Buying Guides -> Hardware -> Portable Devices
THE FUTURE OF READING
Team CHIP | 25 November 2010
THE FUTURE OF READING
HOW GOOD IS APPLE’S FAMOUS IPAD? AND WHAT ADVANTAGES DO DEDICATED EBOOK READERS HAVE? CHIP COMPARES A FEW AVAILABLE MODELS TO SEE IF A PURCHASE NOW IS WORTHWHILE.
BY DOMINIK HOFERER AND SANDEEP BALACHANDRAN
At the time the first book was printed, no one ever knew how far the concept of reading text would actually go. From paper to ePaper, from books to eBooks, we sure have come a long way in delivering information. E-book readers are here to revolutionize the way we read text. It’s now time to reinvent books, newspapers and magazines and maybe even provide additional sources of income to publishing companies.
The Amazon Kindle was the first of its kind to change the way eBooks are read. Now Apple has stepped up with the iPad that offers much more than simply displaying books in black and white. However does Apple really plan to turn things around with the iPad? What other features should eBook readers offer? Which should we opt for and how helpful will it be to us? CHIP checked out the iPad, Kindle & OlivePad and explains how these devices function. We have evaluated each of them based on the screen technology, display quality, price, compatibility and overall impression.
The sources of eBooks
Amazon is the number one source for standard books over the Internet. So they saw the opportunity would also have an excellent collection of eBooks as well. In January, Amazon created a digital platform for authors to publish books on their own. However, it is still unknown when Amazon will extend its wide range of books in EPUB format, which is a common standard. Apple too remains tight-lipped about the future of its eBook store and the publishing houses it plans to negotiate with.
News has it that Google is expected to jump in, with plans to start a revolution in the market. Day to day indications show that they plan to launch an in-house platform called Google Editions by the end of 2010. The search engine giant is expected to introduce a suitable tablet device for this purpose which should spice things up. In addition, it already has an ambitious platform called Google Books. However, Google Editions is expected to be much more than just a book store, for example combining search, shopping and book reading. One would not even need a Wi-Fi connection, since most eBooks can be transmitted via mobile networks.
Old Classics as a Gift
EBooks offer a big advantage: Books whose copyrights have already expired are available free of cost. This is how classics written by well-known writers can be transferred to readers from popular websites such as www.eBooks.com or from Google Books. They come in either the EPUB format or as PDFs. Moreover digitized books are available forever. This comes in as an advantage in case of books which were published only in small quantities. Once they are converted to eBooks they will never be out of circulation again.
Price: Are eBooks cheaper?
First and foremost, to be able to read eBooks one must make a prior investment. The Amazon Kindle costs approximately Rs 9,000 whereas an entry level iPad will cost you nothing less than Rs 23,000 and the OlivePad is expected to launch at prices between Rs 22,000 and Rs 25,000. Some eBooks cost up to 20 percent less when compared to the cost of a printed hardcover edition. However, there is a possibility of an increase in price if the eBook comes spiced up with photo galleries and videos— so there is no definite answer to this question.
How do the iPad, Kindle and OlivePad function?
Electrophoresis (E-ink): In E-ink, a dark colored liquid in so-called microcapsules can be seen floating between two plates. Many tiny particles reflect light strongly and appear white. If a charge is applied, the particles migrate electrophoretically to the opposite charged plate. If they float on the upper side, light is reflected and the point appears to be white. If the particles are on the lower side, light is absorbed by the dark fluid which makes the point appear black. The great advantage of this technology is that the particles remain at their position until the plates receive a new charge. Thus, an e-book page does not require electricity to stay active; only when you want to change its contents. Such a material is called Bistable.
The advantage of E-Ink technology is that it is less stressful on eyes and draws current only for turning over the pages. However, electrophoresis has a critical disadvantage: particles migrate rather slowly, so the overall transition time from one state to another is quite long, making it unsuitable for videos. Even flipping pages in an eBook takes a second or two.
