E-Book Readers and the Single-Device Paradox

There's an e-book reader in your future

Kindle: Amazon's wireless reading device

Kindle: Amazon's wireless reading device

There is no doubt that all media is going digital. And while I think it will remain possible quite far into the future to curl up by the fire with a good book, it will be much more likely that it will be some form of electronic book reader that will be keeping you warm instead. If you've not seen these, think of them as .mp3 players for words and illustrations, and many can also play those .mp3s. A few examples of products available now include the Sony Reader Digital Book, Amazon's Kindle, and Hanlin's eReader. These mobile devices are optimized for this function, and, despite US$300+ unit prices, can be quite economical in operation. They tend to be much larger than PDAs (hardly pocket-sized) and have excellent screens that are visible even in bright sunlight. E-books are cheaper than paper books, arguably more convenient to use, and just think of the savings in trees and shelf space. The Kindle will even deliver e-books (and some blogs, newspapers and magazines, as well as Wikipedia) to you via Sprint's EV-DO wireless network. It's not the Web, but how cool is that?

Despite all that, however, I'm not going to conclude here that there's an e-book reader in your future. In fact, I think it's unlikely that the e-book reader, at least as presently conceived, will ever be very successful at all. And this reason for this is our old friend the single-device paradox. Most people just aren't going to carry yet another device. They most certainly do want to read books and other publications, but they want that function on the handset they have to carry anyway. Another thing to lug, power, and manage? It's not going to happen very often. I'm still dealing with the three to four mobile devices I usually travel with - way too much already, and this set doesn't include a camera (other than the one in the phone, which isn't too good), an .mp3 player, a movie player, or an e-book reader.

And thus it remains fair to continue to ask if we can ever really build a single plastic pal who's fun to be with, a mobile personal communicator that really can do it all. The example of Star Trek comes to mind here. You may recall they had the tiny communicator badge for voice, and the handheld tricorder for data - two separate mobile devices aimed at different missions. Well, if they haven't solved the single-device paradox 400 years from now, what chance do we have? But that doesn't mean we can or will go crazy with lots of purpose-built point solutions. So while I will concede that there will be some successful e-book readers, largely resident with, somewhat paradoxically, the stay-at-home, only-very-locally-mobile types, most of us will expect and require this functionality on the personal communicator handset of our choice. The naturally device-independent interface between e-media and the player/viewer/whatever device demands such a solution.

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