Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reading books and newspapers on screens: prime time yet?

How do you like reading on this screen?

To me, it lacks the comforting tactile sensations of a nice magazine or newspaper, or a pocket book or, indeed, a letter. (Of course, most of our letters these days come via email. The “mail” delivers formal documents and solicitations, for the most part.)

And if we've gotten used to getting our private mail via computer, can the final collapse of paper-and-ink electronic ink be far behind?

The fits and starts are legendary of efforts to move the large-format printed word to the electronic screen.

I have read a few books on the 3.5-inch screen of my Palm T/X, and the 2.25-inch square screen of the Zire, and on the various handheld devices that preceded them, as well as on the 2-inch screen of my phone. But it's an exercise in frustration, constantly losing one's place, and spending more time scrolling up and down for where you left off than actually reading.

Try and read a newspaper on one of those, with the ads taking up most of the space on the teenie-weenie screen.

Some years ago, there was talk of something called electronic ink, e-ink. With painful slowness, the technology has crept up on us. I remember reading of big, flexible sheets of fabric you'd read like a regular newspaper. Push on a corner, and the words rearrange into the next page. It hasn't gotten there, but e-ink has been on the market for a few years, and the vehicles for it improve almost monthly.

Perhaps best known are the (6-inch screen) Amazon's Kindle reader ($359), the (6-inch screen) Sony Reader ($299 to $400), and with a much bigger screen (10.2 inches), the iRex Digital Reader (versions from $599 to $859). (The iLiad of iRex is smaller, but still bigger than Kindle and Sony readers.)

Some have wireless capabilities, some not; some have touch screens, some not; some allow you to make notes on the page, some not.

But the coolest features of these devices is the electronic ink. Unlike the LCD screens of handheld devices, these things use power to turn the page, but once the screen has arranged itself into words and sentences, it doesn't use power to keep them there. Set the reader down, come back the next day, and what you were reading is still there—you haven't lost your place, and your device battery isn't worn down.

The newspaper chain Hearst is now said to be preparing a larger-format wireless e-reader of their own.

The Hearst reader is said to have a screen the size of a sheet of paper. Presuming that's a standard 8.5x11 sheet of paper, it's a 13-inch diagonal screen, bigger, even, than iRex's product.

They're still trying to determine, stories say, whether it will be somehow foldable, and one wonders whether they're still trying to serve too many masters.

At issue is the business of portability.

Do you want something you can haul around easily like your cell phone, or do you want something that makes the reading process easy.

Are they trying to make something that will replace the book/newspaper in your living room, or are they trying to make a portable device that will let you read on the road—a place where you expect corners to be cut for convenience.

Maybe they ought to decide.

I'm primarily an old-style reader. I subscribe to three actual paper newspapers, and the house is crammed full of paper books, even though my electronic devices have a few volumes on them as well.

I'm not a technophobe. But I want the new technology to improve on the paper reading experience, not just approach it. I want it bigger, better, cheaper.

Unfortunately, none of the paper newspapers to which I subscribe is available on the e-reader format, as far as I know. And none of them has a website that makes reading as easy as picking up the paper. I'm already paying for my subscriptions, and I'd be willing to pay for an excellent e-version. But we're not yet there, so I'm not quite ready to leap.

But I'm willing. I'm close. Build it and I will come.

©2009 Jan TenBruggencate

1 comment:

Keahi Pelayo said...

I love the feel of books. As for news, I am perfectly fine getting it off the web. If the newspapers would bet their "bent" out of the reporting...I might look at them again.