first sighting of sony ebook reader 01.05.2006, 7:17 AM
posted by bob stein
this is a late addition to this post. i just realized that whatever the strengths and weaknesses of the Sony ebook reader, i think that most of the people writing about it, including me, have missed perhaps the most important aspect -- the device has Sony's name on it. correct me if i'm wrong, but this is the first time a major consumer electronics company has seen fit to put their name on a ebook reader in the US market. it's been a long time coming.
Reuters posted this image by Rick Wilking. every post i've seen so far is pessimistic about sony's chances. i'm doubtful myself, but will wait to see what kind of digital rights management they've installed. if it's easy to take
things off my desktop to read later, including pdfs and web pages, and if the MP3 player feature is any good they might be able to carve out a niche which they can expand over time if they keep developing the concept. i do wish it were a bit more stylish . . .
here's a link to ben's excellent post ipod for text.
dave munger on January 5, 2006 10:58 AM:
I'd be very interested to see how the "enlarge text" feature works. I suppose for pulp fiction it wouldn't matter much, but one of the ways I keep track of my reading is through the layout of a page. If enlarging the text repaginates a book, then the visual aspect of reading is compromised. If the feature is robust enough (e.g. a 25 - percent enlargement always results in the same line breaks/pagination), then it might be fine.
The fact that it handles PDFs is great, but given that the PDFs inevitably won't be formatted for this device, reading them could be a chore (especially the multi-column journal articles I often read from PDF).
I'm intrigued by the potential of reading blogs/rss feeds, though I seem to handle that just fine with my laptop, and I seriously doubt this device will enable commenting (though a seamless commenting engine -- either for annotations of ebooks or for posting comments on blogs, and perhaps using an optional keyboard -- would be a huge selling point. Even if the comments couldn't be posted in real-time, some way of saving them for the next computer docking would be great).
Another interesting application of this technology would be some way to sync annotations made using a regular computer with the device. So you could read using the ebook's superior screen, then type your notes into your laptop, and have them appear at the relevant spot on the ebook.
dave munger on January 5, 2006 11:00 AM:
Another thought -- I assume the text in the photo is only so huge because the marketers wanted it to be legible in the photo, but the wordspacing looks awkwardly large. There's a lot of thought that goes into bookmaking, and it would be a shame if this sort of a detail was neglected in an eBook.
Jim on January 5, 2006 11:04 AM:
Sony has an awfully bad record in the area of digital rights management, if Sony Music (which includes Columbia, Epic, and Legacy record labels) is any indication.
K.G. Schneider on January 5, 2006 12:25 PM:
The Sony device doesn't really have a gritty green-grey background, does it? Shades of 1998 and the Rocketbook. (I was one of a number of librarians who bought Rocketbooks, loaded them up, and circulated them to patrons. It was fun and people used them, but the readers paled--literally--next to any real book.)
Hold up a piece of paper. Heck, hold up my Treo displaying a PDF or blog page. People would use the Sony reader because..? Poor still-not-getting-it Sony.
I too would like a real annotation feature, but syncing my comments would be useless. I'm not sitting in front of a computer when I read a book. If the book *is* a computer, then it needs a trivially easy input mechanism. I use a pen and p-slips (small scraps of paper) with a book, not to mention dog-earing and other physical devices.
Information flows down the path of least resistance. This ain't it.
dave munger on January 5, 2006 12:44 PM:
My understanding is that the background isn't really green-gray -- the photo may not have been taken under ideal lighting conditions. The Sony Web site has some stunning photos, but I imagine they've been "improved" a bit with photography/photoshop.
e-ink really shines when you view it in bright daylight, where normal computer monitors, PDAs, and cell phones become difficult to read.
Re: annotation. I agree, there's nothing like pen and ink for annotating a text. However, when I'm reading a serious text, I also like to type up lengthier notes, and a keyboard for a tiny device like this would be a joke. I don't think an ebook reader needs to duplicate all the functions of the computer, but it should add some value over paper books. What if I could use a stylus or some other pointing device to highlight interesting passages, then easily transfer a summary of the highlighted sections to my computer where I could write up my detailed notes?
