The big gift item this holiday season appeared to be eReaders. I followed this trend myself and bought two: one for my wife and one for my dad. What did I buy? More on that later.
The eReader seems to me to be where the MP3 player market was about 10 years ago, when the iPod was just getting on the scene. Before that, the Blue-Ray/HDDVD debate and the VHS/Beta debate before that. In all these cases, the product had been around for a while but was not mainstream. Big companies like Sony have put out a few products half-heartedly, but then another company comes in and one way or another sets a standard. In the case of the MP3 player it was the iPod, and in the case of the eReader it is beginning to look like the Amazon Kindle.
Just like 10 years ago, there is a debate about which product to buy, what features are a “must” and what files they will support. The difference is that 10 years ago, the MP3 file came first, and the player followed; every player had to support MP3s. Today, the hardware for eReaders has come first and the file format seems to be different for each one.
For example, the Kindle supports its own format, but not the format used by public libraries. The Nook, however, does support public library files, but not Kindle books. The files you buy from Apple’s iBooks site will work on your iPad, but not on the Kindle or the Nook. However, the iPad, since it is app-based, will read anything.
I have made a chart to keep track of it all.
|Barnes and Noble Books||No||Yes||Yes|
|Overdrive (library books)||no||yes||yes|
|Kitchen Sink||No||No||There’s an App for that. Seriously, look it up.|
|Cost||$($139)||$$$ ($250)||$$$$ ($500)|
I know that there are too many reviews for eReaders out there, but I think that reading is such a personal thing that the real question is, What do you want your book reader to do? Just like 10 years ago with the MP3 player market, the dust has yet to settle on who will be the winner. There were MP3 players 10 years ago that did a lot more than the iPod and yet the popularity and ease of use of the early iPods won out. In the end I went with the Kindle, not because it does a lot—I can only get book from Amazon, Project Gutenberg or convert them using a handy albeit complicated, program called Calibre. But the Kindle is just so lean, uncomplicated, simple to navigate, and the screen is just great to look at. Basically, I chose it for the same reasons I chose my first iPod: because it didn’t waste time trying to be anything but a music player.
The real losers, just like 10 years ago, are schools. The eReader revolution could really help education in a meaningful way. Think of the kids lugging home 50 pounds of textbooks or wheeling their overstuffed backpacks around. Think of the note-taking possibilities when a group of readers can see each other’s notes on a textbook and share their results collaboratively. Think of kids being able to download library books onto their school-sponsored reader from anywhere, including their own home. Think of having classroom assessments built into textbooks (a “join this quiz” button on the screen). The potential for these options is out there, but they are far from the demands of the mainstream. Instead of schools driving innovation, the market is the everyman consumer—mainly guys like me. For schools, I wouldn’t recommend the Kindle. Because of the library features and versatility, I would probably recommend the Nook or an iPad for schools, which is a shame since they are also the most expensive. Perhaps the best thing is to wait for the dust to settle. Now if I could only find someone to get these Beta tapes off my hands…
Things I want to see:
- A quality color E-Ink screen for crisp images and text and long battery life. They are working on it, but right now LCD color screens are cheaper and look better than the E-Ink options.
- A universal and standard book format for libraries that can be used by EVERYONE.
- A way to bring social networking and classroom response to the book reader.
- Major textbook companies embracing the eReader as an option. I can download PDFs of my students’ new reading textbook, but an e-book version of the textbook would be great.
- Simplicity. Make them read a book with none of the extra fluff. This should keep costs down and keep my kids from playing Angry Birds. That’s my job.