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Software EBook Highlights from CES 2010

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

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.

Blio

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.

Copia

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.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

19 Comments

  1. Sharron McClellan
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 09:39:00

    My sister attends CES every tear (she's a Dir at a Game Company) and we agree-very exciting! There were a plethora of e-readers at the show this year and it looks like there might finally be some competition.

    So why I still won't buy one due to the pricepoint, it might see more of a drop in the next few years which will soon(er) make it more attractive.I expect that at one point in the future, I'll be BOTH a paper and e-reader person.

    ReplyReply

  2. Sandy James
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 10:59:43

    I’m going to take off my author hat and put on my teacher hat to comment. :-)

    The price of textbooks is absolutely ridiculous, especially knowing that they aren’t used often in any of the classes I teach. Why don’t I use them? Because for the most part, they end up being little more than a reference to all the material I bring into my classes with technology like PowerPoint. (I seriously have no idea how I used to teach without PP… I update them practically daily to keep up in changes with biological and cognitive psychology.) My high schoolers have to schlep six or seven enormous books with them throughout the course of a day that they seldom use. What a waste of time, money, and energy!

    What better way to help than to have ALL a student’s textbooks contained in one ebook reader. Yes, the cost of the reader would be high — although I hold out hope that the price will fall as the technology develops, just like iPods — but the cost of books would drop, hopefully evening things out in the end. We also have to adopt new textbooks every six years in Indiana. The old books become are sold for next to nothing. With an ereader, the school would just upload whatever textbooks the students need at the beginning of every semester.

    The younger generation is being raised on technology, IMHO ebooks should be a part of that technological revolution.

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  3. Ridley
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 11:57:52

    @Sandy James:

    That’d be nice, but it’d never fly in the cities. The Boston schools I’ve taught at didn’t even let students take books home, because they didn’t come back. Expensive ereaders would all get pinched and resold by the end of the first week of school.

    I think the Copia readers and social network look awesome, but I wonder if it’ll be able to compete well enough to have a robust base of users. Like MMORPGs, social networks are heavily dependent on users for them to be successful. You can have a gorgeous, high-concept MMO, but if the world is sparsely populated it’s not going to be any fun. I wonder if they have/will have a web presence and blend their ereader network with a web one.

    I like Goodreads, but it’s not a particularly slick site. If Copia does it right, they could certainly compete. If they just put out a pretty but stiff and un-customizeable product like Shelfari, they’re doomed.

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  4. Sandy James
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 12:18:55

    @Ridley:

    The Boston schools I've taught at didn't even let students take books home, because they didn't come back.

    Sometimes it’s difficult for me to remember that not all schools have the same type of students or the same type of parental support. Point taken. :-)

    With so many students carrying their cellphones now, I do think it’s only a small step to have them carry ereaders. If the situation is conducive to allowing/protecting that technology.

    ReplyReply

  5. Kris
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 14:35:10

    Blio looks a lot like the web-based text book I had a choice of “purchasing” this term. It’s a good format for visuals, but in the web-based version one couldn’t copy-and-paste the text into a reading program like Dragon. (It was also a 4 month rental for $60. Uhh..)

    Hopefully as they start offering more texts as ebooks, they will address some of the accessibility (and cost!) issues.

    ReplyReply

  6. Maria
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 18:23:28

    I think some of the software (and formats like dual screen that look like a book) are going to be very useful and in demand in a textbook environment. Annotation, notes–a familiar setup that might include page numbers that actually reference back to a print copy are all more important for textbooks.

    Some of the other software features, like being able to organize your books, is imperative No Matter What E-reader you have.

    I read somewhere that Kindle expects to add folders or something similar early this year. Afterthought? Shouldn’t be, but apparently it was…

    These readers are getting better and better. I think it’s fabulous!

    ReplyReply

  7. A
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 22:52:48

    I graduate at the end of this year, so the techniology’s a bit too late to do me much good but….*gusty sigh* digital textbooks would be AWESOME.

    There have been semesters I’ve had to make second or even third treks to the student bookstores because the books are so big and clunky and heavy I can’t haul all of them to my car.

    ReplyReply

  8. SAO
    Jan 10, 2010 @ 23:38:48

    What I want to know is about eyestrain. My eyes get tired faster from reading my computer screen than from reading a print book.

    How do the e-readers do? Who tests it? Do I get a choice of font size? If I do, and I pick a bigger font size, will the format be off (ie requiring scrolling left and right as well as down)?

    ReplyReply

  9. Motivation Monday | Solelyfictional
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 06:35:01

    [...] for showing the Brits are in the game too). There’s loads of great new tech on display too. DearAuthor has an interesting post about some of the new eInk software on display, [...]

