Blue Sky EBR: what would really change the game

Blue Sky EBR: what would really change the game

There is no doubt that we will see some significant change in EBRs (E-Book Readers) and tablets before the end of this year. Prices will drop, new models will be introduced, and the devices will become better integrated into our lives.

I thought I’d take a minute here to speculate about some future developments…ones I’m not saying we’ll get this year, but that would really make a difference.  I’ve talked about some of this before, but I think they could happen at some point.

Touchless page turning

The lack of a simple way to set autoturning has baffled me since the Kindle 1. Yes, the K1 had a slideshow mode, but it was too fast. You can turn down the volume on many Kindles and use TTS (text-to-speech), but then you can’t really control the speed.

It seems like it wouldn’t be at all hard to allow us to set an automatic page turn. That would be useful on the treadmill or knitting, of course. On touch screens, it would also reduce fingerprints.

In fact, I’d like to see a gestural, non-contact interface for touchscreens. Again, this is blue sky stuff, but wouldn’t it be nice to pinch and spread to zoom without touching the screen? It always seems a bit primitive to carry around cloths or other wiping devices for these high tech devices.

An option for page turns would be eye-tracking. The device could tell where you are by where you were looking, and “turn the page” when it was the right time. I think it wouldn’t be hard to learn to “long blink” for clicking, among other things.

Text-to-speech

TTS should be available on every book, every time, with more options (including more languages). Not just on books, but on websites. I expect it will get better. I don’t really need it to have emotions (although I like that the voice rises in pitch at the end of a question). It could show emphasis, of course, reflecting the use of bolds or italics. However, I know some folks would like it to be more like an actor (and it could sound like a specific person), and that could happen eventually. Whether it’s through text-to-speech or not, I also think we’ll see increased translation capability. That has started, but I expect we’ll see it much more in the future.

Device-specific archives

Quite simply, this is needed, and I know it can be done. I’m saying “archives” here, but the key element is that different devices need to have access to different books on the same account. Some people want this desperately. Parents/legal guardians want to share some books with kids on the account…but not even show them that others are in the archives. This would also allow us to have book groupings (Collections) in the archives. I’ve been thinking we would get this for years, but I think the pressure is mounting.

Morphology independence

The physical structure of our devices really limits us currently. Sometimes you want a three inch screen. Sometimes you want a ten inch screen. Sometimes you want a sixty inch. At some point, our content will escape from this morphological dependence. It could be through screens that fold up, devices that project, mirroring (having that movie on your three inch screen appear effortlessly on your big screen), or something like Google Glasses. Oh, and we should also be able to switch between what we now have with a reflective screen and what we have with a backlit. Reflective screens will eventually give us both full rich color and animation. Frontlighting may replace backlighting…but the bottom line is it would be great to walk from a darkroom into the bright sunshine and still be able to read (yes, I read while I’m walking). ;)

Keeping your friends close

Social integration, not just when reading, but when selecting a book to read, seems unavoidable. Right now, we know people are manipulating reviews on Amazon…having a definable group (or many definable groups) of friends and seeing just their ratings/reviews will be one of the best strategies to deal with information overload. They could be people you know…but maybe you could pay to be a non-posting part of a famous science fiction authors circle. The same thing could be true with highlights, notes, recommendations, and so on.

There are a lot of other possibilities. Globalization of content distribution is a big one…eventually, it will be commonplace that a book which is available in one country is available in most countries. Format should also not be a barrier…that should work more like MP3s eventually. I also still want a magic digitizing machine that will legally convert my old paperbooks to e-books…without destroying or damaging the original.

Those are some of my ideas (not ones I think we’ll necessarily see in the next iteration)…what are yours?

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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10 Responses to “Blue Sky EBR: what would really change the game”

  1. Bruce K Says:

    Text-to-speech does need improvement. But there doesn’t seem to be a motivation there. It allows Amazon to check an Accesibilty requirement maybe, but that’s it. I’m a big Audible fan as well. I’m blown away that they have not done more with this relationship. Can you say “Bundles”? We get Blue-Ray/Digital copies. Why not Book/audio bundles. I would abolutely love reading while listening to Audible audio at the same time.

    Device specific archives seems possible today. I guess they don’t want to make it possible for the end user. They definitely treat multiple devices as if they are all used by the same person.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Bruce!

      I’m going to respectfully disagree on text-to-speech. :) It has some huge advantage, and has made a big difference for me.

      First, I don’t like audiobooks, unless I’ve already read the book. I don’t like the reader interpreting the characters for me. I used to think that was very unusual, but I’ve had other people say that as well.

      Second, you have to pay a human reader, and I don’t really see a way around that (nor do I particularly think there should be a way). That means that audiobooks have to cost significantly more than using TTS (text-to-speech), which has an initial development cost, but no ongoing salary. Indeed, excluding audiobooks read by volunteers (such as the free ones you can get at Librivox) or computer-read audiobooks, that’s clearly the case.

      Third, I love being able to swap back and forth between sight-reading and listening to text-to-speech. Syncing a recording (which is what an audiobook is) with where you are visually is quite complicated. Let’s say you sight-read fifty pages at home while you listen to the recording. Then, you read twenty pages without the recording…how do you sync up the two again? That’s possible at some time in the future, but it requires location markers in the recording…which I don’t believe is currently being done.

