Don’t judge an eReader by its cover

When I ‘designed’ an eReader 14 years ago in my first year of Product Design Engineering at University it was part of a ‘blue sky products of the future’ project. I had no idea when something like that would actually become reality. Well, that time is now. The past 12 months have seen the launch of several products such as the Sony Reader, Barnes & Noble Nook and the industry-leading Amazon Kindle. The next 12 months is going to see an extensive range of new and improved eReaders, many of which were showcased at the recent CES.

New eReaders include the Que, the Edge, the Alex and the not-so-interestingly-named Asus DR-750.

This new range of eReaders will offer us a completely revolutionary reading experience.

  • colour screens
  • video
  • shatter proof screens
  • flexible screens
  • easily downloadable books, newspapers and magazines
  • interactive reading
  • sharing facilities
  • annotations
  • downloading attachments from smartphones
  • one-hand navigation
  • text-to-speech

What about Apple?
Good question. There have been rumours about the Apple Tablet or iSlate for about a year now and we should know what their plan is when they announce ‘something’ on Jan 27th. Many people are saying that the rumoured iSlate will be the killer eReader. I’m not so sure, as many people will just want a lightweight simple eReader to read their books on rather than a fully functional tablet computer. According to this latest Wall Street Journal article though, it looks like Apple is certainly going to be entering into the eBook battle as they have been in discussion with the publisher HarperCollins.

Pros and Cons of eReaders
Having so much information, books, magazines in the palm of your hand on one device will certainly save on storage costs, paper usage and travel weight. But what else? Will we all start carrying one of these devices in our bags everywhere we go? When you go to the dentist will they have a pile of eReaders for you to browse through? Will we swat flies with rolled up flexible eReaders? I think it will certainly change how newspapers and magazine deliver content. Already some eBook software apps like Blio and Copia are changing the way they present eBooks to utilise the functionality of these new eReaders. This will only continue until soon it will evolve naturally into something that we didn’t envisage. One area I am particularly excited about is the evolution of comic books and graphic novels as they make their way onto eReaders and tablets. This is set to become a huge market.

Will they replace books?
Personally, as a gadget lover, I am very excited about being able to have so many books and magazines on one device. I will, however, miss certain things about the physical objects they are trying to replace.

  • folding over a page that I like
  • bookmarks (yes that word actually used to mean something else before the web browser)
  • writing notes down the side of a page and then reading them years later
  • the smell of a new book (maybe they will synthesize that smell one day)
  • knowing at a glance who many pages you have left before the end of the chapter, or the satisfaction of seeing your progress as your bookmark is more than half way through the book
  • the collection of attractive spines growing along your bookshelf and showing them off when your friends come round and browse your library
  • being able to pick up and look at books in a book shop
  • browsing racks of magazines

And how will students make up mood boards for university projects now if they can’t cut up magazines? To be honest they will probably do eMoodboards using new smart screens in college or something like that. The reality is that I don’t think that eReaders will fully replace these forms of media. They are offering a slightly different experience and there will always be a need for physical books.

So what next?
This fantastic video below, which has been doing the rounds for a few weeks, highlights Bonnier’s concept for a possible future of digital magazines.

eReaders are no longer trying to reproduce books or magazines. They are becoming something new all of their own.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

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