Saturday, February 26, 2011

A boon for education

Tablets, a boon for education. In so many ways.
I envy today's school children.

At Trinity, the iPad has nearly eliminated the need for paperback novels. The school buys one book for $6 and downloads 34 copies. And there are many books in the public domain, such as the entire works of William Shakespeare, available free of charge.
Last week, students watched the Egyptian revolution develop in real time by watching live blogs and broadcasts from CNN and other media sources. “Students were able to see history unfold in front of them,”

iPad 2 spoofs

These will be outdated on March 2, but they are both amazingly well done.

By the way, I just had a realization about the iPad, something which you would have thought was obvious: apart from the amazing flexibility and usefulness of the thing... everything and anything you do with it is just so much fun! I can't say it better than that. I guess it's due to the ease of use mostly, but it's far and away the most fun device I have ever tried.

The ebook revolution is Done

Barnes And Noble already is selling twice as many ebooks as paper books! Wow, I think we can call it game over now, that was quick. Although admittedly it felt slow for all those years we were waiting for a really good ereader device to appear.

Foldable reader?

An issue is of course that a nicely book-sized screen, say seven inches diagonal, is not really pocket-sized, especially not for pockets in women's clothing. So I am wondering: is it possible to today's technology, to make a device which will fold, and then open to reveal two screens so closely fit that for all  intents and purposes they appear as one? It does not have to be seamless, only "close enough" for most uses (say, when the line does not actually go across actual words, it's no bother).  That would be very useful.

Martellaro links

John Martellaro's weekly tech/Apple/tablet link roundup is usually interesting, this week is not different.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Adam Engst on iPad and ereaders

When I first interviewed Adam Engst in 2008 about ebooks, e-reading was still pretty much a dream for me and most people. The Amazon Kindle was out, but it was slow, and I didn't like the grey screen, so I hardly used it. But now the iPad has given the whole field a big boost, I read everything on the iPad if I can, so I felt like talking to Adam again from this new viewpoint. 

Do you feel that the success of the iPad has had an impact on your e-publishing arm, Take Control Books?

Adam Engst:
Absolutely. After the iPhone came out, and even after there were apps that enabled ebook reading on the iPhone and iPod touch, we had an occasional query from a reader asking how to get our ebooks onto the iPhone. It wasn't easy or a particularly good experience, due to the limitations of iOS and the available apps, so people were almost apologetic about asking.

Fast forward to the release of the iPad. Within a short while after it came out, we were getting intense demands to know how our ebooks could be read on the iPad. It was frustrating, because until the release of GoodReader, and later, with the release of an iBooks update and iOS 4, it was also quite difficult to work with the iPad. That's gotten a lot easier over the past few months, and we now have much better answers for people who want to read Take Control ebooks on an iPad.

In the past few weeks, in fact, we've figured out a sneaky process to create our own EPUB files via Pages, which allows us to make them look a lot more like our PDF originals (previously we were forced to outsource the task and put up with what we got back). And we're coming close to a site design change that will make it easier for readers to download various formats from their accounts on our Web site, and even to read online.

You said to me back in 2008:
"'s about reading, not books specifically. People read newspapers and magazines and blogs and email messages and Web sites and all sorts of things..."
I think that along with the screen, this is what makes the iPad so much more useful to me than the kindle. The Kindle does do web, but not very well. And much of my reading is web articles (sent to the iPad via Instapaper) and such. I also like Zinio, color magazines converted to the iPad. Do you think that the Kindle will end up as a niche device if Amazon does not come up with one which has a color screen and does web well?

I remain somewhat surprised that the Kindle has done as well as it seems to. Amazon finally dropped the price, which made a big difference, since the Kindle DX was originally priced the same as the low-end iPad, for a device that wasn't nearly as useful. But we have several Kindles for testing, and I find the user experience just awful in comparison with the iPad.

One thing that I think is potentially helping the Kindle is that Apple has become so large and so dominant that buying a Kindle is almost an act of rebellion. People go on about how the Kindle is great because there are no other distractions and because you can read it in direct sunlight and whatnot, but my feeling is that they're really saying "I'm avoiding the iPad because I don't want to be seen as slavishly buying everything Apple releases."

Apple's iBooks store still has many fewer titles than Amazon's Kindle store. I think you also said that the process of getting books into iBooks is a hassle… can you explain?