Of course, that all presumes that Jim's fears about DRM aren't realized. I hope (probably vainly) Sony's solution is at least as good as iTunes, where there's some level of sharing and using permitted on computers.
bowerbird on January 5, 2006 1:51 PM:
> perhaps the most important aspect --
> the device has Sony's name on it.
> correct me if i'm wrong, but this is
> the first time a major consumer electronics
> company has seen fit to put their name
> on a ebook reader in the US market.
> it's been a long time coming.
yes, that is significant.
even if sony's name has
been spelled "mud" lately.
but i do think there's an even
_more_ important aspect here
-- the publishers signed on...
front-list content from big names
could be _extremely_ significant,
maybe the most meaningful factor
to the general book-reading public
(which, remember, is a minuscule
percentage of the entire population).
also, as the gemstar debacle showed,
the ability to load your own content
-- quickly and easily -- is _crucial_.
plus of course, pricing will be vital,
and we have no idea about that...
the machine itself is pretty costly,
so if the books are too, that would
be the death-knell, i would think...
(especially when general-public users
realize the limitations imposed by drm
vastly lower the value of their books.)
but hey, at least there is _some_
movement happening here, and
i believe that will be interesting!
> the PDFs inevitably won't be formatted for this device
um, why would you say that?
i'd be *shocked* if the .pdfs
prepared by the publishers
for this machine (and its drm)
were _not_ formatted for it...
(i think most publishers are
stupid. but not _that_ stupid.)
i'd also think the .pdfs would be
of the "tagged" variety, for reflow.
(again, it'd be really stupid not to.)
so i think this will be one of the cases
where .pdf works better than usual...
dave munger on January 5, 2006 2:06 PM:
Why would I say the PDFs wouldn't be formatted for the device? I think you're not quite getting what I mean. Of course publishers who are selling content specifically for this machine will format their materials properly (or they should -- I'm not as confident as you that they will).
What I'm talking about are the millions of PDFs that you can get for free all around the Internet. Scholars sharing their journal articles, corporations sharing white papers, heck, even church directories. These things are made as an afterthought, and based entirely on the original print format. Journal articles, for example, are usually formatted for 8.5 by 11, and wouldn't look too hot on a 6-inch screen.
Maybe in a few years, especially if eBooks gain traction, more PDFs will be designed for flexible presentation on a variety of different screen sizes, but right now, that's not the reality.
bowerbird on January 5, 2006 3:13 PM:
oh no, i got what you were saying fine.
it's just that, in my humble opinion,
anyone who formats a .pdf for 8.5*11
is an idiot. 5*8 is much more sensible.
(and prints out nicely in a 2-up format.)
and yes, there are a lot of idiots out there.
but no, we don't let them plot our future...
K.G. Schneider on January 5, 2006 3:52 PM:
"e-ink really shines when you view it in bright daylight, where normal computer monitors, PDAs, and cell phones become difficult to read."
Sony has to be betting that this will replace paper books, not other electronic devices. In which case, the only real bake-off is between e-ink (please, can we have another word, before I start calling it "oink") and real ink on paper. From the Sony website you've pointed me towards, I don't think they'd win.
The reason online audiobooks have taken off so quickly is that they were so familar. The transition from tape to CD to download has been a pleasure for many readers and library users. Ebooks... we'll see.
As for note-taking, the last thing I want to do while reading is begin keying in on some tiny device. Sure, I'd use this for junk reading. But that would be magazines (which this is the wrong size for). To actually take notes without interrupting the brain, I'd like to write them by hand.
The device is also ugly as sin. Couldn't they come up with a nicer color than OEM Grey? And that design... it IS the Rocketbook. Sheesh. Roll over, Gutenberg.
