Sunday, October 15, 2006


I just read that article about the new Sony's e-book reader (from the osnews story). That made me think a bit about e-book.

I would love to have a "true" ebook. For what ? well, in my case, for reading technical documentation and research papers, possibly some websites. Another excellent usage would be to read newspapers and magazines, or research journals. Or if you are a student, another really obvious target are textbooks. And think about the manga/comics market.

Why would it be interesting to have an ebook for all that ? What's the pattern ? Simply, it's the volume: in all these use cases, you end up with lots of paper very easily (and in a short time frame), and having one device to gather everything would be nice.

But books ? books do not really have a volume problem -- most persons do not read or carry dozen of books at the same time, and the minor inconvenience to carry 2-3 books for a very long journey is not enough to warrant paying premium to have an ebook. Sure, if you have a device able to read pdf and newspapers, it can handles a book, so you'll have books too of course. Having your whole library in one device could be appealing to some too, I guess. But if the main advantage of an ebook reader is answering the "volume" problem, then it means books almost certainly shouldn't be the main target.

So if books aren't (or should not be) the real target, and if things like documentation, newspapers, textbooks are, what does it mean ? Well, it means your device should provide the same features you'd expect from paper when dealing with these. Specifically, you absolutely need annotation. But more than annotation, the device shouldn't be content to only be "as good as paper" -- if you want people to buy it, you need to be better. An obvious candidate feature (come on, we are talking about electronic documents) is to provide a much better way to manage your document collection. Things like searching, grouping, sorting, adding whatever annotation/metadata you want, do specific things that use these categories (like marking some documents, pages or text to be sent to somebody else via email, etc)...

Then, you will have something that people (and companies, and schools) might be interested in.

The screen technology is imho nearly irrelevant, as long as the battery life is good enough (~7-8 hours in continuous usage) and with a good enough resolution. While e-ink is extremely interesting and answers perfectly the battery/resolution problem, it's too slow for the moment (it's also black and white, not absolutely dramatic but something that reduce a bit its impact). Between an e-ink display and a high resolution lcd screen, even if the battery life would be much shorter on the device with the lcd screen, if it provides the kind of characteristics I described above, I will definitely choose it over the e-ink display, and I bet that many persons would do just the same.

Right now, the sony ebook looks more like a solution looking for a problem than anything else, and they focus their efforts on the wrong side (books).

They fail at everything I described above: it's slow to navigate, management of your documents seems inexistant, pdf aren't even there apparently (seriously!), no annotations... the only good thing (while not perfect) is the e-ink display, but they seem to think it's enough. It's not.

If I had money (and time) and more electronic skills I'd definitely want to create a good e-book device. Why not something based on gumstix + a high resolution lcd screen. There's a market waiting to be picked here.

edit: to be fair, checking the sony page they indicate that the device actually CAN read pdf and doc... But only after converting them to the proprietary format Sony uses. Crap ! :D (oh and it plays AAC and MP3 too)


Emeric said...

J'ai l'impression que tu cherches de bénéficier d'une petite ristourne spéciale chercheur sur l'engin, comme pour ton beau machin Nokia. Je me trompe ?

Nicolas said...

Ben oui tu te trompes emeric... quel cynisme.. :-P

Après tout je dis bien tout le mal que j'en pense de ce truc non ? :-)

emeric said...

C'est comme pour tout. On a des exigences lorsque ça coûte 3000 francs, qui baissent irrésistiblement en cas de ristourne...
[Rien à voir, c'est toi qui as "dégotté Frets on Fire" ? Si oui dans mes bras, pour nos premiers commentaires conjoints dans nos sites respectifs, sinon tu sais ce qu'il te reste à faire :) ]

Nicolas said...

Effectivement c'est moi qui ai laissé le commentaire à propos de Frets on Fire ;-)