Electrowetting: A mixture of water and oil is used. A small capsule, which has a very bright, white background on its lower side, contains water. If voltage is not applied, a colored oil covers the entire lower surface of the capsule and reflected light appears in the color of the oil. If voltage is applied, the oil shrinks into a tiny drop at the edge and only the white layer is visible. Many colors can be mixed by combining different-colored oils in neighboring sub pixels. These displays are easy to produce, sleek, and reach switching speeds of less than 50 milliseconds, which is smooth enough for video at 25 frames per second. However voltage needs to be applied continuously for the oil drops to remain shrunken, which strains the battery.
What can an eBook reader handle?
Books, newspapers and magazines can appear just as if printed. However, if media professionals really start exploring the possibilities of this technology, people will experience multimedia pages, not just recreations of old books. Digital books can consist of print, audio and video combined. At present the iPad has a considerable advantage over the Kindle. Due to the large display and the colors, one can garnish eBooks with interactive illustrations and possibly even establish an online community to discuss the book.
EBooks are ideal for more than just education. The iPad and OlivePad enable completely new narrative structures for magazines and newspapers. They combine interactive elements from the Internet with videos and audio. However this does not mean that printed books will go out of circulation anytime soon. E-Books are expected complement traditional publishing.
Formats supported by eBook readers
Ideally eBooks should come with no limitations, where all books function on all devices and every customer pays for his merchandise. However in reality, this is completely different. There are already a range of best sellers available in different languages on popular file-sharing networks. In order to nip the piracy problem in the bud, many publishing houses have implemented copyright protection systems. After the disputes over MP3, customers are once again facing the same problem where all media will not function on all devices. Apple, for example, allows access to iBooks only via its own devices. It has implemented a similar system for encryption that has already been tried and tested for music files. On the other hand, Amazon uses the proprietary AZW DRM, which can be read only by the Kindle. Common distributors are beginning to implement DRM protection even on the extremely popular EPUB format. Therefore the OlivePad and any other device which is based on open standards cannot be used to access Amazon or even Apple stores. It also isn't easy to lend eBooks to family or friends. We can only hope that intrusive copy protection will not discourage customers as it did with music downloads.
Hardware specifically designed for eBook reading can be sorted into two classes: Readers and Tablet PCs. The classic E-Book reader such as the Kindle from Amazon is based on E-Ink technology. They work without a backlight, since the text is displayed using dark colored liquid. On the other hand, Tablet PCs such as the iPad and the recently launched OlivePad are based on the LCD technology widely used in monitors and TVs. These are versatile and quick enough to display rich videos, but end up being quite stressful for the eyes when viewed for long periods. These devices are a good choice for multimedia content; one can even spice up newspapers with videos and interactive media.
A perfect all-rounder which can display books and newspapers, still does not exist. There still remains a wide scope for development with respect to the displays.
There is speculation that the next version of the Kindle will be able to display videos in color. There is also a certain amount of discussion about the new version of the Apple iPad: it would feature an OLED display which will be able to display higher contrasts with lower power consumption. In the near future, the computing power of eBook reader devices could be increased through cloud computing and high-speed wireless data connections. Tablets would then set themselves apart from netbooks and even smartphones, instead of being classified as a mixture of these devices.
At the moment eBook readers are only meant for those who are serious about reading and want their libraries to be totally portable. No doubt that there is a wide range of books, magazines and newspapers available online but the major drawback of these products is the high cost of hardware. Users are advised to ensure any product they buy has a long battery runtime and should be able to read most formats. Moreover the weight must be comfortable enough.
In addition one should also look out for extra features that one would get after buying the device. Anyone who wishes to surf the Web, play games or watch movies is best suited with an iPad as its large display offers considerably much more viewing area. Fans of tablet PCs should also take a look at the OlivePad. Since it is totally based on an open source environment (Android) it offers considerably more options than Apple’s restrictive iPad. On the other hand, the Amazon Kindle is perfectly suited for bookworms (who are willing to pay for legal eBooks). However, the current Kindle devices aren’t suitable for future formats with interactive content and color.