eBook Readers, or, How To Miss The Point
I assume that if you have any connection with the internet world and its culture (and I have not entirely decided if this is “culture” like a group of people and their shared common experiences, knowledge, and rituals or “culture” like bacteria samples; it depends on how close I’ve been to Craigslist that day) then you probably have heard about the Amazon Kindle e-book reader. You cannot visit Amazon.com without them assuring you that the Kindle is perfect for everything, which can be perplexing if, like me, you primarily use Amazon.com to purchase loose leaf tea.
And you have probably also heard of their competitors, things like the Sony eBook Reader, which is slim and brushed metal and has the advantage over Amazon of actually being carried in real-world stores where people go. My local Target has one on display, which you can fiddle with and realize how little desire you have to read Marley & Me in any form, let alone eBook.
It’s quite nice. It lets you get a visual idea of what “e-Ink” looks like. E-Ink being the little piece of technology that is making this whole market. It’s electronic and refreshes quickly, but is visible in sunlight and reads like print. (And snarkily, I pointed out that my original Game Boy could also be used in sunlight without eyestrain and wondered if it was pioneering e-Ink, or if these readers have just repackaged an old Game Boy without the Mario. But never mind.)
There are other variations. For example, someone just sent me off to look at “Cool Readers” which…appear to be Sony eBook Readers, but in colors. And it says they weigh less and other features. The colors seems to be the main bit.
However, they all same one thing that bothers me into writing articles about it. And it is, in a nutshell, this:
Revolutionary eInk technology mimics the experience of reading a paper book!
To me, this really seems to be the place that it all stumbles a bit. You see, it doesn’t directly mimic a book, because of course it’s not ink on paper. It’s pretty close, I’ll grant you, and it does read like ink on paper…but then you have to ask yourself, what’s the point? Why don’t I just buy the book? Ink on paper, bound together between two covers with glue, does a much better job mimicking ink on paper, if you see what I mean.
It’s strange: eBook Readers are trying to mimic the experience of reading a book, instead of trying to revolutionize and innovate the whole process. It’s as if cellular phones had instead strove to precisely mimic the experience of looking up someone’s number by flipping through a Rolodex, and then mimicked entering their phone number with a rotary dial and then getting a busy signal instead of voice mail.
Or if digital music – MP3s, or even CDs – had mimicked the experience of putting a record on the player, placing the needle, and then having to re-place the needle when it reached the center of the record and stopped playing.
Why mimic? Books are already doing the thing they do just fine. They’ve been doing it quite well for hundreds and thousands of years, in some form or another. Going from etched-in-stone to ink-on-paper, a long time ago, didn’t try to mimic the experience of reading off a tablet by then pasting the sheet of paper onto a heavy rock.
No, what we want is innovation and improvement. We want cellular phones that are easier and lighter and less clumsy and more mobile than a home phone. We want MP3s that are more useful than a record player. We don’t want to thread film every time we watch a film. We want the new thing to be new, not to be trying very hard to be the old thing.
There is a small company with an idea – which isn’t even into the proof-of-concept stage yet – whose name I have forgotten, and whose link I cannot find (I am sure someone will appear with it), who is attempting to create a laptop and eBook reader. It opens like a laptop. You can hold it sideways like an open book. It can switch between a high-resolution eInk display (and thus, readable in the sun) or switch to a very sharp LCD-sort of display, thus readable other times. Both screens are touch screen.
Now that’s a lot closer to what I want. That’s starting to get along the right track. Because now, not only can I read books in a comfortable manner, but I can flip it laptop-way-up and do some writing. I could probably open it completely flat and draw on it. Perhaps hold it up like a newspaper. I don’t know.
It’s new. It’s a good concept. And it’s innovative. And, like so many things in our modern world, what it’s mostly about is confluence: things coming together. My wife’s iPhone is a telephone, a GPS, a map, a translator, Google, a Mancala board, an iPod and so many other things. Confluences.
I want an eBook reader which not only lets me comfortably read my books – and by comfortably, I mean forgettably: right now, I cannot get immersed in something I’m reading in an eBook reader; I cannot forget I am reading it on an eBook reader – and I want something that also allows me to comfortably do other things.
What I want, in a nutshell, is an eBook reader that can give me comic books while doing all the other stuff. I want to be able to drag my finger across the screen to turn pages. Maybe zoom in on panels. Read it comfortably. Get new ones delivered. Go out and buy, for thirty bucks, a 500-issue back catalog of Spider-Man. You get the idea.
I don’t want Imitation Book. I have hundreds and hundreds of books, and they have never frustrated me into wanting to replace them with something else. However, I can be dazzled into accentuating my collection with something else, and I can even be excited into parting with money for it.
Apple is purportedly working on an eBook reader . I have hopes for that, in that if it’s a 6″x9″ creature with an iPhone like interface, I could see a genuine use for it. I have higher hopes for that dual-touch-screen wossname that I mentioned above.
But for now?
I don’t care if Amazon wants to serve me tea on a Kindle. Or if I can read about someone’s dog on the Sony eBook Reader. Or if I can get the Cool Reader in 195 Dazzling Colors to Thrill The Young And Excite the Elderly.
I want the cool next-step in the road.
Until then, I have a library of books overwhelming my house which satisfy me entirely.
Filed under: Books
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