eBooks, The Kindle DX, and the Much-Rumored iPod Slate

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To date, the eBook market has been, well, experimental.  This is mostly because reading on a virtual display can give one headaches depending on the display at worst, and at best it has been rather difficult to get a format that works well (with a few exceptions).  More often than not the eBook becomes a novelty that quickly wears off over time.  The main killer for me:  page numbers not being the same as printed books.  I can understand why:  it would be impossible to fit a printed page on the screen size, but it's still annoying when others are reading page 22 and you are on page 245. 

At least this is how I felt when reading eBooks on pretty much any platform previous to the iPod Touch (more on that later).  I've read them on CRT computer screens (which are not very mobile), laptops (which are marginally mobile because of battery life), the PalmPilot, and the Pocket PC.  Either the platform was not convenient to navigate, or the resolution made reading the tiny print difficult.  Often times I would just walk away with a bad headache and leave it at that. 

Then I got an iPod Touch, and reading became easier using Stanza.  eBooks were well formatted and the text was readable even in a small font.  BUT, the eBooks didn't include images.  Why?  Most likely because the screen size would make even a high-resolution image (such as the iPod Touch or iPhone can provide) difficult to see.  So Stanza would not include them.

So I started looking at the Kindle today, because of the announcement of the new Kindle DX.  I've been skeptical of the Kindle in the past, because all it can really do is read books.  Why have a device that can only read books?  What's the use in that?  It would only be of use to people that spend a lot of time reading, or have the time to spend a lot of time reading. 

But as I started to read the description of the DX's features, I became rather intrigued.  The large 9.7" screen allows for a clear and crisp display, and it only displays in 16 shades.  Why only 16 shades?  Because it uses an electronic ink technology that uses real ink but displays it through an electric current at each dot.  Basically, it prints a page for you each time to write a comment, edit, read, or change pages. 

The print method is exactly like that of books or newspapers, and as such has the same readability as those formats.  It also doesn't need backlighting, so the battery can last for days of constant reading, and you don't get a glare (one of the annoyances I have with the iPod Touch).  That alone is intriguing.

Another neat feature is 3G wireless connections that are always on (assuming you are in service range), and it's partnered with Sprint.  The thing is, you don't have a monthly service charge for the service, and you pretty much only use it when downloading books (or using the limited web browser).  Amazon pays the bill to Sprint, which comes (assumedly) from revenues from book and device sales. 

There are other features, but those were the ones that stood out for me.  There is also some limited MP3 audio included as experimental, just to see if such a benefit would be of use to the Kindle crowd.  And all of this can be used without the need for a computer. 

So the first thing I thought was how neat the battery life would be, how cool the display technology was, and how much I had misjudged the Kindle platform.  For those that only want something mobile to read and save trees from printing hardcover books, it was a pretty decent answer. 

Then I started to think about all the rumors swirling around the "iPod Slate", or Apple's media webpad that is rumored to be released for Verizon's network.  The rumor is that it will have a 10" screen similar to the 9.7" screen of the Kindle DX, and it will be designed for web browsing, applications, and probably be close to a watered-down laptop or netbook.  But it will be a tablet, much like the Kindle DX.

Now, I only have a couple of gripes about the iPod Touch for eBook reading:  It doesn't have many options for image displays (at least through Stanza), and it has a problem with glare in sunlight.  The Kindle doesn't have these problems, which makes it a good eBook reader in general.  If all I did with my iPod Touch was read books and listen to music, a Kindle would be a good and cheap replacement for these reasons alone. 

But, with the introduction of the rumored iPod Slate, Apple could at least fix one problem:  the display issue.  With Amazon's purchase of Stanza, they can make the display more Kindle-esque while keeping the usability of Stanza which has made it easily the best eBook reader I have ever used.  They could also keep book formats the same as printed books, so page numbers could be accurate (the main problem I had with Microsoft's eReader).  Also, the iPod Slate would most likely let you do more than just read books, so you have a multi-use device.  That means no need for many devices to carry around and clutter up your life.

I'm not sure how many people have purchased the Kindle, and so I don't know how popular it is.  I don't know of anyone that has, though I do know of a few that have purchased Kindle books and used the Kindle app for the iPhone/iPod Touch.  They didn't like the reading process as compared to Stanza, but the books are a lot cheaper than the Stanza-compatible books from Fictionwise.com/eReader.com. 

So I'm not a convert yet, but it at least turned my head and got me thinking of where the future of reading may be heading.