Not in a family publication.

Seriously, I can't say that working with Amazon has ever been easy for publishers (and we haven't done much with it), but working with the iBookstore has been the most amazingly horrible, opaque, and frustrating experience I've had. Apple's software is terrible, the iTunes Connect Web site is lousy, and support questions often aren't answered for - and I'm not kidding here - months. It's gotten a little better over time, but mostly it makes my stomach hurt.

I admire Take Control Books and O'Reilly for publishing ebooks without Digital Rights Management, which means the books are portable to other devices easily. I always felt DRM and the big fear of copyright breaches was self-defeating in marketing. I understand that non-DRM publishing has been good to you?

Yes, I think so, though I can't say that I've actually seen any quantifiable sales that wouldn't have happened had DRM been applied. The main thing is that DRM doesn't stop anyone from doing anything really - anyone who wants to break it can - so it's just a waste of time and effort. What it really comes down to for me is that utilizing DRM means that you see your customers as criminals, and when you treat someone like a criminal, they act like it.

How many of the books downloaded from your store are PDF? ePub? Kindle format? (That's mobi, yes?)

We're still selling all our books in PDF format, so when you purchase a book, you'll get PDF at the end of the process. That said, we have EPUB and Mobipocket (which can indeed be loaded onto the Kindle) for a large number of our titles, and pretty much everything for the last couple of years. We didn't bother converting very old titles because, let's face it, no one needs to read about upgrading to Panther on an iPhone. Right now, to get the EPUB and Mobipocket files, after you purchase a book from us, you can log into your Take Control account, which knows what you've bought, and download the alternative formats from there. Or just click the Check for Updates button on the cover of your PDF and get the alternative formats from a link on that page. We'll be making this process even easier in the future, but we're not sure if we'll bundle all the books together so they can be downloaded all at once during the purchase, if only because the extra files might confuse people who just want PDF and don't know what to do with EPUB and Mobipocket, especially since few apps on the Mac will even open those files.

Although a higher-res screen would be cool, about the only weakness of the iPad, to me, is weight. How do you feel about the iPad as a reader device?

Yes, weight is one of the major issues, but I'm not sure how much different a lighter device will really be - the Kindle DX is lighter, but I don't feel that it makes any real difference in actual use. That said, I don't like holding things anyway, and have become quite fond of the Zerochroma case I have on my iPad, which gives me a built-in stand. That lets me prop it up on my lap or on a pillow with less effort.

Thanks to Adam. Find his many-sided work at TidBITS

Eee Note EA-800

Thanks to Stephen for mentioning this.
High resolution and pressure-sensitive pen, very interesting. I just hope the screen has a good contrast, it looks a little dubious from the video.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

ebook formats

I just heard of the new free ebook format Blio. I wonder if it can do something about the confusion in the ebook format arena. It's just too silly: Sony has it's own format with copy-protection. Kindle, the largest player by far, has its own different format with copy-protection. And amongst the others, many use "ePub", and call it the "standard" format, even though it's hardly in use at all, percentage-wise. What is used most for real is PDF, but the problem is that it was designed for print, it was not designed for the text to scale to different screens and eyes! What a mess.

(Update: it seems Blio is not spreading very fast: it's claimed to become available for all popular platforms, but so far it's just Windows. So I'm not holding my breath for that revolution.)

Updated Ebooks for New Users: iPhone and iPad Basics

Updated Ebooks for New Users: iPhone and iPad Basics. The books are part of the excellent Take Control series of technical ebooks, affordable, accessible, and professional.

More on a Kindle tablet

Quick thought: I think that Amazon has to come out with a real tablet-Kindle* soon, otherwise they will eventually be eaten up, hardware-wise, by more and more popular tablets.

Also, if they do come out with one soon, and it's reasonably priced, it will sell very well indeed. Even if it's a bog-standard Android device, the bulk of Amazon's reader-customers will prefer it just because it's from Amazon, so they will assume that it works better with the Kindle e-books, which of course are the defacto standard at the moment.

So come on, Amazon, hit us with a 300-gram ereader with a real screen.

*Meaning a device that is much better at non-book reading tasks than the Kindle 3 is. Web browsing and magazine reading particularly. And with a high-contrast screen, color or not, though most prefer color. 

