As a devotee of book readers I’m now on my fifth Kindle (two broken and replaced by Amazon, two lost and replaced by me). I’m at the point where I’m unhappy if my Kindle is not in my purse or tote bag. But then I’m a dedicated reader. Before the Kindle, I always carried at least one book with me.
To me the Kindle is a kind of miracle. It lets me carry many (3500 in the current model) books with me so I can follow my usual practice of reading two or three books at the same time – something serious, something literary, and something light (a mystery or some “pop” thing). Of course, it’s most useful when I travel but it’s also useful at home, to avoid being annoyed with wait time at doctors’ offices or in supermarket lines. As I said, I’m a reader. I learned how at three, and I’ve been going ever since.
(Historical Note: I tried out many book readers before the Kindle, as they came along. None of them were useful enough for the inconvenience of lugging them along, keeping them charged, or dealing with their limited libraries.)
Recently, Esther Schindler, a freelance writer, editor, and analyst, noted that she wanted to know about what eReaders would look like in the future and how you would tell it was time to buy one – or time to buy a new one. That seemed to me to be a good question to think about. Here are my thoughts:
On Book Readers Generally
- Book readers have come down considerably in price. You can know buy an Amazon Kindle (not the model I use) for as little as $114. If you’re a book every few days reader like me, you could probably save the cost of the reader in the discounted price of the books you’d buy anyway in a month or two.
- I’ve already bought into the convenience of book readers, but not everyone has. I still get people coming up to me in public and asking me about my Kindle. They often say “I can’t imagine reading books on some kind of electronic device.” Actually, in about 30-60 minutes of usage, the book reader disappears and you’re just reading the content. There are some neat features you might choose to use (bookmarks and annotations), but I generally just read.
- If you’re a member of the aging population, you might enjoy the fact that book readers, being digital devices, can let you adjust the type size to your eyes. It certainly makes me happier.
On Future Book Readers
- Color will be available on most book readers soon (it is already available on some, like one version of the Barnes & Noble Nook). If you’re used to reading ordinary books you may not really miss color, but it’s required for most children’s books and books with illustrations (medical and science textbooks for example). Color might limit the usage time – which is a big consideration for me. When I’m on the road I can’t always recharge my reader every day, so the fact that it will happily run for much longer is important to me. It will also probably cost more – whether color is worth it will be up to individual users.
- Multi-function devices: Many have said they’d like a reader but one that they could also use for other things, especially Internet access. Some readers have at least limited Internet access already; they could have more. If you want to read books on a multi-purpose device you can choose to use a SmartPhone or a tablet. When I lost my Kindle on a trip to California (we had to change planes because of a mechanical failure and I left it behind – the airline couldn’t “find” it) I just switched to my Android phone. Now I would probably prefer my Android Xoom tablet. Both of them have Kindle readers and can synch with my Kindle (wherever it happens to be), offering me the book I am reading on just the right page.
A note on reading on other devices: The reason I like the Kindle is that it’s small and thin and easier to hold than a paperback book. My Motorola Droid X Android phone is small, too, but it’s much harder to read, with its smaller screen. My Motorola Xoom Tablet has a beautiful screen, but I wouldn’t want to hold it in my hand(s) for hours on end. For now, I’m opting for separate devices – I do think this will change.
By the way, an important use for ereaders is text books. They’re really expensive and they’re big – carrying a stack of them around is an invitation to a back ache. But, just like the sharing problem noted below, the economics of text books (people resell them and buy used ones) will have to be figured out.
Go out five or ten years and we may be able to have some really interesting choices. I’m thinking of a foldable reader, like a sheet of paper, that I could unfold and use anywhere. The original screen technology from Xerox PARC and from E-Ink could allow for this kind of futuristic “hanky” configuration. Usually, it’s discussed in terms of a self-updating personalized newspaper but I would think it could be designed as a bookreader. Just think! It wouldn't weigh much of anything and its size would allow for a "real" book page and even some annotations or drawings.
IBM and others have done research on technology that projects the contents of a computer screen onto special glasses. There’s no reason why this couldn’t be the book you’re reading. They’ve also looked at a little lens device that you wear (perhaps attached to your glasses) that projects a screen into a virtual screen of any size – so you could read your book on a 6 foot display, in really big type. This might be particularly interesting for illustrated books.
There are two things I don’t like about bookreaders (other than the fact that I’ve broken or lost four of them so far).
They don’t really let you share books. In the past I gave away about 300 books a year, as I finished them. There are ways to share ebooks but they are clumsy and limited. It should be possible to solve this problem. If I shared books I the past, why can’t I pass them on now. It should be the same rules – I’m passing on my access and I can’t get the book any more.
There are books I still buy in the physical world for different reasons:
Collections: I have a collection of science fiction books and one of cook books. I don’t want some of my books to be in the ereader and some of them on the shelves where I can look at them in groups, for example. I don’t know what the answer is to this one.
Art Books, Pop-Ups (I have big collections of each) don’t fit into an ereader and I’m not sure they ever will. So they continue to take up lots of space.
I think ereaders have gone from being geek toys (I used to be able to guarantee meeting anyone near by if I took one out and turned it on) to being mainstream. If you read a lot, you probably should have one. If you read and travel, you definitely should consider one. I have never bought the newest model when I still had one I was using -- but I have had involuntary upgrades to keep me up to date.