As you already know, I’m a fan of digitized life experiences. The plus side being the share-ability and search-ability of particular consciousness, which are typically copious yet transient in knowledge. Books are no exception. Most ironically, the economics of selling digitized books (or eBooks) has taken longer to figure out than digital music (e.g. Apple’s iTunes), despite the textual media being the primary language of navigation on a computer.
Latest in the foray of eBook readers is Amazon’s Kindle, which is a pretty amazing eBook reader from a technological standpoint. The fact that it has an always-on wireless connection which rides on Sprint’s EVDO (i.e. Amazon’s WhisperNet), free network access to Wikipedia and a built-in keyboard makes it very functional, and tempting. It is perhaps the closest physical manifestation of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy!
Priced at $399, Kindle seems like a good deal given that Amazon’s absorbing the nationwide EVDO wireless subscription fee. Take heed though if you’re not a fan of being locked-in with your purchases. While there are 88,000 books, top newspapers and magazines, as well as 250+ blogs you can subscribe to on Amazon for now, very little is free. Kindle books go on average of $9.99, while blog subscriptions for about 99 cents per month. If you have your own text or image you wish to put on the device, you have to email it to your Kindle for a “minimal” Kindle conversion fee.
Alternative eBook readers like the iRex iLiad (see video review), and the newer Sony Digital Reader, support USB host storage, meaning that you can plug it via USB to any computer and it’ll show up on your desktop ready for you to transfer files to go.
In terms of expandability (openness), the iRex iLiad in particular in interesting from a hack-ability standpoint. Granted you pay a heavy initial price for it ($699), but there are Linux-based hacks you can perform to trick out the WiFi-enabled reader to do way more.
The Sony Digital Reader is the cheapest of the lot ($299), and it seem to sit right in the middle of the two eBook readers, since it has the Sony Connect store to purchase DRM-enabled books, while allowing you to dump your own PDFs (and more) via USB.
Given the falling prices of ultraportables like the Asus Eee PC or even the OLPC, eBook readers might be up for a challenge. After all while such purpose-specific appliances could be attractive from an ergonomic perspective, some users are arguing the need for carry yet another device.
Competition would also come in the form of convergence devices such as our Internet-connected cellphones, which are starting to have better screens and adaptability. In particular, Apple iPhone’s multi-touch screen lets users expand and contract reading material in a natural fashion, allowing any web-based media to be easily consumed. If that’s not enough, Zinio (remember them?) is launching the new Zinio Mobile Newsstand for the iPhone and iPod touch, giving “free” access to their top-selling titles for people on the go.
These are my thoughts… what do you think about Kindle or the idea of eBook readers in general?