Read it and Weep
Published at 7:02pm on 27 Sep 2006
Sony recently unveiled its new e-book reader, imaginatively entitled the Sony Reader. I have to admit that when I saw it my first thought was that this was the coolest thing I'd seen. Sadly, a closer examination reveals a lack of design forethought - a shame because it is clear that the technology has real potential...
At first I thought this was the coolest thing ever: Sony Reader Now Available (slashdot.com)
A portable device, the size of a book, with practically a 100% viewable area that has the same optical properties as real paper. It's just like having a book, except that you can carry 80 or more books around at once, and you can magnify text, and skip to a particular chapter, etc. And it plays MP3s!
Sadly, further investigation shows that Sony actually haven't bothered to put much thought into the design at all. I'll elaborate:
- Audio MP3 support for listening to music, but no consideration for audio books, or slideshows with audio tracks.
- Proprietary formats for everything that require special (Windows-only, of course) software to convert from PDF, text, etc. And all this because of...
- DRM. Yes, Sony now want to try to figure out how to apply crappy, consumer-unfriendly copy protection to text files, much as they have with video and audio. Great, so instead of using the tried-and tested, ubiquitous PDF, Sony gives us a proprietary text format that only works on one piece of single-vendor hardware, and expects to charge us money for it! Still, what do you expect from the people who brought us the XCP rootkit?
- Requires a dock and special (Windows-only) synching software instead of simply having a USB plug for charging and file transfer and mounting as a USB flash drive when you plug it in to your PC.
- No backlight, even as an option, so you can't read it in the dark (presumably the E-paper screen does work in bright sunlight though - its main advantage over LCDs other than resolution).
- No video support - animated paper would be really cool, as would games done in a sketchbook style.
- No wireless support - no WLAN or Bluetooth, no internet, no nothing.
- No touch-screen/stylus support - would be nice to scribble notes in margins or do crosswords/sudokus, or to...
- ...easily look up a word in the built-in dictionary just by tapping it. Except there is no built-in dictionary.
- ...nor is there any built in translator. Surely a Babelfish plugin would be a no-brainer. If it were better designed this could be used to teach foreign languages. It could even help kids learn to read, a bit like the Young Lady's Illustrated Primer from Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age. It could have been something that every school kid would be given as standard - Sony could have become the premier provider of educational hardware for the next generation. Instead they put in an MP3 player. Now that's vision.
- Their online book service sells books for the same price as the tree-pulp variety, if not more - hardly the way to break into an industry already filled with free and pirate alternatives. This would be like trying to sell iTunes singles for £3.50. Why don't they learn from Apple - digital content is cheap and easy to pirate, hardware is expensive and impossible to pirate, so they should subsidise the cheap, low-margin, high-risk product with the expensive, high-margin, low-risk product, not the other way around. If I was Mr. Sony I'd simply give the books away - if they don't, Google will next week anyway.
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