eBook Readers Get Bigger – Literally

Desktops are shrinking into laptops, laptops are shrinking into netbooks, and every year every Apple device ever invented is ever so slightly shrinking in comparison to the former version. Our computer screens used to be larger than most home aquariums and now they are thinner than any textbook I had in college.  eBook Readers used to be small palm sized devices and now they are… the size of magazines?

The new Kindle DX is larger than it’s predecessor?

That seems pretty counter-intuitive in the digital world, but in the world of eBooks this concept might just be a plus.  When I first blogged about eBook readers a few months ago, I pointed out that the best market for these devices would be education.  Think of all the back damage you could save by replacing textbooks with a slim, lightweight reader.  Not to mention the damage to your wallet, right?

Well, one out of two ain’t bad for now.  The Kindle DX is attempting to reach educational markets – Amazon announced today that they had reached agreements with three major textbook companies (among other interesting announcements).  But the Ivy League level price tag on this device still keeps it out of reach for most individual college students.  Let’s hope that some deals are struck soon to get these devices into grade schools in place of paper textbook soon.  If just to save a few forests each year.

I’m still n0t sold on the concept of eBooks, but I am becoming more open.  In my book, the size factor is much better now: bigger is better. However, some other things still bother me:

  • No color.  Sorry – that is just hard to accept.  Can someone get to work on that please?
  • The plastic border around the whole thing.  It just seems… distracting.  You usually don’t have a plastic border around your books and magazines.  Why can’t they make that more seamlessly integrated, like the iPhone screen?  That way, it would look more like the blank space around a page than a frame.
  • Better integration with online content.  Maybe this is there and is not being hyped yet. But if you want me to subscribe to newspapers through the Kindle – give me a reason. What about newspapers that update as stories are posted? Or how about the ability to add comments through that keyboard at the bottom?  What about giving me the ability to Twitter or Digg or whatever the stories I like through the Kindle – pushing it out to those services?  That would pull in more paying customers, potentially.

But to be fair, there are some nice features (with even more experimental ones coming down the road):

  • Bookmarks and annotations – essential for educational usage
  • Search across books – not just in one book
  • Access Wikipedia. Yep.
  • A basic web browser (experimental for now)
  • Play mp3 songs (also experimental for now)
  • And, of course, don’t forget about the lower cost of books and the cleared up storage space at home (but, then again – how many eBooks do you have to buy to make up for the high price of the device itself?).

Then there is the one killer feature that I know someone is working on but is not near ready – touchscreen e-ink.  Basically, to get e-ink to look like a real sheet of paper, they had to remove some screen layers – and those layers are where the touch sensitive stuff goes.  But some people do have hope that it will be figured out.  So that means someday your eBook reader might also become an ePad for writing.  Nice.

Of course, I am thinking 10 years down the line, when they might have brilliant HD color touchscreen e-ink portable computers.  Your laptops could one day be a simple device the size of a magazine, with a full operating system and a huge flash hard drive – all displayed through an interface that looks like a high-quality piece of paper. You could  interface with this device like you would an iPhone, as well as take pictures, videos, etc. And it is carrying your entire music, movie, and literary collection in one place.

Matt Crosslin
Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

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