Ran across a couple of stories lately about new ebook reader devices. Actually, only one of them was about real devices, but the other one was just as interesting.
On his Medium blog, writer Sumit Garg wishes for a new kind of ereader device in 2020. If you boiled down his list of wants, it seems to amount to a two-facing-screen iPad mini, with a dedicated reading mode that would disable any potential distractions. He also thinks that the reading interfaces we have now are too boring.
Also, I don’t get why we insist on making reading a dull experience? Dull experiences don’t help us focus on what we’re reading, they put us to sleep. If you’re a lifelong reader and you can easily disappear into an e-book without getting distracted, good for you! But what about a device that could transform a non-reader into a reader, to turn someone who hates reading, into someone who loves it?
He cites Scribd as an example of the kind of more-interesting interface he means, and also thinks that such an interface could take after Spotify in terms of a more robust suggestions and friends’ favorites recommendation system.
I’ve scoffed at ereader feature wish lists before—such as the fellow’s about a year ago who wanted ereaders to look more like paper. And then there was the time Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy predicted a “new version” of ebooks, without any idea what features it would have or what it would look like. (Really useful there, Carolyn.) But at least Garg seems to have a good, concrete idea of what he wants, and real-world examples to draw from.
Of course, his preferences would probably not be universal. Dual-screened readers have been tried before and failed spectacularly (though to be fair, that was at least in part because they didn’t have the kind of content selection available that Amazon could offer). I did find it interesting, however, that he specifically wanted a tablet-like interface, with color capability, apps, and so on, rather than the “boring” monochrome of e-ink. It just goes to show that tablets are where ebook readers are going now, I guess.
Speaking of “boring monochrome e-ink,” the other story is this piece from Liliputing a few weeks back, about the Open Book Project designing a fully nonproprietary hardware ereader, with open software running on open hardware. The PCB circuit board even has the complete assembly instructions printed right on the board, which will make it easy for do-it-yourselfers to do it themselves.
While the specs aren’t too fantastic compared to what modern Kindles can do—a 4.2″ 400×300 resolution e-ink screen, along with SD card storage, earphone jack, etc.—as a proof of concept it seems like a pretty nifty idea. It probably won’t exactly set the world on fire anyway, given that most people who read ebooks are perfectly content to use proprietary hardware and DRM-locked commercial ebooks. Still, people who are philosophically opposed to propietary hardware will undoubtedly be happy.
An ereader should be just that! Plain boring eink. Maybe color for technical or kids books. Does not need audio or video or apps! That would be a tablet. Adding bells and whistles will not make a non reader a reader! Why is a reader a failure if it does not have audio or application capabilities?????
While I agree e-ink devices should not have all the capabilities of tablets, I’d still like to see some adjustments. People love customizing, seeing stats, sharing and connecting, and feeling like they can customize. I belong to several forums devoted to e-readers and I’ve seen countless people state they’d love to change their screen or have more control over the home page layouts. Some do jailbreak to get a few of these options but that’s not always practical, possible, or something every user wants to do.
I’d like more effort put into the processor. When I’ve brought this up before people say if it’s just for reading, it shouldn’t matter. My current PW4 lags a bit with note taking (I do a love with quotes for book review purposes, which includes skipping of keys on keyboard, frustrating!), as well as collections being too slow and laborious to do on screen. It wouldn’t hurt to improve the hardware a bit with e-readers, they’ve been out long enough to put in more effort in this regard.
I’m curious on the Scribd layout being commended, I get frustrated and confused with it myself (desktop version anyway). Being a subscriber to Spotify, I don’t find their layouts that impressive either, but that may be beside the point.
Some of his suggestions are based on improving the software, which I agree. Companies aren’t being particularly innovative any longer with new releases of these devices, they’re kind of keeping it stagnant other than small tweaks.