Saturday, May 1, 2010

EReaders Everywhere!

It was being predicted that the eReaders will become a mass use device during this year starting with the last holiday season of Christmas and the New Year. While these readers have not become as omnipresent as the mobile phone, their use has definitely taken off!

Originally there was the Kindle from Amazon followed by the Kindle II or the Kindle DX. What they offered was the capability to carry a lot of books with you, download others as you felt the need. You could also download magazines and newspapers. There were a few others like the Sony eReader that were present in the market. These few devices were the only ones available in the market in the early years.

What has happened recently though, there has been a proliferation of these devices. Yet, in another development a crucial question has come up. While tablet computers have been attempted before, with the coming of iPad things have changed drastically. They seem to offer another form of computing that makes very good sense. But that is not what we are trying to look at here. What challenge these devices are throwing at the eReaders is which format of devices is going to win the book reading people! We shall look at that issue eventually. Right now let us look at these proliferating devices in the eReader category.

All of these devices aim to replace the book reading experience as closely as possible to the printed book. Thus all of these devices have a display device known as the e-ink display. This is a black and white passive display that looks very much like a printed paper. The size of the display, the software that lets you turn pages, select a book for reading, managing the on-board library etc. varies from device to device. What you can buy and download also varies with who is the promoter of the device. For example, while you can buy books from Amazon on Kindle, you can buy only Barnes & Noble titles on the Nook. Some have an additional touch-screen LCD display that makes operating the device easier. One disadvantage with this format is that everything is monochrome and you cannot have color. So now you have the Amazon Kindle, Sony eReader, Barnes & Noble Nook, Hanvon Wisereader, Bookeen Cybook, Alex, Kobo and so on. One is getting introduced on a daily basis!

The concept is really tempting. Not only you have a device that is similar in format, weight etc. to a printed book, you actually are able to carry your book collection with you and add to the collection too. It is much like the music player situation. When reading the content it gives you the exact experience of a black and white printed page. But then, it simply is a replacement of the printed book!

What the tablets are trying to do though is to provide you a platform for doing more than just reading a book. Besides the advantages of the reader, except the display is active and emits light, these tablets lets you enjoy audio/video, connect to the Internet and do the usual stuff you will do with a laptop or a similar device. The question is which is then going to win the hearts of the majority! My own reading is, as time goes, people would like to do as many things as possible from one device! Keeping a special device just for reading books does not look very attractive then. That the display emitting light can hamper your sleep pattern could be a little bit of a concern with some. But the generation of users who would patronize these devices are used to staring at computer displays until late at night anyway! Let us wait and see how exactly this space splits up, going to be interesting.

Debasis Das consults on Embedded Systems, Software development & Testing, coaches students of Electronics & Computer Science, and manages content development. He has worked with technology companies for close to four decades, 25 years of which has been with IT consulting companies. He has managed software and Geospatial industry outsourcing from India for International clientele. He has worked with customers from US, Europe, Japan and China. He is widely traveled.