My Personal Enthusiasm
The main problem I have always had with ebooks is having to “turn on” a book and to use electricity to read it.
I don’t have to do either with a real book. I don’t have, in the back of my head, the sound of an electrical meter ticking away, reminding me that, in effect, I’m paying an additional “toll” each time I want to read. I don’t have to carry an AC adapter or worry about being near an AC outlet. These things are distracting. They’ve prevented me from ever truly enjoying an ebook.
Ebooks. I tried to read them on a monochrome Palm III screen and on a similar Sony S320. It just didn’t work out. MobiPocket was OK, but with the limited RAM and CPU power of these PDAs, it just wasn’t worth the effort. I hated Peanut Reader and every other Palm OS reading program of the time.
The first ebook I completely read was on my (now-dead) Toshiba GENIO Pocket PC, using Microsoft Reader. It was a free ebook from Blackmask Online. My pleasure — already tempered by my electricity objection — was entirely shattered when I discovered at least one, if not more, sentences or paragraphs were missing in the text. (An email to Blackmask Online received no reply; neither was the ebook ever fixed.) I loved Microsoft Reader; it offered a good book-like experience. I went on to read another ebook of the many I’d downloaded. Then the PPC OS crashed. And my Notes and Bookmarks went to Electron Hell. That ended ebooks for me.
Until the Nokia 770. I decided to give FBReader two chances. The second chance clicked and I began to read The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells. But guess what? The issue of using electricity came back with a vengeance. The 770 is primarily for web access. Every minute of battery life I use for ebook reading is at least one less minute available for being on the web. There was no contest here: No more ebook reading.
I’d like to say the same for RSS on the 770 too. I have 92 feeds. I’d have more, but even getting those onto the 770 was a hellish process, and trying to read those feeds is even more hellish. Scrolling through a feed with the included RSS news reader program is just slow; irritatingly, apoplectically slow. And yet I still use RSS on the 770, stealing browser minutes, because I’ve become addicted to RSS.
When I first encountered the refresh flashing on the Sony Reader, I didn’t think I could get past that. I think, like many people who love to read fiction, it will be a distraction. Some Reader owners have said they’ve gotten used to it, but I don’t know if I could. I tried reading Nineteen Eighty-Four at SonyStyle, but that’s not a reading environment to begin with. So, I remain skeptical when it comes to fiction.
But as for non-fiction, I think it will do very nicely, especially in two areas: RSS feeds and transferring reference Memos I have on my CLIE (and on my desktop PC, stranded in Palm OS 5-compatible Palm Desktop).
RSS: The included Sony software is already acknowledged as being worthless. But other solutions have already been developed, both of which transfer RSS feeds to PDFs sized for the Reader’s screen. See this thread at mobileread. See the news about RSSOwl at Teleread.
With so few Readers out there, this is an auspicious beginning comparable to the quick freeware and shareware developments that followed the introduction of the original Pilot PDA from Palm Computing.
And I don’t think that analogy is a stretch, either. See this forum at mobileread which lists the kind of hacking of the Reader that’s already begun.
While the Linux-based Nokia 770 has not set any sales records (unless the metric is for Disappointing), hackers devised ways to gain root access to its Linux OS and bring additional (mostly Linux-y) functions to it. I think Linux afficionados will also make short work of the Reader’s OS too. I expect syncing with Linux to happen (and if that happens, syncing with Mac OS X will follow too).
So I’m sold on the Sony Reader just as a great way to read RSS. I’ll have a larger screen than the 770, my choice of text size, and I can dump as many feeds as I want into it via my desktop PC. And I will even use it at home! No more being stuck at the desktop to catch up on feeds. I can dump them into the Reader and lounge on the couch. And notice: I’ll be able to do that with a device that’s $350, not the $1,000-plus of a UMPC or notebook!
