Saturday, January 07, 2006

Functional Fiction...Book Readers

Many people are expecting book readers, ebooks, digital books to take off this year.

It's been happening in Japan for more than one year and some of the gadgets being seen in Las Vegas, like the Sony reader, demonstrate a growing awareness of the trend.

This isn't new; some PDA's have been supporting downloadable books for some time. The earliest evolution was the audio book be it a CD or tape for the car or the train commute and then later on MP3 files for your iPod or similar device.

In a recent Wall Street Journal Asian edition there was an article that highlighted a new comer to this arena in Playaway. The main difference is that the playaway device is pre-loaded and is a one book read. You cannot update the media, it literally is an electronic book in the same way that you can't change the print in your Tom Clancy paperback.

Playaway is aimed at people who want the convenience of electronic media but are too scared or simply don't want to know about downloads.

The biggest benefit in this technology to me is that you still get an element of the book experience. You have a spine and cover art that conveys the content, not simply some hardened plastic cover.

Some time ago I posted here about my vision of the evolution of the newspaper. I see that in his 2006 predictions in Bangkok Post's Database James Hein is also thinking about book readers.

Today the Playaway is little more than a familiarly book sized play back device (although I do like the variable playback speed feature) and I think that James' digital book idea will still be a black plastic box with the content on the reading surfaces.

In my mind I see a nice combination of some of the features of both concepts. Book type feel when you would like to read, playback when it's not convenient (driving, walking etc). In addition I would wrap my design in smart paper for additional user experience:

  • Spine for quick reference
  • Cover art to let everyone else know what you're reading
This is an important part of why people still buy books today. Imagine a device that could hold more than one book at a time. Your current fiction of choice, maybe a dictionary or some other frequently accessed reference manual. It would be useful to know how you left your device configured, spine and cover art is just about as quick a way as you're going to get and what's more it's more intuitive.

Enable the device to be WiFi connected (or GPRS) and you have upsell opportunities. Lonely Planet or the Rough Guide could provide you with City Centric downloads. You fly in on holiday or business turn on your device and receive the guide into your reader.

Where did I put that patent application ??

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