As for Sony and DRM, given Sony's last debacle with the CD that came embedded with destructive software (and how libraries loved THAT!), they have a long, long way to go with this device.
dave munger on January 5, 2006 5:59 PM:
re: DRM -- this does appear to be an improvement over the librié, which only allowed the reader to display protected documents. But yes, I agree that Sony has an abysmal record. One wonders if it's something like the airline industry, where the best airline to fly on is one that's just had a major crash, since they always clamp down on safety after an accident.
re: "ugliness" -- I don't care what it looks like as long as it has the functionality I want, but I imagine that most people would be buying something like this as a status symbol, and so it's a little distressing that the first US implementation of e-ink is so clunky looking. I do wonder if the final production version might not look different.
Jacquie Henry on January 5, 2006 9:39 PM:
I am brand new to this blog and have virtually no experience with ebooks. However - a few years ago I read about a very interesting study. Wish I could find it now. The study measured reading comprehension from a computer screen and from a traditional book. Regardless of age or tech skills, traditional books won hands down. And as I recall - it was not necessarily specifically because of the different medium - but because the computer screen only presented 1 page at a time. Apparently the "reading" part of the brain is "hard-wired" to comprehend best with the 2-page format. Evidently our eyes scan the 2 pages in an instant and take in clues about the text that help us with comprehension. Have any ebooks been developed to mimic the 2-page configuration of a book?
bowerbird on January 6, 2006 12:18 AM:
> Have any ebooks been developed to
> mimic the 2-page configuration of a book?
i would not give too much credence to that research,
because i don't know of much that has been done that
wasn't badly flawed, if any at all. further, i'm not sure
that the "reason" given has much validity, if any at all.
i don't think we really know how our brains are "wired".
having said all that, though, i've written an e-book
viewer-program that uses a 2-up user-interface
-- "it looks just like a _real_ book!" -- and it has
completely convinced me that it's the way to go...
the thing that seals the deal is the right-hand page
"drops away" in favor of a "workspace" whenever it's
required, such as to view a hotlinked table of contents,
or deal with a complex "keyword search" interface, or...
these kinds of functions are typically placed in a dialog,
or a separate window, one that invariably comes up in
"the wrong place". so having a dedicated "workspace"
for them really gives a more pleasant user-experience.
and when you no longer need to use that "workspace",
the right-hand page comes back, to see maximum text.
further, the continual presence of the left-hand page
means that you never "lose contact" with the content.
i didn't realize how important that is, until i had it...
finally, a 2-up facing-pages view, besides replicating
the look of a p-book, makes the best possible use of
a _landscape_ monitor, thereby resolving its inherent
conflict with the _portrait_ nature of the p-book page.
(two portrait pages, side-by-side, become landscape,
a fact that is well-known by poets making chapbooks.)
luckily, with today's big monitors, the type on a page
is nicely readable when 2 facing pages are displayed.
so whenever i finally get around to releasing my program,
you'll be able to see how all this works. in the meantime,
you can still use the basic 2-up approach in other apps.
for instance, acrobat lets you select a "facing pages" view.
if -- as i suggested above -- you have created your .pdf
using a pagesize of 5*8 (or even a bit smaller), you will find
that this works just fine. a while back, when someone here
was making .pdf's, i created some versions using this setup.
if people are interested, i can make them available to y'all.
even on the web, you can get a good facing-pages format...
i've repurposed some of the scans from "books and culture",
by mabie, the book google library used at the outset for its
primary example of how it would treat public-domain books.
you can see how i made them look by starting at this page:
(you might want to disappear the toolbars from your browser,
in order to maximize the top-to-bottom space on these pages.)
i've also set up the first rough draft of a _proofing_ interface,
one to be used by the general public, with that same book:
in this proofing interface, the left-hand page contains the text
obtained from o.c.r., while the right-hand page shows the scan,
which people can refer to whenever they question the o.c.r. text.
the next step there, of course, is to put a form on the webpage,
where the person can report any discrepancies that they notice.
for an example of that, see this page, from "my antonia"...