The second point that makes me enthusiastic about the Reader is its ability to accept PDF, RTF, and plain text. In Part One, I described trying to read most available PDFs as a disaster. But this is so only for currently available PDFs. You can bet that PDFs specifically for the Reader screen dimensions will be published. And they will look gorgeous. I wouldn’t be surprised if the creators of many of the extant PDFs start reformatting them very soon. In fact, if Adobe wants to do itself a favor, it would see about providing a special section on its website for creating Reader-compatible PDFs. (Although Adobe recently announced new software for handling PDFs, it would be foolish for it to ignore the Reader.)
RTF — Rich Text Format — is what opens the Reader to everyone immediately. Without waiting for Sony (or other parties) to issue ebook creation tools, anyone with a text editor — even Wordpad, included on every Windows PC — can publish documents with “good enough” formatting for the Reader. It can be private material — such as the hundreds of Memos I intend to move from Palm OS — and it can be public material too, which makes the posibilities as endless as the World Wide Web itself.
Let me give just a few (mostly geeky) examples:
1) Fan fiction. Take along all those stories written in the universe of Harry Potter, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Andromeda, Firefly, The Prisoner, and more.
2) Fanzines, club/user groups newsletters. Anyone reading this text on a backlit screen might be unaware of the extent to which publishing is still done on paper. Getting things like that onto the Reader will be a lot simpler for the average person than going through the hoops of registering an URL, locating and paying for a host, learning to use an HTML editor, et al, to get it on the net. Any periodical produced with a word processor and inkjet/laser printing is a great candidate for the Reader.
3) (Tran)scripts. Many TV programs are transcribed by their fans. The Reader is an excellent way to collect them in one place to read.
4) “Sitecasting” and “Blogcasting.” I made this one up. But think of it. Imagine, each week or two, blogs issuing a compilation of what they’ve published during that time in Reader format. I don’t know about everyone else, but I’d love to see that done for sites that publish a lot each day, such as JK on the Run, Teleread, and Palm Addicts. For sites that offer reviews (such as The Gadgeteer), a compilation of just that material could be offered. I think “blogcasts” could offer people a better way to sample more blogs than sitting at a PC and flailing away with search engines and links. I always feel pressured sitting at a PC. Sitting back with the Reader will allow me to read sites and blogs more. Along with all of the RSS, XML, digg, and other such icons now on sites, I’d like to see a new one added. One that in effect says, “Put this site on my Sony Reader.”
5) Recipes. Yes! Over twenty-five years ago, when computers such as the Apple ][+, Commodore 64, and Tandy Color Computer were being flogged to an ignorant public, one of the silly suggestions for actually having a computer in your very own home was to keep recipes! Well, guess what? The time for recipes has finally arrived! The Sony Reader is an excellent device for the kitchen! (Better than an iPod!)
6) Forum posts. When I want to research a possible purchase, I find a forum of owners and grab as many threads as I can. In the past I’ve used these two methods:
a) Find Printable Version option
b) Copy All
c) Paste to WordPad (and do font change)
d) Print on paper
a) Find Printable Version option
b) Copy All
c) Paste to Palm Desktop Memo(s)
d) Sync to Palm PDA
The Reader will do away with having to print anything I want to read away from the PC. And I can read on a screen that’s far better than any PDA. And I’ll be able to do it without the irritation of using electricty!
What else is possible? Calendar and Contacts. Why not? Both of those are offered on the iPod! Collections of song lyrics. Joke books. The weekly sales flyer from CompUSA (formatted for the Reader, instead of for wasteful printing!). Albums of weird flickr photos (the Reader can also display images, remember?).
Those are just six big(-ish) examples and several “minor” ones. I’m sure everyone reading this can devise more. But don’t just think of them! If you have the ability, go do them. Reader owners will be looking for lots of stuff to read. Give it to them! The early days of the internet made stars; this is another chance to get in on something early.
So, yes, despite my initial horror and disgust at the screen refresh I saw, I’m very, very excited by the Sony Reader.
I’ve read many reports and opinions about the Sony Reader. And I’ve found most of them to be just wrong. This is the “iPod of books.” What did I see that everyone else missed? All is revealed in (surprise!) Part Four. Don’t miss this. It will, no pun intended, open your eyes! Sony’s hardware design is ingenious — and I will prove it!