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Here comes the e-book revolution (computerworld.com)
23 points by cubix on Feb 7, 2009 | hide | past | web | favorite | 40 comments

I hate it how everyone focuses on Amazon's Kindle. I think it's one of the weakest ebooks out there. And certainly the most proprietary.

There are tons of ebooks out there: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ebook_reader and I think the iLiad should get more headlines: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ILiad

You think? What about it makes it weak?

It has access to an online Amazon store. It has free wireless Internet from anywhere. It's owned by the largest online book store on the planet and it integrates into their products. If you need to convert to a format that works for them, they give you a free email address that converts instantly, or for ten cents you can send it right to their book. Physically it's beautiful: the form is one of the best I've come across for any device.

The iLiad looks ugly. It looks clunky and generic and the interface looks just as bad. If you want good press make something that's a joy to use.

I completely disagree with you regarding the Kindle's physical form; I think the Iliad (and every other e-book reader I've seen) is far ahead of it in terms of design.

When I'm reading an e-book, all I want in front of me is a large screen. However, the Kindle sacrifices screen size to make up for a built-in keyboard. 99% of the time that you are using the device you won't have any need for a keyboard, and the Iliad's 8 inch screen would serve you better at those times than the Kindle's 6 inch screen.

For me, the ideal form factor for an e-book reader would look like one of two things:

1) A larger iPod touch with something close to an 8 inch screen.


2) An EeePC with a swivel screen so you could use it in e-book mode, similar to the OLPC XO.

Right now I'm using an OLPC XO as an e-book reader, and although it doesn't have as nice a form factor as the Iliad or the Sony Reader, I do consider it significantly nicer than the Kindle. Of course, the low price doesn't hurt either.

The keyboard is incredibly useful. I annotate things that I read, and I'm grateful that they've got a keyboard. Meanwhile, the screen handles text well enough that on the small setting, one page is about equivalent to a page in a book.

You can't compare a laptop to a Kindle. You just can't. The electronic paper that it uses is in a league of its own. I can see comparisons to Sony's e-Reader or the iLiad, but if you can deal with a laptop for reading you're nowhere near the intensive reader that would benefit from something like a Kindle.

I haven't used an iLiad before. I've never heard of it. The picture Wikipedia showed makes it look ugly, as I said. However, the Kindle is significantly better than the e-Reader, which is the only other one I've heard to be a legitimately good product.

You're right that most laptop screen's aren't good enough for reading e-books, but the OLPC XO is an exception because of its special display. Granted, that display still isn't as nice as e-Ink, but it is good enough for serious e-book reading.

What display does it use? I didn't know it used a special display.

It's some sort of special display that was created just for the OLPC. It has an adjustable backlight. When the backlight is turned on all the way the display looks like a regular laptop display, but when it is turned off all the way, then the display looks like an e-Ink display.

Unfortunately, it does not compare with the e-Ink displays in terms of low power usage, but it is good enough for long reading sessions without straining your eyes.

huh! Very neat. I'll have to look for that and see how it works.

(and every other e-book reader I've seen)

How many ebook readers have you actually used?

Well, unfortunately I have not been able to play with many in person, just the OLPC XO and the Sony Reader. I was basing my opinion on researching them online.

The ones I've looked into whose design I preferred to the Kindle were the Iliad, the Sony Reader, the Hanlin Reader, and the OLPC XO (in e-book mode).

It's not the same category, but there are also dev kits available from e-Ink that are supposed to be suitable for building a prototype e-book reader.

Don't judge the kindle until you use it. Seriously. I don't know anyone (myself included) who has a kindle and doesn't like it. It might not be the best looking thing at first, but, goddamn does it grow on you.

I have owned an iLiad, the older model, for about a year and a half.

The iLiad has numerous design mistakes:

* It's very easy to push random buttons while reading, getting off page. There's no easy way to go back; the go back button, with an odd icon, works only for some aspects of the GUI.

* When disabling buttons, then the turn page button is also disabled. Very inconvenient.

* There are useless buttons on the frame. For example, a software update button! And if you happen to accidentally push it--which is easy--, one goes for a 10 or 20 second detour until safely returning to whatever one was reading.

* The battery lasts about 7 hours. Not bad, but for a book, one would want something like two days, or a week.

* The machine itself is slow. Dead slow. One gets bored and loses ideas in the few seconds that it takes to open a new scratch pad to write in some notes. Passing pages is also noticeably slow. Resizing and panning within a page is dog slow.

* Writing is not very nice. The trace has a different origin depending on whether one starts a trace or tries to continue one. Sometimes off by many pixels (10?).

* For what it is, it's VERY expensive: about $700. For that price one gets two Asus EEE, which have better reading abilities and just about as much battery (the 1000 models).

Despite all the above, the iLiad is still quite nice: reading on it is great. I only wish I could yell a few design concepts to their GUI engineers.

It is pretty much the iPod effect - a nice product with a great integration of the marketplace. I guess this makes it appealing to a broad audience who are looking for simple products with name recognition.

Maybe other reader are better, faster, more feature-rich, but it seems to be the ease of use that people are looking for.

Being a product of/advertised by one of if not the worlds biggest book retailer had more than a little to do with it. In fact "integration of the marketplace", "broad audience", and "name recognition" are all symptoms of being Amazon.

