News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Future Wants: eBook Reader


Long predicted to replaced conventional books and other physical media like magazines and newspapers, eBook readers have been around for a couple of decades but have never enjoyed much success. The latest devices (released around the year 2000) were hyped as the models to finally usher in a new paper-free future. Alas, four years later eBooks have hardly made a dent, with only a tiny percentage of people reading digital text on old reader devices, their PDA’s or on their computer LCD screens.

When will eBooks take off? Let us first look at the competition: books and magazines. The books and magazines in your library are the ultimate in display technology. Ink on wood pulp still offers the highest resolution and ease on your eye of any reading device. Digital displays are no where near in quality. The portability of a book (or magazine) is also a strong advantage. Reading a book in bed is culturally common; trying to drag your computer into bed with you for some “light” reading is not.

An eBook reader must at the very least be as good as physical books, but to be successful it must also offer distinct advantages over the competition. Some of the advantages of digital storage of text are the ability to store entire libraries on one device, search and hyperlink functionality, and built-in dictionaries. These advantages married with a screen that rivals ink on paper would truly start a revolution in publishing.

Specifically, the future eBook reader must have:

  • a display resolution of at least 300 dots per square inch;
  • visibility in almost any lighting condition;
  • no noticeable flicker or refresh rate;
  • ample storage for entire libraries of books and magazines;
  • a size at least as large as one paperback novel page;
  • a weight less than a paperback book;
  • easy grip and thinness;
  • highlighting and note-taking features;
  • easy and fast download of new books and magazines;
  • at least 24-hours of battery life;
  • accessibility features such as the ability to change text size; and
  • a cost less than US$200.

The truly successful eBook reader would combine all of the above with:

  • a color display;
  • the ability to view images and perhaps video;
  • the ability to play music and read at the same time;
  • accessibility features such as voice readback of text for the blind; and
  • sharing features.

Are any such products in the pipeline? Surprisingly, the most likely route toward such a device will be through the Apple iPod music players, its competitors and their successors. These devices already combine may of the features above. A new crop of competitors with video capabilities are arriving later this year. The only major features left to include are a high resolution display screen and perhaps further thinning in size of the devices.

High resolution screens are on their way, perhaps as early as next year. With Rolltronics launch of their R2R technology for creating flexible displays, and the rapidly improving quality of E Ink’s electronic ink display, it is only a matter of time before displays become as comfortable on the eye as ink on paper.

Around 2006, all the technology components will be in place, and the truly great eBook reader should become available around 2007, if not a little sooner. Once introduced, subsequent versions with enhanced features will likely spell the end for books early in the next decade as more and more people are converted to the convenience of superior eBook readers.

%d bloggers like this: