The next big thing in EBRs?

The next big thing in EBRs?

When Barnes & Noble announced their new NOOK, the Simple Touch, my reaction was mostly (as my offspring would say), “Meh.”  That doesn’t mean it was bad and doesn’t mean it was good.  It just was.

The E Ink touchscreen is new to the NOOK…but Sony has had one for months and Kobo announced one the day before.

The battery life of two months was  a new record…but it seems like it was mostly a recalculation (by basing it on reading one half hour a day).  The next day, poof!  Amazon recalculated to two months, too.  That’s not just math, it’s magic math…or “mathic”, to coin a phrase.  🙂

What else did they tout?  They took stuff away.

Yep, they say one button (which isn’t actually true), and point out how many more buttons the Kindle has.

No music, no audiobooks, no web browsing…woo hoo, lucky us!  😉

Actually, some people may see that as an advantage…some parents might.

There had been a rumor that the new NOOK was going to be “entry level”…the first EBR (E-Book Reader) somebody would buy if they weren’t sure about the prospect or couldn’t afford the one they wanted.

Fewer features make sense in that case…but only if it also means a lower price, and this not a particularly low-priced major E Ink EBR.

People mentioned a couple of things that they thought might be in a new EBR that would really set it apart…that would be the “next big thing”.

That got me thinking.

What would be something that would set apart a new EBR?  What would make people say, “I want that one!”  It has to stand-out enough to make somebody change a buying decision…buy that one instead of another, or instead of none.

Here is some speculation:

Reflective Screen Color

This one is coming, and probably before too long.  EBRs (E-Book Readers) like the Kindle, NOOK Simple Touch, Sonys, and Kobo, use a type of screen that you read the same way you read a paperbook…by light bouncing off it.  A tablet (like the iPad, Xoom, or NOOK Color) uses a backlit screen.  Backlit screens take a lot more battery charge, but they do have some advantages at the current state of technology.  One of them is color.  Color is used in books: children’s books; art books; cookbooks; non-fiction with graphs; and more.  The first EBR that has the long battery charge life of a reflective screen and color will be a draw.  Potential negatives?   Cost, performance, and how good the colors look, mostly.


While this clearly doesn’t exist in paperbooks, the Kindle store already sells books with animation.  They only work on iDevices (iPads, iPhones, iPod touches) currently…at least, the animation only works on those.  There are clear applications for this: a how to book with instructional videos, a famous historical speech being delivered, a book about a TV show with clips of important scenes…even author interviews.   Many people would say they wouldn’t want it, but it would attract others.  The holdback currently is refresh rate…you need to get something on the order of thirty frames a second (higher is better), and flashing to black between each one makes it not work as well.  I think we’ll see this…and they’ll need some whiz bang video to make it attractive at first.

Voice navigation

This is the ability to tell the EBR what to do with your voice.  That would be great for accessibility…some conditions make it hard to push buttons and hold the device.  If it managed to avoid the menus to get to more obscure functions, that would be a plus for everybody.  For example, you could say, “Open Moby Dick”, or “Open last book read”.  You could say, “Get my magazines”, “bookmark this”, “restart”, and so on. The Kindle 3 already has a microphone for…future functionality.

Speech to text

The Kindle currently has text-to-speech, which allows it to read materials out loud to you (if that access isn’t blocked by the publisher).  This is the opposite: you would speak to the EBR, and it would convert your speech into text  That’s actually becoming pretty common: I have it on my desktop at home (using Dragon) and on my Android SmartPhone.  This would solve the problem of a keyboard for entering notes.  I think it could be done now…but it would take more memory and more battery charge.


People use EBRs for audio…audiobooks and music, mostly.  Bluetooth is a short-range wireless protocol.  It could be used for wireless headphones, but also in cars with Bluetooth.  The name has some cachet…that would attract some folks, even if it wasn’t used all that much.  I think once somebody had it, they’d miss it on another model.

Computer-based content management

Rename your books and create your “folders” on your computer, and sync it to your EBR.  This moves away from the “you don’t need a computer” thing, but it would be a plus to many.  Calibre does this already…that’s why I speculated about Amazon buying it.

Read your books on the web

Amazon has announced this.  It’s going to be a plus, because you’ll be able to read your book on any device with a browser….like a SmartPhone, or a tablet, or another EBR with an open browser

External peripherals

One of the big things here is a keyboard.  I assume the current USB can’t power a keyboard, but people would use it an EBR to write if they could.  Teachers could use a projector capability…and even a printer might work well.  Yes, the latter might be a concern for publishers, but it could be used for personal documents.

Universal readability

I don’t know how this could be done, but if your store’s e-books could be read on any EBR, people would love it.  It might be a question of licensing.

Paperbook import

Again, this one is similar to the last one.  I don’t know how you would do it, but it would be about licensing.  It would let you (probably for a fee…and possibly a substantial one) get an e-book for a pbook you own.  Lots of people think they should be able to do that for free, which I don’t see happening soon.  This would be one of those PR (Public Relations) things…if this was marketed properly, it would be a draw…even if it cost the same as buying it from the store.  You scan (or punch in) your book’s ISBN, it shows up on your EBR.

Onboard translation

If this was streaming, I think you’d avoid the copyright issue of a derivative work (in a similar manner to how text-to-speech isn’t a copyright issue). I personally think this would be hugely attractive, and would seem magical.  Even if it was only at the level of Google translation.  Compensation could be arranged: you could have a charge show up for each translation you did (but allow a small amount to be translated).

Flexible screens

This technology is out there, but I don’t think it’s going to be immediately commercially available for home use (it might be too expensive).  I think will be common for magazines and other large image publications.  You’ll roll it up or fold it, and flip it open to read on it.

Parental controls

This would be solved by having device-specific archives (as would many other issues), but no question, it would be a draw.  The NOOK Simple Touch doesn’t have a web browser, which solves some of the problems, but I don’t think they want to promote that.  🙂  Being able to control which books your kids can get from the archives would be huge for many buyers.

Rugged and waterproof EBRs

People worry about them breaking their EBRs.  If somebody could come up with one that was still light, but solid enough for a four-year old, hey, presto…major sales.  🙂  The same thing goes for a waterproof model…people regularly ask about that, partially for tub reading, partially for the beach.

Installable character sets

I don’t need one hundred character sets on mine, but it would nice to be able to install Hindi or Farsi as needed.

All-you-can-read buying plan

This is another one where it is hard to figure out how it would work, but it is something people want.  You pay a monthly (or annual) fee, and you can read all the books you want.  A publisher could do that…Harlequin is likely.  If it was tied into an EBR, though, that would help those sales.

The Clokey Device

This would let you walk into any book and interact with the characters…and you could bring your pony pal Pokey, too.  😉  Okay, I’m kidding on this one (Art Clokey was the creator of Gumby).

Do I think I’ve covered everything?  Nope…I’m guessing I’m missing social networking features.  How about 3D?  You could see the letters as solid objects.  🙂  What are your suggestions?  Am I missing something obvious?  Feel free to let me know.

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


13 Responses to “The next big thing in EBRs?”

  1. Tom Semple Says:

    Bluetooth would also be a way to use an external keyboard (with its own power source). These are available in a variety of sizes, from smartphone size to full size.

    It seems like it should be technically feasible to have a Bluetooth touchpad as well, that could send multitouch gestures to a connected device, though I have not heard of such a thing actually being available. That would open it up to development of assistive technologies of all types, that couldn’t be built in to the device itself.

    I think it would be great to be able to purchase additional fonts as well as TTS voices—with different inflections or ‘accents’.

    Regarding PBR import, O’Reilly has something along those lines. If you own the paper book, you can purchase the electronic version (in any format, DRM free) for $4.99. You just give them the ISBN number of the print edition you have. They apparently trust their customers, or are just happy to get $4.99 for something that someone could steal outright, because there’s no physical verification possible, and of course even if you own the paper book when you purchase the ebook, you can always disown it after. They also have online viewing through Safari Online (which I can use for free via San Jose Public Library). So it is being done, successfully and well, at least by some publishers.

