January 20, 2006

New Sony E-book Reader

Sony E-book Reader

From Wired, an article saying that Sony’s new e-book reader has a different — and better — display technology than earlier e-book readers. Here’s a bit of the science:

The screen uses E Ink [that] … consists of 480,000 tiny "microcapsules," each of which contains positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid. When current is applied to electrodes underneath these capsules, they turn black or white, depending on the polarity of the current. The result is a display that looks far more like ordinary paper than a liquid crystal display [so] … its batteries will last for about 7,500 pages, according to Sony.

Wired doesn’t mention Sony’s huge brand market share, but I imagine that will play a part. While Wired says that publishers are "excited" (I know I am), they also say:

Also piquing publishers’ interest is the fact that Sony plans to integrate its Reader with its online Sony Connect store. It’s a not-so-subtle nod to Apple’s success in selling music through the iTunes Music Store, which makes buying and transferring songs to iPods extremely simple.

With all the convergence of big media, hardware and software — television comes to the Web, as radio did before it, and music comes from the Web to iPods (hey, it’s the closest to "beam me anywhere, Scotty" that we’ve come up with yet) — I fully expect the day to come when consumers are quite ready for reading on an ebook reader.

Need I say that I am completely thrilled?

9 Comments to "New Sony E-book Reader"

  1. Brad says:

    I’m really interested in seeing the eInk display on this reader. However, I must say that I do like having a backlit screen when I read ebooks.

    >>Sony plans to integrate its Reader with its online Sony Connect store.

    Sony has some work to do. I tried visiting the Sony Connect store using OmniWeb browser and got redirected to a page saying the store only supports Windows and only supports Internet Explorer.

    *sigh*

    Do you think maybe Sony will fix that before the reader gets released to the public?

  2. DianeV says:

    Brad, I’m dying to see it, too. Despite the ridiculousness of marketing planning in designing only for WinIE (especially given the popularity of Apple’s iTunes) (and I’ll say that ::ahem:: a certain web design software company has the same technology restriction in its shopping cart, but I digress), the technology itself is exciting.

    That said, from a writer/publisher’s point of view, it’s one thing to issue a techie paper in PDF format, but quite another to turn out what can properly be termed an “e-book” as it might be viewed by, say, fiction readers. Sure, both are technically e-books, but the smaller book-size version along the lines of the Sony e-book reader or the Microsoft Reader is another thing. (Clearly, I’m grasping at some proper terminology here, but hopefully you know what I mean.)

    For works of fiction (or otherwise), I’m kind of interested in the Sony DRM (digital rights management) technology — though, of course, some sort of non-spyware version … only because it’s so easy to copy digital works, and I’m adamantly in favor of artists getting paid for their work just like anyone else does.

    The future looks bright and promising. Our time is coming; I’m guessing that you’re looking at all this for the same kinds of reasons that I am. I’ve only been waiting for the technology to catch up, and it is. (For anyone else who’s reading this, you might also take a look at Brad’s BowIndex e-book search and portal, or its earlier, smaller incarnation at ePublishing blog.)

    In any case, all this excitement means yet more studying and work to wrap one’s wits around yet more technology. But this comment, made to my husband, garnered for me his observation that, while I’ve been glued to the computer/Web in full study/production mode, people have taken to sailing around L.A. with all kinds of wireless devices — cell phones, hand-less earpiece cell phones, PDAs, you name it: “They’re getting communication done.” As he further commented:

    “[The technology] is taking off into the sky, and we need to be on that flight.”

  3. Brad says:

    Great points Diane. I had to get the dig in on the Sony store because I know you take great pains to design web pages that render in all browsers. ;)

    Despite my reservations with Sony I am looking forward to it’s release in the hopes that it will bring ebooks to the mainstream.

    I’m also interested is seeing if the Sony reader will handle unencrypted PDF files without reflow and still be readable. There are two reasons for this:

    1. I see a market for people having a smaller device for reading manuals and tech papers most of which come out in PDF format. (Smaller than carrying around a tablet computer.) If the Sony reader will also allow them to jot notes in the margins all the better.

    2. There are still a lot of small digital publishers that only publish their fiction and non-fiction in unencrypted PDF format. (Or you can buy in paperback.) Some of those books I would like to read on a handheld device like the Sony.

    >>DRM

    Hopefully Sony will make it seamless. The DRMed ebooks sold at eBookwise for the eBookwise 1150 already work pretty seamlessly but that reader, which I like, is perhaps more suited to pleasure reading. Like the Sony scheme it is transparent but depends on one device.

    The only other current DRM format I will buy is eReader (Palm) format which seems easier to use than most and more importantly is usable and stable on both my Palm T5 and my Mac.

    Your husband is right. I do think that with the proliferation of small screens in our lives, ebooks will have a future just because people will want to put something on those screens. All the technologies have not quite come together on this but it is happening.

