Books written by Ray Sullivan

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Colour Kindle on the Way?

Some innovations burn brightly for a brief period, then disappear from view, often forever.  Take solid rubber tyres on bicycles, for instance.  For a very short period they were seen as the be all and end all of technology, providing a drastic improvement on the solid metal rims that the earlier bikes had run on.  Then a smart guy named Dunlop figured that using an inflatable rubber tube inside a rubber housing would give a smoother ride and solid rubber tyres never made a come back.

It's probable that dedicated eReaders, with their e-Ink displays, will go the way of solid rubber tyres.  I think that will be a shame in many ways - their superior readability in broad daylight, the extended battery life and the almost limitless amount of eBooks that can be stored makes them a must have device.  In a peculiar way the fact that they do one trick particularly well and pretty much no other tricks at all is a compelling feature too.  They do do some other tricks, like surfing the net and playing simple games, but not very well.

Amazon in particular have added other features that are just pure novelty or just difficult to fathom.  Take the  text to speech feature that makes Stephen Hawkins sound like he's a trained vocal actor.  Then there's the underlining of phrases in books - I'm guessing that previous readers have underlined the passages in their copies and Amazon have passed that data to all new copies.  Where's the context? What is it achieving?  Some books seem to be virtually a continuous underline, which makes me wonder what is being said by whoever did that.  Or maybe I'm just grumpy as I haven't worked out how to underline, or even found a reason why I'd want to.

But tablet computers that can be read like a dedicated eReader while surfing the net in a meaningful way, play real games, send and receive emails and many other things are being offered at a variety of price points, with some very good models being not a lot more expensive that your average dedicated eReader.  In the absence of a sensible price drop in dedicated eReaders this is putting a real squeeze on the e-Ink devices, with many potential eReader purchasers digging a little deeper and buying a tablet computer instead.  OK they can't be read in sunlight, but how big a deal is that for most of us?  And so they have to charge the battery every night, but that's just a routine like the one they already have with their mobile phone and that's hardly onerous.

However Amazon, the company that has probably done more to popularise dedicated eReaders and eBooks in general than anyone else, is hanging on to the type of device where other companies might be considering a tactful retreat.  Instead of backing out of the market, or even reducing prices to make their dedicated eReaders more attractive, they've been adding new models to the product line and it looks like they're gearing up to introduce the next step.

They've bought a colour e-Ink company from Samsung and given the way they are still pushing e-Ink devices it's a fair bet that Amazon will be launching a colour e-Ink eReader sometime soon.  Perhaps Samsung have decided that the market for such a device is too limited, but maybe not.  The kind of books that have traditionally benefited from the use of colour - apart from the cover maybe - have been encyclopaedias and children's  books.  Obviously the internet has made encyclopaedias almost obsolete, but of course the one group we don't want to have unrestricted access to the net are kids, for the twin sound reasons that they may be exposed to stuff we would prefer they didn't see and, of course, the net's not always (ever) right.

So a colour e-Ink device that housed a child friendly encyclopaedia and also run suitable colour children biased books could be a game changer.  Put parental controls to restrict what the kids can access over the internet and you've got a great educational tool that can travel anywhere and, assuming colour e-Ink displays don't reduce the battery life too much, can be used for days on end.  Maybe we haven't seen the end of this particular solid rubber tyre after all.


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