January 19, 2010

Mag+ concept for re-inventing magazines in the digital age

BERG (a London based Design Consultancy) has been working with Bonnier RD (RD arm of the Swedish media group of the same name that owns many magazine titles) to envision the future of magazines, digital magazines.

You can see BERG's own explanation of the work at this page http://berglondon.com/blog/2009/12/17/magplus/  or Bonnier's page on Mag+ or view the larger video on Vimeo.

Pages or Scrolls
Two thousand years later, the debate is still raging....pages or scrolls? :-)

Some of the interesting things about their vision of a future magazine is the way that articles scroll, not flip pages. This is bucking the current trend of things going page-based (even Personal Productivity PC applications in Microsoft's Courier concept which I've posted on recently).

In some classic design-speak they think the on-screen page turning metaphor is "not honest".

It's interesting to hear the examples he uses of scrolling reading applications, where he names an iPhone app (InstaPaper - app page that includes a demo video). 

The iPhone itself has avoided scrolling (and the horrible graphics and usability of the often associated scroll-bars with small touch screen devices), and even your home screen(s) of icons are presented in pages you flip-through, and some Apple apps have a "flip side" of the page for settings and additional info.

Yet, other iPhone apps - such as contacts - have gone for the "long list" that is scrolled through, using on-screen gestures (not scroll bars) and the famed physics of the lists behavior).

But it does allow them to lay the articles out in a horizontal array of vertically scrolled articles, and that seems to work quite well.

Perfect Interaction
The thing about these design vision videos is that things always seem to happen instantaneously, with incredible response times and perfect human-machine interaction.  Off-course, this is how it should be!

The problem is that the iPhone is the only device I have seen to date that get's anywhere close to reproducing this sensation.

It will require an excellent implementation to achieve that they show, but maybe Apple are up to the challenge.

It seems they have given the non-trivial task of taking this to the next stage to one Kicker Studio in San Francisco.
"Kicker Studio is working with Bonnier to expand this concept into a robust, interactive prototype over the next several months."  (Kicker Studio's page here)
Let's watch out for that "robust, interactive prototype" eh?!

I'm glad to see some reflective, low-power, display technologies coming along (PixelQi, Mirasol, LiquaVista) that might help us get there and have a decent battery life and a more paper-like visual appearance.

The video and images also shows what a perfect display would look like, very bright (but not too much so!) indoors, even in a dark room, and very bright and readable outdoors. No sign of glare or reflections etc.

These videos and works are very fun, so enjoy it, and keep praying for reality to be able to implement them as envisioned some day.

January 18, 2010

eTextBook proposal for (yet to happen) Apple tablet

Well, there's nothing quite like developing software for a vaporware hardware product, either makes the software developer's life VERY hard, or very easy as you can imagine the hardware you want then program for it.

Well, that's what it seems the publisher of electronic TextBooks CourseSmart has been busy doing: Creating eTectBook software for the yet-to-happen or may-never-happen Apple tablet.

If you want to see their imagination sin action, you can - as they have created a video of them for your enjoyment:

I broadly agree with their statements about the need for color, interactive content and the ability to capture handwriting and drawings on a device for education. Those capabilities could open up an opportunity for whole new types of "text books", with video, animations, interactive elements and information from the web.

CourseSmart seems to be a collaborative effort from major text books publishers in the US, including Bedford, Freeman & Worth Publishing Group, Cengage Learning, CQ Press, Elsevier, F.A. Davis & Company, John Wiley & Sons, Jones & Bartlett Publishers, McGraw Hill Higher Education, Nelson Education, Pearson, Sage Publications, Sinauer Associates, Taylor & Francis, Wolters Kluwer Health.

They have had a major focus on the iPhone and iPod touch as platforms for their content, so it seems logical that they target newer Apple devices....but even before they exist?


Inaccessible Kindles get put on hold for university use

This is an interesting piece of news that might need some follow-up.

First, as a backdrop  Pace, Case Western, and Reed College Universities in the US were starting to use the Kindle as a replacement for textbooks.

But the Kindle's menus do not have spoken equivalents for non-signed users, so after law suits from organizations representing the blind, the US Justice Department wades in and forces a truce.

So, I assume there are a few people at Amazon very busy right now adding accessibility features into the Kindle's menu system (and it's associated PC software if that doesn't have it already).

This could be an insurmountable problem for touchscreen devices I guess, unless a feature could be added that read out what was under the user's finger allowing them to navigate and use a touch screen UI (in a special mode, that would not be easy to use gestures and drag and drop with).....

Teclast eReader

Yep, another eReader from CES....

The usual 6-inch display and features, plus Text to Speach.....and that's it!

From Engadget coverage at: http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/13/teclast-enters-the-e-book-fold-with-the-k3-talking-portable-libr/

Bookeen debuts Orizon touchscreen e-book reader

Bookeen comes in with their newer device. It has a sleek, few buttons, overall design although with a reasonable percentage of the frontal area NOT dedicated to the display.

From their previous models it adds the touchscreen. Sony really pioneered touchscreens for eReaders and brought them mainstream, and now many others are following. I'd be surprised if the next version of the Kindle doesn't ditch the hard keyboard in favor of a touchscreen and on-screen keyboard.

Apart from the pretty normal specs on this product otherwise, they have added an accelerometer for automatic switching from portrait to landscape orientation.

If it does come in at $250 for the touchscreen edition, then it's welcome competition.

On another point about formats. ePub supports seems to be rapidly gaining ground, either via firmware updates to existing devices, or as a standard feature on newly introduced devices.

