One class of devices fascinates me immensely. They are called e-readers or ebook readers. In my opinion e-readers are much more revolutionary and disruptive than for example the iPad and the recent renaissance of tablet computers. Their obvious difference is that tables can be used for almost anything while e-book readers can be used only for reading. It is ironic that a product from the company that is best at simplifying, is compared to a device that serves only a single function. This limitation on a sole function is the most beautiful and elegant approach to deliver a function. Any multi-function device suffers from compromises. Tablets need color displays, fast refresh rates, fast processors and big screens. When you read a book you don’t need this. Thus you can make a product that is better suited for its purpose and also make it cheaper.
The prevalent display technology used in e-readers are e-ink screens in the „Pearl“ generation. The two latest iterations of Amazon and Sony use this. E-ink screens differ in computer and tv screens in the removal of a backlight behind the actual screen. E-ink screens have very small white and black pigments that can be set electronically and stay like this without any further electronic current. This means that e-readers do not need any power when you are reading a page, but only when you change it. So much for the theory, in praxis the CPU and the WiFi adapter are running in the background and you can expect run-times in the order of weeks with moderate use.
The main contenders for e-readers are Amazon, Sony, Barnes & Nobles, Kobo and Pocketbook. Additionally there are several smaller companies that have produced either not very many e-readers or not very remarkable devices. In Germany Barnes & Nobles are currently not selling their e-readers.
The most interesting new upcoming products are the Sony Reader Wifi, the Kobo Touch and the Kindle 4 (I don’t believe Kindle Fire is the future, because competing on prices against Apple has generally not worked very well, plus it’s actually a tablet and not an e-reader). I’m partial against the Kindle because it uses it’s own format and although technically able, I would not like to convert all my books for this device. The Sony reader has its lighter weight, better pdf-support and wider adoption of other Sony readers on its plus side, while the Kobo reader does not use a piano-finish for its frame and does not use full page refreshes when turning a page. I’ll probably buy the Sony reader if it’s available in a timely fashion — Sony has a reputation for being very slow with e-reader production and funneling most of it for their home market in Japan. In terms of price both devices clock in at about 150 euros.
Great resources for e-books and e-readers are the forums on mobileread.com and lesen.net. When I receive my first e-reader I’ll write more about my experiences with getting reading material from ebook vendors, blogs and other sources.