Thursday 21 February 2013

But I Digress | Super Kindle 64

Who would have thunk it?

Well, everyone, obviously. Its existence was the worst kept secret in the gaming industry since... actually, I'm struggling to come up with an apposite example. This isn't an industry known for its grace or patience, after all; like a squabble in the schoolyard, if there's something going on, potential spectators are alerted as if by osmosis, or some telepathic process. Hence all the NDAs. And the elaborately coordinated PR campaigns.

But that's not what I want to talk about today. Rather than the announcement of the PS4 itself—which, for what it's worth, I'll buy if or else when the price is right—I want to use the immediate reaction to the would-be huge news as a jumping off point for discussion. Because the sentiment I heard, overwhelmingly, before, during and after Sony's shindig, was... so what?

Let me be clear: I disagree. I believe there's a real need for updated hardware. Try playing Far Cry 3 on a modern PC and you'll see what I mean. It's hard to go back, so I'm all for forward. But let's not kid around: there has never been a less significant jump between one generation and the next, nor a longer period between revisions than this one. What are we to understand from that if not the fact that the console cycle, as we know it, is coming to a close?

If you're wondering what all this could have to do with the publishing industry, simply consider the e-book reader, or the tablet that serves as such. Kindles and iPads are platforms built on technology too. And each time their hardware is revised, these devices grow ever closer to the endpoint the PS4 arguably represents. 

To make matters worse, there are new e-book readers every year—at least—so we're approaching the zenith of technology far quicker than the gaming industry did.

There will come a time, I put to you, when there will be no point in upgrading your Kindle or iPad. When our e-book readers will do everything we want them to do, and more, as well as we might like, and better. Beyond that, the only improvements will be superficial.

And I want to know what that device looks like. What's the ultimate feature set for e-book readers? And how very different could reading e-books possibly be from the experience we can have today?

Even then, what could possibly be better than the tactile pleasure of a physical edition, or the satisfaction of filing it away in your library?

Give me a foldable, flexible OLED screen that can read books to me out loud, with some sort of dynamic Last Time On the thing I've been reading functionality—for when I forget what's going on—and subscription-based access to a collaborative library of literature that isn't fragmented or just fucked in the way certain services are today. Maybe then I'll be moved to buy your device.

I don't ask for a lot, do I? :)


  1. My "ultimate feature set" would begin with a next generation of screen, one that can somehow replicate the e-ink experience, while still allowing for tablet-like functionality. I love my e-reader for reading, and I love my tablet for surfing, but I hate my e-reader's built-in browser, and I hate reading on the tablet.

    Beyond that, it's all background support for me. Get rid of DRM, adopt a single format standard (I vote for ePUB), and make titles portable from whatever device you bought them on to whatever device you buy next.

    I like the idea of a subscription-based collaborative library (I'm envisioning a Netflix type library), but I'd really like to see the bundling of electronic editions with physical books - maybe some sort of ISBN scanner than recognizes you've purchased the book, then downloads the e-book.

  2. Tablets have already hit a point where performance updates are basically pointless for ebook reading. The software lineup is robust and mature. My favorite is Mantano Reader, especially as a reviewer. The only place I see serious advancement that affects readers will be battery life and screen PPI. High PPI screens are amazing for reading since rendered text takes advantage of it.

    I have doubts that any sort of subscription service will arrive soon. Given the fractious negotiations between publishers and libraries, it doesn't bode well for a subscription service. A subscription service would have to resolve all of the same issues.

    I do agree with Bob Milne in that I would like to see DRM dropped and ePUB becoming the standard format.

  3. I like your ideas; that's the kind of tech they should be working on rather than trying to make eReaders just another tablet computer.

    I'd love it if (and this would require a change to physical books too) is that eReaders had a QR reader built in, and that each book had a QR code on its spine. You scan the spine code and it downloads to the eReader the book info,a sample chapter, and maybe an interview with the author or a list of their other works. That'd do it for me.

    Jamie @ Mithril Wisdom

  4. I must admit I still don't own an e-reader and have no immediate intention of doing so. I like books and that's what I read.... and since digital books seem to be almost the same price as digital books what's the point? Maybe I am just being an old curmudgeon, but there you go!

    1. shit, sorry obviously I meant digital books seem to be the same price as physical/real books ;-)