      Fourth, a recording is static…you can’t easily switch from English to Spanish, for example. That’s an option with TTS. It’s not available now, but it could be.

      Nothing increased my consumption of purchased books more than when TTS became part of the Kindle line with the K2. I think that’s a big incentive. :)

      Bundles are possible, but you would pay more for them…just as you tend to do with those Blue Ray/Digital copies. It would be more pronounced with audiobooks/e-books, since the performers of the audiobooks are not compensated from the sales of the e-books. I do think there is a possible market for that. It still seems most likely that you would have to manually “turn the page” if you were sight-reading along. Performers don’t read at a steady words per minute (wpm) pace, as they put in those emotions.

      Amazon has promoted multiple-Kindle families in ads, but I agree, they don’t seem to really focus on that…yet. :)

  2. Joan Huston Says:

    Gray, black, & white are boring, colors would be nice!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Joan!

      I do think we’ll get market-ready reflective screen devices soon (we can read in full color now on tablets, of course). The problem is that color is likely to be more expensive, slower “page turns”, not be very vibrant, and take more battery charge. I mentioned, it though…I think that’s a reasonable blue sky thought. :)

  3. Zebras Says:

    I think the Kindles could have a sub-program that times how fast you turned pages, and then took over for you, once an average was set, then could adjust, if you ended up paging back if you are off track or even paging forward ahead of schedule. You would need to be able to turn it off, say for bedtime reading, otherwise, it would keep going while you fell asleep.

    I picked up the little round rechargeable speaker from the set of deals, you alerted us to the other day. Definitely projects very loudly. Also glad I can use it for my laptop or my iPod shuffle.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Zebras!

      Oh, yes, I meant to mention a sleep timer. :) That’s a problem now for some people with text-to-speech…it can just keep reading.

      I’m glad you got a good deal on a speaker! I’m always happy to hear when something I’ve written helped somebody.

  4. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I agree with most of what you suggest. I’m hard put to think of any H/W innovations that we’ll get on this release cycle that will blow the market open.

    I think Amazon’s main innovations will be on pricing and in S/W — I think there’s a lot of possibilities for customizations of EBR’s on the app front from 3rd parties — rather than waiting for Amazon to do it.

    Something like $199 for an 8.9″ Kindle Fire, and $129 for the existing Fire are the kinds of things that Amazon will have to do to deal effectively with things like the Google Nexus.

    I seem to recall on my KDX there was a way to auto page turn using TTS, and you could control the speed of the speaker (hence the page turning speed) as well.

    I think the window of opportunity for advanced reflective screens has passed. CES was all about OLEDs (they will hit like a freight train in 2013), and they deal with all the problems currently exhibited by LCDs and Plasmas. They can be bendable (ie you can drop them and they won’t break), extremely thin (like less than 10 mm), extremely low power, and color gamuts much closer to what the human eye sees. Right now they are pricey, but that will fall as volume ramps.

    Reflective displays still have problems with manufacturing costs, contrast, color brightness, and motion.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      Yes, Edward, the KDX is one of the ones where you can turn down the volume on TTS (text-to-speech) for autoturning. You can choose one of three speeds, but for many people, I think that’s not enough control…that’s what I was trying to indicate. I think most people read more quickly than even the fastest TTS voice on the Kindle speaks. That’s the issue on that one…it can really throw off the flow when you have to wait for the “page to turn”. One trick? Go for the smallest text size at that point…that does speed it up some.

      If they go to $129 on the current Kindle Fire, I’d be very impressed…and you’d be right. :) You’ve been right before on these comments, and you are always informed and interesting…a good combination.

      The OLED (Organic Light Emitting Diode) is one of those things that may bring us some more morphological independence. There already are flexible reflective screens…just not for home use. They have ones that can be wrapped halfway around a pillar in a transit station, for example.

  5. ccabek Says:

    I would like a place to add comments for myself. Where i could place these within the beginning of a book or the end. also this would let me know which book of a series is next without having to go back to amazon to find out There is no where you can add a one or ten or really boring didnt finish book. This would help in both archives and collections. PS I love my audible books but not on my Kindle T. I enjoy walking with a small model so iI can walk both huskies as well as listen dont need it on the K.
    Really really want color but dont want a Fire.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, ccabek!

      You can add a note to a book. That was a way to “tag” them before we had Collections as a way to find similar books easily. You can add a rating there or say whatever you want. They can’t be seen in archives, though…you can’t access the notes there, I believe.

      The trick would be for Amazon to make those display on the homescreen without having to open the book, or as you say, in the archives (which would be much more complicated…since the book is not on the device when you are seeing it in the Archived Items list on the Touch).

      I have a photojournalist’s vest I wear when I’m not working…I think of it as a “utility vest” (like Doc Savage’s utility vest, the forerunner of Batman’s utility belt). A Kindle fits nicely into a pocket, and I have used that with TTS.

      I understand about walking two huskies! When I was a kid, we had three large dogs, who could have been better trained…at times, it was like water skiing. ;)

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