

These are large (8.5" x 11" or A/A4 size with a 10.7" diagonal display), thin (1/3 of an inch, 8mm), light (500grams, a little over a pound, or about 17.6 ounces) and robust eReaders.

You will see photos showing the display's inherent flexibility, yet it will be encased in a rigid surround (most of the rest of the device electronics and batter won't be flexible!). Useless you may say. Well, yes as shown, but that flexibility buys you robustness (harder to show in a static photo) so your eReader will take the knocks it get's while traveling with you.

Content Display
They have been working with Adobe to give the news content the "right" look and feel. We'll need to test drive that before forming an opinion, but IDEO the Industrial (Experience?) Design house have been heavily involved so that gives me some more confidence. I wish they would apply some of there design hyperbole to their Press Release (grey text on a grey background!) to make it easier to read.

It allows reading of appointments, calendars, e-mails and other "Knowledge worker" content and they promise to expand it's capabilities in this direction over time.

Price and Availability
If you pre-order now, you maybe lucky and get one in April 2010. Prices are $649 for the 4GByte Model and $799 for the 8GByte 3G/Wi-Fi connected model.

More to come
I'm sure this won't be the last I say about this device. As I learn more about it I'll post here.

I can't wait to see the Spanish Press coverage of this device, and will post a translation of what I see.
Press briefings can be such fun again and bring A&C right back...
"What users can.."
What users.
Which users?
Users of what!
What users?
etc etc

As a reward for reading this far, enjoy this......

January 6, 2010

The iRiver Story story

It's CES (Consumer Electronics Show) time of the year again, and no doubt it will bring a raft of eReader product news. Here's one from iRiver...as reported by Engadget.

It seems an iRiver eReader device is to emerge at last! They have been on-off with it for quite a while, occaisionally shoing concepts but not talking much about products....now it seems they have soming for us in 2010.

The industrial design looks very Kindle-like with the included keyboard oif a very similar design to the amazon device.

If the name "Story" is anything to go by, I'd say ludic, fiction reading is their target (like most manufacturers at the moment).

It has fairly standard specs for devices at this time, except maybe a larger than normal embedded memory of 2GByte

  • 0.36-inch thick 
  • 6-inch e-ink display
  • integrated MP3 player
  • 2GB of internal memory
  • SD expansion slot
  • USB 2.0 connectivity
  • battery good for 9,000 page turns

  • with plans to add Wi-Fi later this year
It supports viewing of "Office file" formats including PPT, DOC and XLS as well as PDF.

eBook formats supported seems to be only Adobe Digital Editions, although they mention they will add support for other content sources in Q1, hopefully with a firmware upgrade for early buyers.

Interestingly it also offers a "comic viewer" a potentially interesting application for eReaders.

For more details of the iRiver product, see the Hands-On post with included video from Engadget.

I'm back!

Well, it's been a while since I last posted as other projects at work and outside took much of my time over the past 6 months. But I now plan to keep up the posting of news and thoughts about eBooks or eReaders as I prefer to call them.

A lot has been happening during the last year, and a segment that almost no-one knew about or talked about now seems to be in the mass media and the minds of many consumers...great!

There are now a lot of eReaders with a similar design, a 6 inch eInk display in a thin form factor, with a few navigation buttons, SD card and support for PDF and ePub formats, and prices are coming down. An example of that would be the Bookeen CyBook, Papyrus and others.

Amazon has released the DX since a while now, and now the Kindle and Kindle DX is available "world wide" with mobile data network connectivity.

Sony has been busy with updates and new models, including the nice PRS 600 Touch series, as well as other smaller models.

In the coming posts I will be showing newley released models in the news, and not-so-new models, as a way to bring the blog up to date a bit, as some models have been released that I haven't commented on.

But I don't want it to be about devices only, so I will continue to cover display technologies, interaction methods, publishing workflows and businesses and anything I think is relevant for the eReading activity.

In particular I want to keep an eye open for activity outside of ludic, fiction reading - such as solutions for office productivity, mobile workers, education and others, where I think there is ample room for innovation and differentiation and additional advantages over the printed book.

Please let me know any opinions, news, suggestions or "requests" for things to cover!