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Good point about the accents. Those are available from Nuance, the company that makes Vocalizer and RealSpeak (the voices of the Kindle 3 and Kindle DX/Kindle 2 respectively).

      You’re right, the ability to purchase those would be a draw.

      Yes, publishers are doing some of these things…but if an EBR integrated it, that would be different. 🙂

  2. Tom Semple Says:

    Clarification: wireless Bluetooth touch pad is of course available for Mac & maybe Windows, but I don’t think it works with mobile devices.

  3. Roger Knights Says:

    1. An e-mail client, so users would have less need to carry other gadgets with that capability.

    2. An API that would allow “notepad”-type apps to wirelessly (via WiFi only) print out their notes. The iPad has an app that does this, and I read (on a Kindle blog devoted to education) about a teacher who was pioneering the use of the Kindle in her classroom and who said her main gripe with the Kindle was its inability to match the iPad in this regard.

    Or perhaps what Amazon should be looking at instead of (or in addition to) the next big thing are the next small things. I.e., specialized versions to capture niche segments of the markets. E.g.:

    3. One that Abhi (at Kindle Review) has urged is a version dedicated to kids. (Naturally, being me, I dubbed it the “Kiddle”–which has probably sunk its chances for good!)

    4. Another, which I’ve been urging since last year, is a half-height DX version with a foldable (hinged) screen and a slide-out or detachable keyboard. (Or a back-mounted chorded keyboard–see 5b.) This way it could be readable when it browses the web and reads PDFs. (Alternatively, the screens could be 1″ narrower than the DX’s, allowing them to be carried in many more pockets.) In addition, one of the screens could serve as a touch screen and keyboard when activated by the user, allowing the keyboard to be eliminated. The cost would be maybe $300+, but lots of people (a million?) would think it worth the money.

    5a. A compact (no keyboard) version with a handheld chorded keyset, such as Englebart promoted. It would take a bit of training, but Kindle owners are smart and adaptable. It would be much faster to type on, once a person had mastered it. It would cut down on the Kindle’s size. It would improve accessibility for some persons.

    5b. Or a compact (no-front-keyboard) Kindle with a chorded keyboard located on the back. It would be an acquired taste, but Amazon could sell a few hundred thousand of them. It could become a show-off item, because it would take skill and dedication to master, and because it would enable faster input. Maybe Amazon could build a hi-tech “glove” into the back of this model, to provide a secure grip and to capture keystrokes. For more on this topic, see:

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Roger!

      Abhi and I think alike, sometimes. 😉 I recommended a kids’ version sometime back, and I thought about it this time. However, I broke it into a few different features instead. A kids’ version would have to have parental controls and have the rugged nature I discussed. Those are the two main factors. B&N has tried to sell the NOOK Color as a kids’ device, but not exclusively.

      I’ll think about your others. 🙂

      • Roger Knights Says:

        “Abhi and I think alike, sometimes. 😉 I recommended a kids’ version sometime back, …”

        I missed it because the only Kindle blog I read regularly before this year was his. (Now I subscribe to a dozen(–and so should everybody!))

  4. Paul Says:

    I am a very serious note taker so I would like to organize them. My reading style is very conversational. I tell the characters what they should do or think. I tell the authors what they should have written or how the plot should have twisted or what I predict they will do. Whether paper or electronic I write a lot of margin notes while I read.

    My dream would be for the kindle to help me organize these notes like a computer. As an example, say I was preparing a sermon from my Bible. I want to mark several verses with my thoughts included but have my kindle present them back to me in the order I prefer. I might have another sermon or study that uses the same verse but in a completely different thought pattern so it is organized elsewhere. I also want my notes, highlights and bookmarks handled separately rather than all on list from the front of the book to back. I do not like looking for a bookmark near the end of a book and wading through all my notes and highlights to get there. I would also like to be able to search JUST my notes without any hits from the book.

    I may be a very unique type of reader this way but I would hope others would also find it useful enough for it to be a draw. I had always assumed Amazon would do this but maybe I am one of the few customers who care.

    I love your blog and my Kindle!

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Paul!

