Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Reviving the E-Book?

I have never been a big fan of the idea of the e-book. While I appreciate making the information contained in books available electronically, the idea of reading a book as such in electronic format just doesn't appeal to me. Last week, however, the New York Times reviewed a new product from Sony designed to win over e-skeptics such as myself:

What distinguishes Sony’s effort from all the failed e-book readers of years gone by, however, is the screen.

The Reader employs a remarkable new display technology from a company called E Ink. Sandwiched between layers of plastic film are millions of transparent, nearly microscopic liquid-filled spheres. White and black particles float inside them, as though inside the world’s tiniest snow globes. Depending on how the electrical charge is applied to the plastic film, either the black or white particles rise to the top of the little spheres, forming crisp patterns of black and white.

The result looks like ink on light gray paper. The “ink” is so close to the surface of the screen, it looks as if it’s been printed there. The reading experience is pleasant, natural and nothing like reading a computer screen.

Essentially, then, this new product allows you to read an e-book as if it was in paper. While this sounds kind of cool, I think writer David Pogue gets it right with his conclusion:

Is that it, then? Is the paper book doomed? Was it only a transitional gadget, a placeholder that came between stone tablets and e-books?

Not any time soon. The Sony Reader is an impressive achievement, and an important step toward a convenient alternative to bound books. It will make certain niche groups very happy: gadget freaks, lawyers with massive document stashes, doctors and pilots who check hefty reference texts, high school students with 35-pound backpacks and anyone who likes to read by the pool for 20 weeks at a time.

The masses, however, may continue to prefer the more established portable-document format. Those older reading machines never run out of power, cost about 2 percent as much and don’t break when dropped. You know: p-books.

Count me with the masses on this one. E-books can be useful under certain circumstances, but aren't really needed by most people. After all, if the only way to make e-books truly readable is to simulate the experience of reading a paper book, then why not just stick with the latter?


Anonymous Jen. said...

Thought you might be interested in this -- author Robert J. Sawyer presents a critical review of the Sony ebook reader from the perspective of someone who really does want the idea to work:


He talks about what he likes about the idea in general, and also what he doesn't like about this one in specific, and about what he perceives as the mistakes made by their marketers.

IMO, readers seem to be a much more useful tool for someone who travels a lot, as he does, than for someone who doesn't.

p.s. Hi from Michigan. Yep, the whole state.

10:09 PM  

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