in closing, i adopted the 2-up facing-pages interface as a lark,
because lots of people wanted e-books to "look like" p-books,
so i decided to give it a try. but what i have since learned is that
this interface is far-and-away the best on a computer monitor...
apologies for hijacking the thread... ;+)
Lorenzo Soccavo on January 7, 2006 8:05 AM:
Pour les francophones : http://nouvolivractu.blogspot.com est un blog de veille sur les nouveaux appareils et systè mes de lecture. Il a pour vocation d'accompagner les lecteurs et les partenaires de l'édition dans l'appropriation de nouveaux terminaux de lecture...
Samir Satam on January 19, 2006 1:16 PM:
Actually I think most people are missing that the point of this particular type of ebook. This is not a LCD or a tablet pc type book. This one uses e-ink technology. And believe me, it rocks. I have the original librie, and the text on it looks like sticker on a lcd surface. The idea of this reader is the make reading easier on the eyes. Yes the DRM is still crap. But i am hoping this new US release will be better in the DRM ascpect. I think Sony is trying to do to books, what Apple/iTunes did to songs. Of course if u can read a War and Peace on your computer monitor just fine then this is not for you. But if u want to read War and Peace lying on the couch, and not straining your eyes with the screen glare then this EBook is for you. Go and get a demo when it comes out. You will be amazed.
Henry on January 23, 2006 9:39 AM:
"it's just that, in my humble opinion,
anyone who formats a .pdf for 8.5*11
is an idiot. 5*8 is much more sensible.
(and prints out nicely in a 2-up format.)"
Is a bowerbird indigenous to the planet Earth? Of course people format in 8.5x11 (or it near equivalent). The entire business and personal correspondence universe is based on those dimensions. Whatever the eventual electronic replacement for paper turns out to be, it will have to incorporate some means of dealing with the billions upon billions of documents formatted in good old 8.5x11.
Is Sony planning to offer a Mac compatible driver with their reader?
bowerbird on January 23, 2006 2:28 PM:
> Is a bowerbird indigenous to the planet Earth?
actually, i'm beaming in from a distant galaxy,
thanks to our new very-very-wi-fi technology.
but i _was_ a human being in a prior existence.
> Of course people format in 8.5x11 (or it near equivalent).
of course people do. people are idiots.
> The entire business and personal correspondence
> universe is based on those dimensions.
um, yeah, i think i had noticed that.
and i suppose you've noticed something
that is equally obvious -- that 8.5*11
(which is portrait by definition, since the
width component is always listed first),
doesn't work on most landscape monitors.
(at least not unless they're "cinema" screens,
which most of us are not carrying around yet,
even out here in my distant galaxy.)
and 8.5*11 _certainly_ will not work on a screen
on any of the hand-held form-factors, not even
the biggest of them (which, these days, is irex).
so yes, anyone who is making a .pdf that is
intended to be read as an _electronic_ book
-- as opposed to being printed out on paper --
who uses 8.5*11 is an _idiot_, pure and simple.
but there is a very simple solution to the problem,
one which even an idiot can grasp rather easily:
turn that 8.5*11 piece of paper landscape (11*8.5)
and then put two "electronic pages" on it. bingo!
if you'd followed any of the links, you would've
seen demonstrations where i've done just that.
so if someone is dealing with a small screen,
they can view _one_ of those two facing pages.
if they have a bigger screen, they can see both.
and if they go to paper, they can print two pages
on a single sheet of paper, in "chapbook" style.
so the 2-up display works for all our situations,
better than any other option. that's the point.