So, it seems we will eventually get that much desired standard format for eBooks that most manufacturers support. Kindle currently stands out from the crown as a major provider that doesn't support it. Is it a coincidence that it's from a content reselling company, that also owns MobiPocket?

If you can get ALL the content you want on your Kindle, that's probably not so much of an issue. But if you can't, then it might have you looking elsewhere for a more open device.

Also, how long before Government bodies working to stimulate competition in the market take Amazon to task for their "closed bundle" the way they have done with Apple and the iPhone in some countries?

SiPix sneaks into CES thanks to Jinke

At CES, Jinke announced 6 and 9-inch panel e-readers.

At this point, after so many introductions, I'd be short of things to say about them except maybe "They're white" or "One is a Kindle clone" if it were not for the fact that they sport not E-Ink displays, but SiPix displays.

SiPix is the main direct-technology competitor to E-Ink, with a fairly similar electrophoretic display technology. They haven't been very active to date in the larger sized displays, sticking to smaller sizes and segmented displays....but now it looks like they are up for the fight!

Engadget reports that they will be multi-touch displays, the first I've heard of on eReaders.

But why multi-touch? I can't see anyone doing "the pinch" or the "rotate" multi-touch gesture on photos or web pages with these devices with their slow-update displays.   So, apart from the title, what good is multi-touch here?

Connectivity will be Wi-Fi and optional 3G. The $275 price for the A6 6-inch is not bad, especially compared to the very similarly spec-ed Samsung model for $399. 

Competition for E-Ink is good for consumers and device manufacturers, but I'd wait until I have seen the SiPix display close-up, and heard how reliable the first models of the production line are before I jump in and buy one.

Samsung get's into eReader game

There are already a bunch of lesser known, or until recently unknown, companies offering eReaders (plus Sony, as maybe the only major brand in this category to date)......so is it now time for all those well known computer and consumer electronic brands to get in too?

The design novelty is that they have brought in the "slider" design feature from mobile phones to eReaders, as you can see in the photo above.  This is one way to get close to my goal of the device being "all screen", with minimal space dedicated to buttons and controls. It makes the device look pretty sleek when the slider is shut.

There will be two models (a pretty standard now 6-inch model, and a larger 10-inch model), both with touchscreens that will support on-screen drawing and writing with a stylus (presumably a finger also works fine, just not so good for writing or drawing).

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for connectivity, but no 3G connection.

$399 for the 6-inch model seems too high compared to existing competitors with the same display, and same or better connectivity.....so I thni they are going to have to drop prices!

The "Reading, writing and sharing" tagline seems to suggest they understand some more of the reading dynamics than others, but I don't have any details on what's behind those words yet.

Blio e-reader software hands-on

A different eReading related offering from CES - eReading Software for your PC. A change after seeing so many eReaders announced.

This software is available for buying, organizing and reading your eBook content on PC and Mac.
Interesting to link in additional content from the web, which seems nicely integrated into the "book".

I don't think such software can be built only on having a nice UI and a "snazzy" (as Engadget put it) 3D reading mode, with animated page turns. Those gimmicks can quickly ware off, and even get in the way of really "getting into your book". Personally, I'd go for the "invisible user interface" approach, where you don't even realize there IS a user interface, just a book which you quickly dive into.

The utility of this software, over either using nothing, or the PC software that comes with an eReader you buy will depend a lot on the type of reading you do and where it will be done.

Reading on a laptop (which I have tried) is subject to all my usual gripes:

  • power up time
  • form factor, keyboard in the way
  • heat generated
  • size and weight
  • short battery life, both while reading and in any "fast-boot sleep state"

One area where a PC can excel at the moment is in showing high-color, interactive material, where it ceases to be an eBook and becomes something new. If the right content is produced to take advantage of this, and the UI works, then it could lead to new types of "books", reading and education.

With recent and expected developments in display technologies (PixelQi, Mirasol, LiquaVista) we may see that ability coming to eReaders too, or a convergence between eReaders and tablets and PMPs and laptops - depending on how you prefer to view that.

Off one thing going for a PC, is the fact that you maybe carrying it anyway! With the small additional weight new eReaders represent, I take my eReader anyway - PC or not, just like I'd take a paper book - PC or not.

From Engadget coverage at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/06/blio-e-reader-software-hands-on/ (short video included)

January 17, 2010

PixelQi displays to ship in 2010

From Engadet at http://www.engadget.com/2010/01/08/pixelqi-screens-to-be-used-by-major-manufacturer-in-2010/

I suspect that this "image" would be much more impressive in real-life, as that PixelQi display looks pretty good, but I get the sense the photo doesn't fully do it justice.

Unlike the Mirasol and LiquaVista news (covered in separate posts) we knew PixelQi were busy at work and probably due to hit the market this year - but seeing it confirmed and some samples (see video embedded in the Engadget post) is great news.

Engadget paints it as an E-Ink killer, but I'm not so sure (I might put LiquaVista in that category). I think the devices that we will see first introduced with PixelQi displays will be Laptops and Netbooks that also offer a longer-battery-life, outdoor readable mode suitable for some types of content.

It remains to be seen whether any of the manufacturers of those "PC" devices add any design novelty - such as allowing the device to be fully opened, with the keyboard wrapped around behind into a "book format", or such like.

The video is not too relevant in my mind, but even so - the reflective (backlight off) mode is not really intended for viewing movies, as the display becomes almost monochrome.

If we want a long battery life color reflective video viewing device, then we might have to wait until something like Mirasol hits the streets.

By-The-Way "Qi" is pronounced "chee" (an English rendition) and (as stated by this Wikipedia article) "is an active principle forming part of any living thing".