Will this, finally, be the year when e-readers take off? I don’t think so — yet there are two interesting developments worth paying attention to.
First, I’m quite interested in the prototype e-reader about to be released by Silicon Valley start-up Plastic Logic. Not only does it have many of the features I’ve been longing for, on 6 December 2009, the U.K. Independent reported that Plastic Logic’s “Que” e-reader may help the struggling newspaper industry:
“The Que, an A4 sheet of plastic no heavier than a magazine, is powered by electronic circuitry using plastic as a base rather than traditional silicone. This makes for a much lighter, more robust product that is also easier to make than other e-readers…. The screen displays newspapers and magazines in the same format as on the [printed paper] page…. Many analysts believe the Que could benefit the struggling newspaper industry as it strives to find ways of charging for content.” [But the authoritative blog Media Bistro disagrees, saying e-readers will not save newspapers.]
This video shows a prototype of the Que, and this quick look is almost enough to make me excited. But one problem is already obvious:– Plastic Logic refuses to mention price and they’re aiming it at “business users,” which means the Que will probably be too expensive for ordinary mortals like me. However, they supposedly plan to mass-market the Que through Barnes and Noble stores, meaning that they may eventually be aiming for a more reasonable price.
Second, Sony just released its latest and best e-reader, the PRS 900 “Daily Edition.” Reviews of the PRS 900 are appearing on the Web, and it looks like the device has almost everything that I want in an e-reader: ability to read non-DRMed publications including public domain books in .epub format; a touch screen allowing handwritten annotations directly in/on the books and documents; and robust support for PDF files including annotation, functioning table of contents, page numbers for citation, and acceptable appearance of tables and graphics. The PRS 900 also allows direct subscriptions to online newspapers, including the Wall Street Journal, something I would find attractive; and there is the possibility of “borrowing” epub-format books from your local library.
However, online video reviews of the PRD 900 show a grayish screen that really isn’t all that big, and a quick online search reveals an average street price of $399. Nor am I convinced that the PRS 900 has good enough graphics support for PDFs — the real test will come when professionals who read technical journals get their hands on it, and when they do I suspect they’ll find the page size/resolution will be too small for convenient reading.
I would dearly love to have an e-reader that would meet my requirements — display highly structured PDF documents or equivalent; allow hand-written notes; support multiple non-DRMed formats (.txt, .htm, .epub, .pdf, etc.). I’m sick of dealing with the physical presence of the hundreds of academic and professional books that I (think I) need to do my job. And yes, I would like to be willing to support newspapers through a paid subscription on a good e-reader. But thus far, the technology isn’t quite there yet; and the prices of e-readers I find acceptable are still a little too high.
Maybe next year. Or maybe I’ll just wait for Apple to finally come out with a tablet computer, and to hell with the e-reader.