  10. Blio E Reader | AXI
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 07:05:56

    [...] Software EBook Highlights From CES 2010 | Dear Author: Romance 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. . What better way to help than to have ALL a student’s textbooks c… [...]

  11. mina kelly
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 07:25:22

    @SAO
    eInk isn’t like a traditional computer screen; it looks like actual paper, with no backlight or anything else eye-strain inducing. You can change the font size relatively easily on most eReaders, but it depends on the file type and the eReader as to how the pages end up looking. PDFs are notoriously bad for re-flowing.

    ReplyReply

  12. Maria
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 09:16:35

    @Sao (and anyone else that wants to try an ereader)

    Both Nook and Kindle have a free download for the PC–it’s an ereader and let’s you read any of the Kindle or Nook books on your laptop or computer. Granted there is still backlighting so it isn’t exactly the same as an ereader, but if you’re looking to get a demo of how the fonts look, try and ebook, formatting, etc it’s well worth downloading the freebies to check out the software.

    Stanza (the software that is used on iPhones) also have a free download for your computer.

    I was pleasantly surprised by the readers for the PC. The text is nice and dark, the line length perfect and the application runs well. (I’ve tried about 5 free e-readers.)

    Having the free e-reader for Sony and Kindle books also allows me to download the freebie books when they come along!

    Maria

    ReplyReply

  13. Ridley
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 12:32:19

    @SAO:

    I have discovered that my Sony Touch, when read under an Ott light, is just about the most comfortable way to read ever.

    Something about the Ott bulb doesn’t cause the glare the Touch edition can have and it makes the contrast very clear and crisp, like reading a book in bright sunlight. I can go for hours straight without my eyes getting icky.

    As for the font size question – it depends on the reader and the book format. My Sony Touch has 5 font sizes. Epub formatted books adjust the best to font size changes. Pdf formatted books lose their shape when you change the font size – weird spaces appear, sentences display out of order, etc. As a rule, I buy only epub books and books I can convert to epub in Calibre, either before or after scrubbing off the DRM.

    One more thing, I don’t think any e-ink reader scrolls at all. I’m pretty sure e-ink displays can’t scroll. You turn the page, and the entire screen blinks and changes at once. The time for that page redisplay varies between readers. It’s really fast on the newer Sony models, but I can’t speak for Nooks or Kindles.

    ReplyReply

  14. Maria
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 12:39:50

    The free app downloads for PC have a sort sort of scroll feature (you hit page down, much like any other document you read online.) There is not a side-to-side adjustment, however. The book is fit into the reading space.

    The Kindle for PC has a scroll bar on the side (For up and down). But this is a translation from the Kindle page turning that is done on the device itself.

    ReplyReply

  15. MoriahJovan
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 12:58:05

    I discovered through a series of unfortunate events that the Stanza desktop doesn’t display some things (like italics) well, though it does in the device versions.

    ReplyReply

  16. RStewie
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 15:45:05

    Am I the only one that’s holding out for a truly multi-purpose device, opposed to an “e-reader”?

    The glimpses we’ve had of the Courier, to me, are the most promising of all the devices I’ve seen so far: I want something that does more for me than stores my ebooks. I want something that also can be used as a PDA, can store pictures, can store my work documents, can remind me about my dentist appointment, and can ALSO update my FB/Twitter/Linked-In status. I don’t want to have to tote around a phone, a camera, a laptop, AND an ereader. I want something that does ALL that…but with a screen that’s bigger than 2×4″, please. I’m not getting any younger.

    ReplyReply

  17. Moriah Jovan
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 16:15:54

    @RStewie:

    Am I the only one that's holding out for a truly multi-purpose device, opposed to an “e-reader”?

    Oh, absolutely not. I have an eBookWise (excellent device, especially for a starter, but it’s only $90 so for a one-function device, it’s really awesome!) and a netbook.

    That’s it. I’m not popping for anything else until there’s a winner and it renders a future-generation ebook beautifully.

    Like, where iPods are right now. That’s when I’ll get one.

    And I’m an ebook evangelist.

    ReplyReply

  18. Sharron McClellan
    Jan 11, 2010 @ 16:45:38

    @RStewie:

    Not at all. I like the thought of an e-reader but it’s still a “one trick pony” for me and I can’t see paying that much for a device that does one thing.

    But I’m banking that, in a few years, technology will catch up with want/need and we’ll have the whole kit-n-caboodle in one device and with a screen big enough to make usable for those who don’t like to squint :)

    ReplyReply

  19. Stumbling Over Chaos :: New and even more improved linkity post, now featuring bullets and subheadings!
    Jan 14, 2010 @ 02:02:14

    [...] ereaders were on display. Lots and lots. Probably too many for the market to support. Dear Author focused on some of the ebook software, rather than the hardware, from [...]

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