Saturday, May 2, 2009

Another Tipping Point for eBooks?

Earlier this week, BusinessWeek reported that Apple and Verizon are in talks for the release of a new MediaPad that is described to be about the size of an Amazon Kindle, but with a full surface, color touch screen and all the functionality of an iPhone or iPod Touch. I CAN'T WAIT! Sign me up.

PC World has already declared the MediaPad could be the Kindle Killer. Personally, I have held out on purchasing an ebook reading device, mostly because I didn't want to pay all that money for another device only to read books. Granted, the Kindle allows one to do more than read books, but the little black & white screen with all those little buttons at the bottom: It looks like the offspring of a 1940s television and a Blackberry. There's no back lighting. Weak graphics. And, while I appreciate what Amazon and the Kindle have done for advancing the industry of electronic books, I'm not paying $400 for that experience.

I did pay $400 for my iPhone and I LOVE it. I read on it every day, several times a day. Mostly I read the blogs I follow, but I also read articles, my email, my calendar, Facebook posts, Twitter posts, etc. I love that I can read in the dark before bed without a light and it doesn't disturb my wife. I love the touch screen navigation and zoom. I love the auto portrait-landscape feature. I love being connected to the Internet with (almost) full Web experience (Apple: for Jumping-Jack's sake, please give me Flash, Flash, Flash) and links out to other points of interest while I am reading. And I love that I can jump from my email, to watching a YouTube video, to my favorite blog sites, to Facebook, to my photos, to my voicemail, all while listening to my music.

While the iPhone creates an enjoyable reading experience for "information snacking" (thank you Jeff Bezos), to me it is not a comfortable reading experience for much more than 30 minutes and I have not yet purchased or read an ebook on my iPhone. But, give me the iPhone reading/media/communication experience on a device the size of a trade paperback, and allow me to read my ebook files on my MediaPad, iPhone, and laptop, and I may never buy another print book again. Make it easy for me to post what I am reading to Facebook and comment on it, see what my friends and others have said about it, make new friends, email a passage, join a fan group, watch related video clips...

I'm all atwitter just thinking about it.

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CheVegas said...

Man, I just love Kindle's eInk--so easy on the eyes. It needs to be $100 or less though. But then, it's like Gillette: if they don't get you on the handle they'll get you on the blades.

(Right now it's great. Many titles are free--mostly classics in the public domain. But can/will this change?)

My biggest reservation about the proposed "MediaPad" is difficulty getting through longer works without eyestrain and headaches.

Back to Amazon's eInk. The Kindle's light, wafer-thin size coupled with it's palliated, crisp, 16-shade grayscale lets it melt away in your hands. That phenomenon of being "transported" to the book's setting--without distraction or irritation--allows avid readers to enjoy more time on the device.

Conventional books are very nearly perfect for reading. It seems to me, however, that Kindle can come close to achieving a similar experience. Despite any rich, practical functionality, the MediaPad interface (sans eInk) seems like it would be a more ersatz substitue.

Despite the beautiful, rich monitor on my new MacBook Pro, I still find myself needing breaks in the action to avoid going cross-eyed. I'll never forget what an old colleague from Bangalore, India once told me:

"Man's physiological evolution did not prepare him to sit in a stiff chair and stare at a glowing rectangle."

I concur.

Twitter @paulmikos said...

CheVegas: good points, all.

I agree with you on the quality of e-ink, though I am bothered by not having a backlit option on the Kindle when overhead light is not available or desirable.

The distinction between avid and casual reader is important. (It will be the subject of a future post, but what we read is also a factor in how we read, i.e. fiction vs. nonfiction.) For ebooks to really move into the mainstream the device will have to work for both avid and casual readers. I think the MediaPad holds that potential to attract more ebook consumption with casual readers.

Looks like Amazon read my blog over the weekend. The New York Times reported this morning on rumors that Amazon is planning to release a larger-screen Kindle.

It is going to be fun to watch what the technology race on the device side.

CheVegas said...

Once again, The Onion read my mind...,2747/

Their powers are amazing.