Sony Reader device0 comments

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 (

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.

All-in-all it would probably have been much better if they'd just made a PSP with a big E-paper screen. Still, it proves the tech is ready - now it just needs someone to do it properly.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here are those of the author and are not shared by Charcoal Design unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.


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