I didn’t attend CES but I did read as much as I could about the digital book technology that was displayed there. Not everything that is shown at CES will ever come to market. Some of what is displayed are prototypes, working and sometimes non functioning. Some of the items displayed are simply concepts. What is coming to the market, to us, is exciting. Today I want to talk about software and next week we’ll talk about hardware.
Software for digital book reading often goes unremarked amongst the oohs and aahs over the device itself. Software, however, can make a big difference in how well a device operates and how well it delivers a reading experience. For example, for readers with big libraries the Sony products offer more functionality through the ability to catalog one’s libraries into different categories. Neither the Kindle nor the nook offer reader sorting features.
The ability to annotate, highlight, and share one’s thoughts with others have been limited in these eink devices because of the slowness in which eink renders. The latest versions of Stanza for the iPhone offers a reader the ability to highlight, annotate and share via email, facebook or twitter, a few notes about the book of the reader. Kindle app and the BN Reader app also allow highlighting and annotations.
For the most part, though, software seems to be an afterthought when it really should be one of the first things sellers of reading devices should be considering. As the digital reading market matures, software will become more sophisticated. The signs of this can be seen in two recently announced ebook reading platforms: Blio and Copia.
Ray Kurzweil is the brains behind Blio. Kurzweil is a visionary. His inventions brought text to speech to the market and is the father of voice recognition software. Blio is a new reading platform that is designed to present a book on a digital screen in the same format as a printed book.
Blio preserves a book’s original layout, fonts, and graphics.
I’m not totally convinced that this is the best use of digital technology, but perhaps making the transition from print to digital requires something familiar and Blio delivers that.
Blio aims to deliver interactivity by allowing readers to “insert text, drawing, voice, image or video notes directly into your content. These are saved, and can be exported to create lists or study materials.”
It appears that Blio is aiming for the market outside of the long form narrative:
a large selection of books that otherwise don’t translate well into eContent: especially cookbooks, travel guides, how-to books, schoolbooks, and children’s stories.
It also appears that these books will all be part of the “cloud” meaning that the content will remain on Blio servers and you will need some internet connection to access it unless you have downloaded it. How many books you’ll be able to download or whether it will all remain the cloud, what kind of format it will be, and how much the books will cost currently are all unknown. Further, the Blio is only available to Windows XP, Vista, and 7 users. On the FAQ page, it appears that there will be an iPhone App. No other mobile platform or Mac platform appear to be available.
Gizmodo has called Copia “Goodreads on steriods.” Goodreads, for those who are unfamiliar, is a social networking site built around books. Copia takes the social networking for books and has built an entire platform around it. The ebook devices it will be offering will integrate the social networking platform within the devices themselves.
The benefit that Copia has by integrating a social networking platform with the ereading is that it can examine your purchases, your ratings, your comments, your friends’ lists, your recommendations and recommend books to you. It’s like what Amazon does with the “recommended reads” on its site, but Copia can manipulate more data about you.
The site claims that you can hook into your existing social networks as well (which I think is a big boon).
Sometimes the best part of a book comes after you’ve finished reading. With Copia, you can start conversations, give and take recommendations, and share your opinions and insights. So if you’re bent on proving why "Potter" is better than "Twilight," chances are there’s someone who would love to prove otherwise.
- Connect to your existing social networks
- Add past, present and future reads to your library
- See live notifications from your friends
- Stay up to date on group activity
- Share notes, highlights and bookmarks
I’m fairly excited about the Copia concept and hope that it is truly open source and by that I mean, it allows you to use your existing books and your existing social network without having to solely immerse oneself into Copia.
Both Blio and Copia are resellers of books presenting new places for readers to buy books. The question will be whether these new platforms will introduce new proprietary formats for books or whether it will provide readers with greater shopping choice.
The development of these new platforms, however, will hopefully lead to greater innovation in the development of software for digital books. Presenting digital books as print books is not going to add value. Value will come in additional content like videos that show you how to dice onions (I have an old Williams Sonoma cooking CD that did this) or perhaps help you learn a new language (Blio offers in book translation for some books) or connect to readers who hate/love a particular book as much as you do.
What the new development of software platforms also tell me is that existing eink devices cannot support these software advancements and that the new generation of digital book readers will exist, even in their dedicated device forms, in something other than the linux based eink devices that we know of today.