This weekend I got to play with the Barnes & Noble Nook ebook reader at their Mall of America store. The design and feel of the device is superior to Amazon’s Kindle 2 and the Android-based bottom color LCD screen makes browsing and buying books as intuitive as the iPhone. The problem is the user experience for doing anything else which is more confusing than what’s on the Kindle right now which itself is not great. By the time I got my hands on the new Sony ebook reader at Best Buy I was convinced that the problem is not the idea of ebook readers but the E Ink technology they are based upon that emulates a paper book.
The book form factor has had a nice run over the past 1,500 years with the last major technology boost in 1450 with the invention of the printing press (or 1230 if you are from China). Since then it’s been continuously improved but has remained about the same from a user experience perspective for hundreds of years. Why digital books have to emulate the established print model doesn’t make sense to me when a color LCD reader can include video and other interactive features that would change the medium as much as the printing press did. In the future, books might look more like podcasts than printed words on a white background.
So I think the book needs to be changed in order to thrive in the digital era. All the existing E Ink readers of today will look very dated in just a few years when interactive digital book readers arrive. Or it could come a lot sooner if Apple decides to launch a 6-inch iPod Touch.
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