Bits and Chaos

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Between bits and chaos, a sysadmin stands.

Still waiting for a good e-book reader

Almost every year, several years now on, starts with the declaration that it will be the year of the Linux desktop. Although we are making some progresses in developing a competing platform for desktop PC (including releasing of some malware via a screensaver application) we are not seeing such widespread adoption, and probably we won’t see as the hot spot today is in cloud computing, virtual desktop, web-oriented operating systems and whatever.
But another prediction could be done, that this year could be the year of the e-book reader. At least for me, as I have pondered a lot whether I should buy one of these during these holiday season. But I regret to avoid this expensive self-gift, as I am not seeing a device that does all and only all it should do. The portable music audio market took off when Apple released the iPod, as it does only one thing but very well, not from the technological point of view (it’s always an MP3, so a relative good sound quality) but for the interface itself, that let people do what we want to do: choose and building our music library, arrange and playing it the way we want. This extremely good design seems not happening until now for the e-book reader market.
What should I expect to find in a e-book reader? I’ve thought this sort of list:

  • a 9-10 inches display: a 6 inches display is too small to comfortably read a page, i.e. it will contain few words and, as a result, it will force to turn pages more frequently; also, a 9-10 inches allows to zoom the text, so it makes the device adapting to myself and not the contrary;
  • a touchscreen interface, as I am already read books using also my hands, and I do not want to use a stylus, that could easily get lost and it will make things unnecessarily clumsy;
  • the ability to make notes, which would be expecially useful for tech books and documentation;
  • the design principle, deeply rooted in the device, that I am the owner of my books, and I could do with them whatever I want to, including reading, taking notes, making summaries, lending and borrowing;
  • some kind of wireless connectivity so I could move books to and from the device without setting a physical connection (that, nevertheless, should be available);
  • ability to read technical documentation, i.e. something available in a PDF format but designed and developed with an A4 paper format in mind;
  • an integrated dictionary, and something on the big and complex side (not an “First English Dictionary” but more the Webster) letting me to pinpoint a word and obtain its definition with a simple gesture;
  • a price not over 300 euros (400 $), as otherwise the time it takes to repay the investment would be several years.

Even not including the price limit, there are no devices in the market with all these features: most e-book readers have a 6 inches display, the Kindle is deeply integrated with the Amazon DRM (which could let to disaster like this), or some features are missing (the dictionary) or bad-implemented (stylus instead of the touchscreen).

It seems to me like designers are so satisfied with the e-Ink technology that they simply refuse to work more on the interface, empathizing thinks like the battery lasting (“you could read 10,000 pages before recharging”) and not the most fundamental interaction with the device (“you can make notes, export them, share them with your friends”). It’s so bad, because as the result of these I’ll be forced to continue buying books and printing documentation, which pollutes a lot and requires a lot more trees to be sacrificed on the altar of knowledge.

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