Sorry if my original post was not clear enough, but this is exactly the point I was trying to make. Maybe it's not fair, but all these points do matter for the target audience just as much as technical superiority matters for the tech-savvy crowd.

Yes. And is that necessarily a bad thing? Amazon has a reputation for excellent customer service. They're extremely dedicated to making your experience with Amazon great. Doesn't that mean the public has less to risk with an Amazon book reader? I'm biased because I have a Kindle and it's a sheer delight to use, but that's kind of the point. Posters here are acting like the Kindle's reputation is undeserved, when in fact it is a superior e-reader in the sense that it's easy and comfortable to use. People who go only for technical superiority often ignore the user experience, and that's equally poor a way to look at a product.

Nice thing about the Iliad:

"Developers and users wishing to create or run third party applications can request shell access from the manufacturer."

Thanks for the pointer.

You could grab the kindle source and hack on it directly if you wanted; http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?ie=UTF8&...

I think it's clear that none of the currently released products are anywhere near ideal and are all lacking basic features and poor design trade-offs. One company needs to come in from left-field and shake up the market with an overwhelmingly better product.

I am finding more and more technical books available as PDFs and that is pushing me towards getting an ebook reader. When I am using a book for reference I want to be able to see it and my screen at the same time (not the book on my screen).

Interestingly, I think that if I buy an ebook reader I will read more for leisure as well.

From where I sit, the EVDO on the Kindle is appealing (esp since I hear it has some RSS capabilities). However, the PDF support seems frustrating.

Hopefully the original Kindle will see a drastic price drop (even if only on ebay). That way I can see if I like it without spending so much money. (We must be in a recession if I am scrimping on new tech toys.)

Is there any place to publish and sell your own eBook online? I've had this idea but the PDF creator seems like it'd be difficult to code. The iTunes App Store type business model seems ideal for this.

http://www.lulu.com/ is one of many, many. There are books sold in iTunes App Store today. Many I've seen are just lame repackaging of public domain texts.

These places seem like they're more targeted toward producing physical products. I'd focus on digital. Still think it's a viable idea for sure.

Also: Amazon lets you publish books directly from them using createspace.com, and you can sell a Kindle book for no charge (I think).

Funny how much I'm reading about this problem right after reading Siracusa's piece: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2009/02/the-once-and-fut...

I, for one, can say that I was inspired to download "Stanza" after reading that, and have already finished H.G. Wells' "The Time Machine" thanks to it!

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." --Margaret Mead

Stanza is icky. I use it on my Mac to convert stuff for the Kindle, and it does the job but it does it poorly.

It's especially bad on the iPod touch. Reading on something that small is possible, but it's a dread.

I cant stand Stanza. Unless the file is too big to email to Amazon to be converted, I do everything possible to avoid opening it up.

I disagree. I was pretty impressed at how readable it was on the iPhone. The biggest problem with copyright free e-books is that they are 100 years old, and mostly boring. Not all, but most.

Wow, you need to find the right 100-year-old books. Literature was if anything better then than it is now.

On the iPhone you get blurbs. I have the same problem with Classics on the iPhone. It makes reading feel cramped. Stanza is even worse: it has awful margins, and it has no support for making paragraphs feel good. It's functional but unpleasant.

I guess we can disagree on the quality of old books. There are a lot of great classics. Don't get me wrong. I wouldn't argue that only new books are worth reading, but if there are 500,000 100+ year old books available, I would still argue that 499,100 wouldn't be interesting to almost anyone outside of maybe research purposes. But hey, that's 100 free interesting books, right?

To be fair, if we publish 500,000 books a year now, less than 100 will be interesting. ;-)

Will file sharing etc. become as big a problem for the book industry as it became for the music industry?

Howo are writers going to earn their income in the future?

It's been a non-problem for the book industry long before it became a non-problem for the music industry.

Books were first because they are small enough to schlep around the internet back in the days of modems. Few noticed because few read books relative to # that listen to music. And music industry lobbyists are legion.

I download a lot of books for free. It doesn't compare to the feeling of physically owning a book. I couldn't ever trade a physical book for an electronic version. A lot of people agree. I still see sales of my book going through, despite the fact that it's available for free on Scribd and for download as a PDF.

99cts books, sell a million and you're done.

As long as they try to sell ebooks for $20 or $50 they will fail miserably.

iTunes is about the right spot between price and convenience.

Make it expensive and I'll pirate it.

Make it affordable and put it at my fingertips and I'll pay for it to avoid the hassle of viruses or bad copies wasting my time.

Everyone knows the value of $1, however I don't think we see a song on iTunes as having a cost because it's less than a dollar.

Who is doing the interesting things in startup space to solve the publishing problem, particularly the college textbook problem?

any innovation in this area is going to face hard opposition from the textbook publishers. you could encourage professors who are writing the new textbooks to use a new distribution model, but you will face a lot of resistance.

If anyone is looking to get an e-book reader for CHEAP (to see if you'll even enjoy reading a book without paper), I bought my wife an eBookwise at Christmas. Her (and I, haha!) have been enjoying it since. It's old-school (still uses smartmedia cards!) but gets the job done, and I didn't pay with an arm and/or leg.

No more ebooks please. Can we have something a little more interactive that makes use of the wonderful hardware we have now?

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