Readius reader. Image: NYTimes.com
You might have seen one of yesterday's top tech stories about sales predictions for the Kindle e-reader (378K to be sold in '08). If true, it's a good news for Amazon, but also an important development for the publishing industry, and by extention, the ad biz.
During the first couple of years of this blog, I've posted fairly often about various applications of the electronic ink technology: from newspapers to packaging and price tags. Then the interest subsided, mostly because few of those prototypes seemed to be anywhere close to being widely marketed. Now, it again looks like the technology might take off if recent developments are any indication.
First, the cover on 100,000 retail copies of September's Esquire will be printed (if printed is the right word here) in electronic ink, according to a recent NYTimes story. Esquire's publisher, Hearst, had invested in E Ink and "has exclusive use of E Ink’s technology for use in print through 2009."
Second, while the current crop of electronic readers is not terribly exciting, there are new and seemingly better devices almost around the corner.
It's been a while since I last read a fiction paperback, getting my fix instead off a PC screen from lib.ru and Gutenberg. I'd welcome a reader, though, and the few things I'm looking for in such a device are a not-too-fancy but reasonably sized screen (long-form reading off an iPhone is no fun), a battery life sufficient for a coast-to-coast flight, portability and the ability to fit on my lap in an airplane or a bus (laptops are hard to open at a good angle), relative sturdiness, and support for common formats (txt, pdf and html) and foreign alphabets.
Understandably, I was anxious to get my hands on Kindle, but important as it is for bringing the electronic ink to the masses, it was a disappointment in its current iteration.
While Kindle looks much better in person than on pictures and has a few nifty things going for it -- the built-in net connectivity that you don't have to configure, for example -- its many usability peculiarities make it hard to love. I could never get used to the back button which is like clicking "back" while looking at a Flash object in a web browser, and I couldn't understand why you need two differently functioning buttons for "Back" and "Last page". Getting your own files onto the device requires too high of a learning curve and I'm not sure if it supports other languages.
One device I'm looking forward to is Readius (pictured above), which is supposed to launch in the States in 2009, and will have a rollable 5" screen. (NYTimes wrote about the device last month.)