Over the weekend I finished up a book I picked up at Half Priced Bookstore by Dean Koontz called The Husband. The book revolves around a guy named Mitch, a lowly landscaper, who has to figure out a way to gather two million dollars of ransom money for those who took his wife Holly, and do this in 60 hours. The story was an engaging adventure that included dramatic flashes of a clinical study-like childhood to twists that were not expected, a typical Koontz novel. What killed it for me was the build up to the end. The way Koontz led Mitch’s journey to it’s climatic conclusion, there was really no way for Mitch to get out of the situation without some type of due process. Sadly the reader was presented a flash forward to politely end the story. This will be easy fodder for movie makers.
Now I have a book I really do not want to keep. I guess I could sell it back to Half Priced Bookstore but what a hassle. Then I realized throwaway books like this one would be perfect for ereaders, which by the way are starting to get hot again amongst other things that takes to the form of a slab. Will 2010 be the year of the ereader or tablets?
I have been offline for the better half of two weeks. Head buried in work and after school activities regulated the amount of time I had to explore the wonders of new tech. That does not mean I missed the most incredible product demo of a near production-ready gadget, the Microsoft Courier or the conversation around the remergence of tablets for the coming year. Heck, even ereaders are being taken seriously for the holiday shopper. Does that mean I should update my old Sony Reader and also buy a Crunchtablet/Courier/iPad? Well no on the first and definitely YES on the second. Here is why.
eReaders, why they still suck:
With Amazon Kindle 2, Sony Reader Touch Edition, and a slew of other ebook readers coming online or already here, one has to think that this may be the year you get to chuck paper editions like the one above and dive permanently into the digital realm. If you simply read trashy romance novels and junk like that, then hellz yeah you should buy an ebook reader and save our trees for more productive reasons! Just joking but seriously, ebook readers are evolved enough for recreational use. eInk technology on current and future generation products refresh fast enough for a comfortable pace reader. Only option really for the casual consumer is whether or not they like to get their stories over the air or through a wired connection. Where ebook readers fail are in the realms of research, teaching, peer review, collaboration, and reference. Take a look at the Kindle 2 DX, Amazon’s answer to the digital textbook. At Princeton, students of the pilot found the DX a bit of a disappointment:
“I hate to sound like a Luddite, but this technology is a poor excuse of an academic tool,” said Aaron Horvath ’10, a student in Civil Society and Public Policy. “It’s clunky, slow and a real pain to operate.”
The problem is the interaction with the body of text or really the lack of transparency of the software. As an academic resource, an ereader must allow the user to annotate and highlight. That seems simple enough but the interface for such interactions are cumbersome and painfully slow. Why should someone add yet another layer of complexity to a workflow that demands focus on the subject matter? What is worse is the lack of inter-connectivity. eReaders should bring something new that cannot be found in their paperback counterpart, like group annotations/collaborations or simply display who else is reading the same material and what were their thoughts on the body of text.
Here is what I think a killer ereader should have:
- Multi-touch captive display
- Wireless connectivity
- Pen-focused annotation interface
- Social connectivity
- Shared annotations
- META DATA TOOLS!!!!
Wait, there is a device that has all that and it is almost ready for prime time.
Tablets part deux, they suck less this time
Apple, Microsoft and TechCrunch are all getting ready to launch their respective tablets in the coming year. It is not like they are breaking a lot of new ground here, tablets have been around for some time now. The only problem is that tablets in the past tried to replicate a laptop feature-set that failed in practical appliance. They were heavy, slow and painful to interface with, sounds a lot like the ereaders from above minus the heavy part.
Once again it is that transparency between user interaction and hardware that seems to be the problem. The next generation of tablets seem to be focused on the user model rather than the hardware; Apple has shown great success with their iPhone because of the seamless interaction between user and hardware. Other hardware/software vendors have taken noticed:
What will bring greater success to the next generation tablets is their ability it interact with others. Can you imagine you are at a Starbucks reading a required dense philosophy text for your class when you noticed that 10 of your classmates have already read the same text? You click on each and read their notes and add your counter when you discover an argument that does not work. Or as the faculty member, the night before class, you take a look at the text you assigned and look at the color-coded text; green means everyone understood that paragraph, yellow means some were confused and red means you have something to talk about tomorrow. The potential becomes limitless, much like the first generation of tablets only this time the interface may not suck.
As you can tell, I am betting on the tablet horse for the win. Who knows, maybe a vendor will make an ereader with many of the features I suggest at a price point and power longevity tablets just cannot touch. Hey if netbooks found a niche, so can ereaders.