> Whatever the eventual electronic replacement
> for paper turns out to be, it will have to
> incorporate some means of dealing with the
> billions upon billions of documents formatted in
> good old 8.5x11.
you're right. and we will need to face the fact that
it is _only_ an 8.5*11 screen that will do that job.
that's why i've been a big supporter of the _tablet_
computer for such a long time. once we can map
our paper (8.5*11) world directly onto our screens,
we'll find that convergence to be of immense value,
because there will be no difference between the look
of a document on-paper versus on-screen.
for this -- repurposing of existing paper documents
to the electronic world -- we don't have much choice.
paper is 8.5*11, so we need a screen that is 8.5*11.
notice that this is different from the original topic,
which is the creation of new documents for screens.
but i do not want to dismiss your point outright as
"off-topic", because e-display of existing documents
which are already in an 8.5*11 state is _important_,
just as important (and maybe even more so) than the
creation of new material. we can't leave it all behind.
the stupidity is that -- on many _current_ laptops --
we have a screen that is 11 inches in one direction
and 8.5 inches in the other direction, _except_ that
the directions are in the wrong direction. if we could
only turn our screens sideways, they'd work just fine!
(try it! put a piece of paper landscape on your screen!)
but _until_ we can "turn our screens", we need to find
another solution to the problem, at least for all the
new publications that we create, and the 2-up display
of "facing pages" is the best contender, especially since
it mimics the look of an open paper-book so nicely.
ajenik on January 31, 2006 7:40 PM:
I'm chiming in a bit late on this thread because i just discovered the site.
I've been playing around with the librie for half a year and am anxious to see how SONY decides to roll this out in the US.
>>The e-ink is pretty great, easy on the eyes and beautiful.
>>The form factor of the original (its size & weight) is also really friendly and impressive and immediately made me excited about the possibility of taking an e-book with me on my upcoming 2 month travels in Africa (as opposed to the hulking 1/2 suitcase of books or buying books there as they are expensive).
>>Also another plus was that it converted .docs and .ppt slides very nicely - including all photos and images.
However, a few minuses I've found - pretty big ones in some cases...
>> no backlight option in librie - it looks great in sunlight, but just when you'd want that nice screen to glow it doesn't..not sure if this is addressed in US release
>> as noted above, no input via stylus or otherwise - as a researcher the only books or texts I don;t mark up are novels (and even then...) this is an oversight in my mind for everyone except the manga reader
>> .pdf scaling - in the librie when you input a .pdf formatted regularly it is fixed and therefore too small to read - I hope this is fixed somehow as it makes it unuseable for manuals and alot of other things I would find it useful for.
>> japanese release was a subscription model - you could d/l a text & have rights to use it for a month or so & then your rights go away! This seemed a good model for books that you might read once & then throw away (paperback romance novels, manga, etc) but I'd say 80% of my reading is needed for reference at other times. Even though I realize I might be a speciality user, I hope this changes.
I should have a preview model later this month, so I'll see what I can report then.
RobinR on April 30, 2006 6:56 PM:
I saw the Sony reader yesterday at the L.A. Festival of Books. I had a Gemstar ebook back in the day (well I still have it but I can't get new books for it) and I liked it quite a bit. The Sony looks clunky to me, and the page turning buttons are tiny.
I told the lady at the Sony booth that I could read my old ebook in the dark. She said that the Sony can be read anyplace a paper book can be read, which means you need ambient light. It is true that reading the Gemstar in bright sunlight was very hard, so it's one or the other with these products.
The main thing I am worried about is Sony pulling out of the market like Gemstar did and leaving me stranded with an expensive and useless device again.
Mark Hatch on November 2, 2006 2:18 AM:
Interesting geek tool. Feels like the first time I used a Lisa computer, Sharp's 64K Wizard, or a very early digital camera, but not as good. Yes, I'm one of those bleeding edge adopters. For a while it was part of my job (now that was fun).
This tool is not likely to breakout. Fundamentally, the contrast ration and screen resolution are just not anywhere near high enough. Your eye resolves to 1200 dpi easily... at 75 dpi this type of device has a decade or more to go before it becomes a must have.
Compounding the problem the software is cumbersome and not intuitive enough. I had to read the quick start guide in full to move a DRM protected book to the reader so I could read it. Funny, that's what this is all about and it didn't just do it. Not enough user testing. Or they let the engineers have final design sign off.