  4. DianeV says:

    Good points, Brad — which just highlight the one thing I’m not looking forward to: having to publish in a variety of formats. <sigh>

    There’s probably a market there for the software maker who can make cross-format, cross-platform e-books possible. And make non-reflows reflow, if I understand what you mean.

    Hm. Could you explain reflow?

  5. Brad says:

    >>Hm. Could you explain reflow?

    I’ll try.

    PDF is essentially a fixed format for a document layout as if the document was typeset. If you just shrink it down to fit on a PDA screen you would have more of a thumbnail image and not really a readable document. In order for that document to be readable on a small PDA/Smartphone screen much of the formatting must be stripped out, columns removed and tables, text and images resized to fit a smaller screen. That is reflow.

    Adobe provides the software:
    http://www.adobe.com/products/acrobat/readerforpalm.html

    It is an extra step before a PDF document can be loaded on a Palm PDA and can take a half hour to reflow a novel and even then the process might fail for reasons unknown.

    It looks like the process is easier for PocketPC, but I have never encountered anyone who likes reading PDF on a handheld device.

    This becomes the challenge for any mobile reading device maker is to have a PDF reader that will display a PDF document on a small screen and have it still be readable without all the extra steps to reflow the text. The very thing that so many people like about PDF documents on a computer screen work against PDF on a mobile screen. Therefore, if the future in in mobile device reading Adobe needs to somehow make PDF mobile friendly or risk becoming irrelevant for mobile devices.

    Did that make sense?

    Add to this the idea of DRM and things become more complicated. Only Adobe made readers can read encrypted PDF files. That means if you want to read encrypted PDF you have to wait for Adobe to make a reader for your device. So the Sony device will probably be able to read only unencrypted PDF.

    Diane, since you are a designer and know far more about this than I ever will you might want to look at OpenReader http://openreader.org/ This is an attempt to address many of the problems in ebooks with a format based on XML and CSS. So that with one standard a person could publish an ebook that could either look typeset like a PDF or be suitable for mobile screens and not be proprietary. Its worth looking into.

  6. Brad says:

    >>which just highlight the one thing I’m not looking forward to: having to publish in a variety of formats.

    This might not be so bad – just tedious. If you can get your document into HTML format most markup/conversion software will convert from that.

    I know Fictionwise converts their Multiformat ebooks from an original document in RTF format.

    DRM can add complications since that requires server time to encrypt and royalties must be paid in order to use proprietary encrypted formats.

  7. DianeV says:

    This is great data, Brad. I will indeed look at openreader.org.

    I should note, too, that Dreamweaver can convert text copy/pasted from Word into pretty much the exact original — titles, bolding and all.

    Strangely, I’d written a beginner’s HTML book — in HTML — and was ever so slowly rewriting it in Word so as to have correct thumbnails. I think I’ll look at not doing that, and perhaps upgrading from Acrobat 5.0 if the current version has features I might like.

    But I think you’re right: at this point, it’s up to Adobe to develop compatible software. Adobe has already developed software with the underlying functions running (somehow) on XML so as to be able to “repurpose” content without having to duplicate it in another format (e.g., I believe, PageMaker) so, their not-so-obvious to the world tinkering has already laid the groundwork. For example, from InDesign’s internal Help:

    You can import XML content to InDesign, or apply tags to content in an InDesign document, and then export the tagged content to an XML file.

    And, luckily, I’ve had good luck in communicating (one way or another) with the Macromedia R&D folks, and I think we ought to point them to this thread. So, if you have any other suggestions or “wishes”, post them here.

  8. Don Ruminer says:

    As the director of a police academy in Florida, we are looking at smarter ways of delivering our 6500+ pages of curriculum to our basic recruits. The Sony Reader E-Book may be the answer. However, with all of the information I’ve gleened from researching the web, nothing indicates that a student can highlight areas of text for additional study, nor does the available information indicate that students can make notes in the margins of the text. If you can shed some light on these features, it would be most helpful.
    Thanks, and have a great weekend and a safe & healthy 2006.

    Don Ruminer
    Director
    WTI Criminal Justice Academy

  9. DianeV says:

    Hi, Don, and welcome. I’m not sure that the ebook reader is the issue, but perhaps what document format is being used — because that format has to allow onscreen notations. (So does, I guess, the ebook reader.)

    You probably know that Adobe offers Acrobat — that is, both the Acrobat program for generating .pdf files, and the free Acrobat Reader for reading .pdfs (and the Acrobat Reader browser plugin as well). I took a look at Adobe’s Acrobat Comparison Chart; in particular, the chart indicates this functionality for Acrobat 7.0 (Standard and Professional versions): “Use familiar review and commenting tools including highlighter, sticky notes, pen and more”.

    Better yet, it says that Acrobat 7.0 Professional: “Enable Adobe Reader 7.0 software users to participate in reviews”.

    That might be fruitful to look into. I’d suggest calling Adobe to see whether this might work for you. They may also be able to give you other information or, in the event that you need volume licensing, I believe they offer that as well.

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