Xoom blasts off

The first serious iPad competitor, Motorola Xoom, is released this week. Here is Walt Mossberg's review.
Summary: it's a powerful and interesting machine, the two major downsides are that it has many fewer apps than the iPad, and it is more expensive ($800).

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The next gen?

OK, so the iPad Two is apparently close to being announced. That's kewl. But what I'm wondering about is, in the fall, what will the Kindle 4 be like? Amazon is totally dominating in ebooks, but hardware-wise they are getting their butt kicked by everybody else (except in weight). The Kindle's screen contrast, its ease of operation, and processor speed, all need serious updates to be up to snuff this year. I hope they'll be up to it, because the Kindle could really rock if it became all it could be.

And like I've said, it also needs better features for reading other content than books. Web, articles, magazines, etc. I think in short the Kindle 4 needs to be a small and light tablet, only focused on reading rather than Angry Birds and navigation apps.

For reading I'd like something the size and weight of the Kindle 3, only with the screen contrast and resolution of the iPhone 4. Yummy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How to hold one of these things?

I think one of the generally un-solved issues with ereaders and tablets, apart from your kids borrowing them of course, is how to hold them. Especially how to hold them without accidentally pushing any buttons. I have 6-7 different ereaders/tablets (all Kindle models, a Dell Streak, a Galaxy Tab, an iPhone 4, and at least one iPad), and on all of them this is a problem. On all of them, if you just lay back and read and forget how to hold it carefully, you will accidentally push buttons or touch the screen, and stuff happens you didn't intend. Quite irritating.

One of the few promising solutions I've seen is the "handle" on the Notion Ink Adam tablet. The Adam also has some innovative camera and screen solutions and interesting interface aspects, so I hope this one comes out and does well.

Reviewers say that this round handle is a joy to hold the device by. 

Spaketh the reviewer: 
The slab isn't the slimmest tablet we've seen (although it has a nice array of ports, including a full HDMI and USB), but at 1.5 pounds it felt lighter in hand than the iPad. Actually, of all the 10-inch tablets we've seen, this one seems to be the easiest to hold up and read on.

A good handle makes any weight seem less too, yes.

Apple's subscription policies

Apple has outlined the rules for selling subscription via the app store, and many people are upset, especially about Apple's 30% "finder's fee". Here is the best article I've yet seen for outlining the situation. (I'm waiting for TidBITS to weigh in today.)

Like I have said, reading is a lot more than just books. A good periodical (to use a wide term) is a treasure, and periodicals will have to join a good electronic system just like books have to, to survive, so how these things work out can be important for readers.

More theories...

More theories about why nobody is yet beating the iPad on price.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Mossberg on this year's tablets

Walt Mossberg, a very good writer in consumer electronics, has a nice column where he outlines the likely choices we may have in tablets in 2011.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Analyst: Tablet Makers Severely Overestimating Demand

Analyst: Tablet Makers Severely Overestimating Demand, article.
I've seen a lot of crowded tech categories before, but this is comical … There are an estimated 80 to 100 new tablet models in development.

I love to say I Told You So. I saw this coming half a year ago.
But then it doesn't take a genius to see that when Apple again makes a super-hyper-successful new kind of device, every maker and his half-wit brother will try to make one too, never mind that the chances of success are less than that of winning in the lottery.
Like an observer said: it's like watching six-year-old soccer players all crowding around the ball. Implied: a good soccer player positions himself where the ball will be, not where it is right now, and so it is with business and every game in life.

Perhaps this crowding will push prices downwards, but how much is yet to be seen.
This article says some peculiar things.
...tablets are going to be so popular that it’s safe to have higher price points, but this may not be how it actually plays out.
Of course, many will counter by pointing at the sales of the iPad, but I believe that this is an anomaly (again, one that exists in part due to the blind loyalty of the Apple fanbase).

Huh? Apple selling on blind loyalty? I think not. The iPad and iPhone is selling to millions of people who never had a Mac. And if it were the case, Apple would never have fiascos like the Cube computer.

I also think that $500 for an iPad is very reasonable indeed, both regarded as what it costs to make, and at what it can do. The iPad is spectacularly capable, and can do many things we couldn't do before, or had to pay thousands of dollars to do.
Maybe we are getting spoiled very fast?

Here are some thoughts and links on these and related matters by the worthwhile John Martellaro.