This, like other e-readers, will find its greatest use for reference works, short works, and Bibles. On a scale of 1 to 10, where the Newton is a 1 and the original Mac, Palm or iPod is a ten... this is a 3. Sorry.
The four functions of paper are Storage, Transportation, Presentation and Structural (like cardboard). Computers are eating paper equivalents of storage and transportation, but are nowhere near knocking off paper as a presentation medium. Worse, screen density and contrast are progressing along a linear path. Don't discard that book bag just yet.
Kristy on November 18, 2006 8:46 PM:
Until you are an avid reader...until you are a owner and user of this device you will not be a believer. Period. I believe because I've now owned this device for well over a month. I have read several full length novels and have put my own PDF's and Word RTF files on the device easily. The software is easy to use. The storefront works fast. I can put a new book on this device faster than I can load music into my Ipod. Go figure....
Until you've touched one...read a book on one....own one..you won't understand why it's so fabulous.
Calvin on November 28, 2006 10:19 AM:
I think everyone so far is missing the whole point of the digital book (& music for that matter) revolution.
Ever since the first mp3 player came out sales of music cds have continued to fall...why??? Well it is really quite simple. I own over 200 music cds...and if you include the cases, liner notes and the cds themselves they take up roughly 8-10 cubic feet of space and are not very portable. Along comes this magical device called an mp3 player...and now all 200 cds fit on 10 SD memory cards and if you include the player they take up about 8-10 cubic inches of space and are extremely portable. Now I can carry my entire music library, well over 120 hours worth of music with me every where I go. Now, think about that for a second...gone are the days when I had to pick one cd from 200 to play and also gone are the days when I would buy a lot of new cds because for me to add to my music collection the new cd has to be at least as good as the worst cd in my collection.
Yeah, what does digital music have to do with digital books, well I own well over 200 books but I can only take one or at most 5-6 with me at any one time...not to mention I have 3 bookcases full of books and they weigh about 300-400 lbs total...now over 1/3 of these books are either textbooks or supplemental books for classes I have taken in college...now just imagine how different your life would be had you been given a digital reader in kindergarten along with an SD card that contained all the books you needed for every class for the year...and every year throughout high school and college you got a new SD card with the newest version of the textbooks for the classes you were taking...so instead of lugging around a back pack on your back you could carry a briefcase with a laptop and digital book reader everywhere you went and have access to any book in your library...now is everyone starting to clue into the revolution that is about to sweep the world because cheap ubiquitous information portability creates wealth by leveling the playing field for everyone.
I for one am very impressed with the reader I just wish more publishers would convert old out of print books into digital format so I could trade in all the paper books I have for a digital copy.
bowerbird on November 28, 2006 8:22 PM:
calvin, i can assure you strongly that
some of us haven't "missed" your point,
not in the slightest...
moreover, with 24/7 access over the web
to every book that was ever published,
you won't have to carry _anything_...
Gary Frost on November 30, 2006 12:00 AM:
Bibliographers tend to see books as divisions of the size of the sheet printed. These numerous impositions are all vertical. The computer screen is oriented horizontally. This is the orientation of cinema or television....the other screen formats, rather than the page or document format. This divide impairs the book presentation of the visual world and impairs the screen in presentation of the page. Another realization is that both formats optimize their presentational content. Its the shape of the content.
The cinema credits and blog postings advance vertically, the book advances horizontally, both codex and scroll. The progression is opposite the framing. Who designed all this and who maintains these dictums?
Michel on November 30, 2006 12:19 AM:
It's a nice product, I like it, today I find another one also use the E Ink technology, STAReBOOK STK-101, it's from a Taiwan based China Company. Its thickness is only 8mm, which equals 50 pages of traditional books and the weight is 176g, which is very convenient for carrying.
By the way, they also have a ebook search engine, which can get a lot of ebook source there. It means that people who use STK-101 dont have to pay for any books in the future. very sweet.
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