The New York Times has a story today about progress that is expected on the next generation of eBook readers, but I have already seen this future thanks to a long-time correspondent and independent software developer Hank Mishkoff.
It talks about the main supplier to the Amazon Kindle and Sony reader, E Ink, and a new entry to the scene PlasticLogic.com who is also mentioned in last month’s Technology Review here.
I don’t have a Kindle, but have borrowed a couple of friends’ units for a few minutes. It has its own broadband modem that does the selecting and downloading of content and that is why the initial price of the device is so high (around $350). Instead, I have read several books on my iPhone using the Kindle app. You need to go to Amazon’s Website using a standard browser and select and pay for which books you want to receive on your phone, and then the download happens relatively quickly once you bring up the app on your phone. I found the iPhone app to be very satisfying for the pulp fiction trash novels that I like to read on planes and other fill-in time when I don’t want to drag around my laptop. It is nice to have a book to read “automatically” – without having to carry something else.
But the Kindle and its ilk only do monochrome and static text. They aren’t well suited to the hyperlinked world of the Web, and they require specially formatted books for each device – the version that you download for the Kindle will work on both the device itself and the iPhone, but that is about as cross-platform as you get. These books won’t work on the Sony reader. And the books aren’t free, although Amazon at any specific time has a lot of sales going on, and indeed I found a new series of thrillers by Lee Childs that I have quickly become a fan of, since one of them was available free on Amazon’s store. (Great marketing idea, by the way, and yet another way for authors to seed their content to early adopters.)
So what about Mishkoff’s idea? He calls it the “xBook” and incorporates video, full color pictures, and hyperlinks into his reader. The idea being that an inquisitive reader would want to do the same sorts of explorations and Web surfing expeditions that someone who is used to a browser would perform. He has cobbled together a video that demonstrates his idea here.
Note that the xBook is still very much a concept and far from an actual product. Mishkoff wants to try to get someone to help fund a project to build a device, or at least some software that will work with existing platforms.
As many of you know, I am a pretty voracious reader and I welcome these experiments. I still buy lots of books and don’t think that will change, even with the Kindle et al. coming of age. And do contact Mishkoff (his information is on his Web site) if you are interested in following up with him further.