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Posted on January 6th, 2010 by
Much buzz has been generated about two new e-reader technologies announced at the cusp of CES 2010.
The latest new hardware in this domain comes courtesy of Skiff, who in conjunction with Sprint is offering a new e-reader that is touted to have a larger screen size and a higher resolution than any current e-reader, including the Amazon Kindle DX. One of the selling points of the device is its ability to present print magazines and newspapers in an identical manner to their original physical forms, in full resolution.
On the software side of things, the Blio framework is touted as a successor to PDF e-books. It's a software viewer that is multi-platform (should run on a variety of OS's and hardware, from PC's to tablets to mobile phones). Blio is designed to support the presentation of books in an analogous form to a physical book. In addition to preserving the typography and layout of physical books that have been digitized, Blio supports all sorts of multimedia markup, from embedded audio/video to text-to-speech. Blio apparently displays books at a much higher fidelity than current software e-readers, and is equipped to handle high-res, full-color illustrations and texts.
A common theme among both these technologies is the obvious appeal to viewing dead-tree texts as they originally were meant to appear. This much is evident in the emphasis on size and preservation of layouts. Yet in a year that is touted to be the year of the tablet, at a time when netbooks are getting smaller and smaller, does full-fidelity presentation of media make sense on a portable platform such as an e-reader? Both these new technologies seem to have the goal of supplanting custom mobile layout schemes AND traditional print material, but with what clear benefit?
Both of these technologies appear to be supporting legacy content in a manner counter to the way that mobile content re-purposing has been going in the last few years. For example, mobile websites have largely discarded traditional website formatting for solutions that optimize for limited screen real estate, data bandwidth and throughput. While the latter data concerns are not an issue with current e-readers, any device that claims to be portable will have to deal with real estate issues in some capacity. I don't necessarily want to carry around a gigantic piece of circuitry to view the morning news.
This is why newspapers are such a low-cost mental investment. I can pick one up at the stand, flip to what I want, fold or roll it up, and recycle it when I'm done. On the other hand, if I can't do that then I can always get the scoop on my phone with the news aggregator of my choice, because all I need are the relevant points, or the condensed summaries. On a bigger e-reader like the Skiff e-reader, I'm not getting the flexibility of a piece of newsprint, and I sure can't toss it around or pick it up. Nor am I getting the portability of a smartphone news reader.
Will these new developments push print materials further into obsolescence? Will innovations in mobile information layout and design be put on hold so that we can read a full-colour magnum opus on the bus? Consumers will soon get to decide.