      Thanks for the kind words!

      I would guess you are more note-intensive than many. 🙂 If they do give us a more efficient note-taking apparatus (like voice notes or an external keyboard), maybe we’ll see more robust management as well.

      For now, do you use


      You could copy and paste from there and then organize it…not as convenient as what you envision, but it might help. 🙂

      • Roger Knights Says:

        Paul wrote:
        “I want to mark several verses with my thoughts included but have my kindle present them back to me in the order I prefer.”

        This would work if Amazon gave notepad-type apps an API through which they could access the “notes” a user had entered in one (or more) of his books. (I suggested this to Amazon in an e-mail on March 27.)

        “I might have another sermon or study that uses the same verse but in a completely different thought pattern so it is organized elsewhere.”

        No problem; each notepad-note could independently access every book-type note.

        “I also want my notes, highlights and bookmarks handled separately rather than all on list from the front of the book to back. I do not like looking for a bookmark near the end of a book and wading through all my notes and highlights to get there. I would also like to be able to search JUST my notes without any hits from the book.”

        To offer this capability, Amazon should provide the following Menu options when the user is in the “View My Notes & Marks” mode:

        · Notes Only, in Full
        · Highlights Only, in Full
        · Bookmarks Only

        (I suggested this to Amazon in an e-mail on October 7.)

  5. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I think you’ve covered most of the high points.

    The University of Cincinnati has a research project that is keeping abreast of display technology research worldwide. Completely flexible (roll-able — fold-able is a more difficult problem) displays (from the scrolls of the Egyptians we come full circle — Gutenberg was (after all) just a side show) could be here in 3-5 years. Reflective or transflective could be here now. The color gamuts of such displays are quite different from what LCDs have made us come to expect. The question is whether consumers will (at this point) ever accept the more muted (more pleasing — at least to me :)) colors inherent in reflective display technologies.

    Several historical comparisons come to mind: a high quality print picture from National Geographic versus the same picture displayed on a good quality TV. Kodacolor vs Vericolor; Ektachrome vs Kodachrome (or ektachrome slide vs a good quality vericolor print). We may have lost the ability to appreciate non-vibrant/garish color displays — in which case reflective displays may never be successful.

    I also suspect we are at very early days in the evolution of the ebook. The very nature of what a “book” is can be radically transformed: videos instead of book covers/jackets/blurbs; mixed text and video, multiple simultaneous streams (primary content alongside commentary/critiques).

    I would like voice recognition to be used for more than control — to record/transcribe notes; provide highlights, etc. Ultimately, I think the notion of a device you hold in your hands will give way to some kind of wearable heads-up display (glasses) which allows you to “see” and “hear” the “book” (while you’re walking down the street in traffic even — forget about texting while driving :)). Once we have highly efficient delivery of info directly to the visual and auditory systems, I would not be surprised if what we so quaintly refer to as “reading” (the recognition of marks on paper or a display device) follows the buggy whip into the dustbin of history (wait just a second there — give me a minute to hide before you start throwing stones :-))

    • bufocalvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      I think that the kind of immersion you describe will be possible when we also expect our books to be aware of the world around the reader…and interrupt when necessary. Right now, we have to keep checking in on the world to see if the dog is in the garbage or someone else is trying to talk to us. If the book could do that checking for us and shut off the wordflow (or give us a pop up), it would be more immersive. That would be an evolutionary level change…we are used to checking multiple things all the time, but I like the concept. 🙂

  6. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Oh yeah, and once we get those display scrolls firmly established, all that incessant whinings about “page numbers” will be recognized for the mullarkey they are 😀

  7. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I would like full control over font choice and type size and page justification. I hate books that come with full page justification because when you use larger font size, lines of type often end up with one word at the right margin, one word in the left margin, and a huge gap in between. The current type faces offered on the Kindle 3 all appear way too dark and way too thick. All the larger type sizes appear to be bold. I’d like to be able to reduce that to normal, or the way the larger sizes appear on the original Kindle 1. I still do most of my reading on my old Kindle 1 and use the Kindle 3 more for games because I prefer the display screen of the original.

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