The Size of the Future

By | May 13, 2008

(This is a guest post from a friend and long-time colleague, Robin Lubbock of WBUR, who will be contributing to Loose Wire Blog. You can read his blog, the Future of New(s), here.)

Why don’t you buy hard-back books? Either they are too expensive, or too big. They are too big to comfortably hold in one hand. So if you’re sitting in bed trying to read you’ve got to find a way to prop the thing up. Not a hurdle you can’t overcome. But an inconvenience.

Now think about the reader of the future. It’s the same issues. Size, readability, and cost. Any lessons you’ve learned from book reading, apply them to the electronic book and you’ll be imagining the electronic reader of the future.

So why hasn’t anyone made a good electronic book yet?

I was in Staples the other day and an assistant asked me what I wanted. I said “I want something about three or four times the size of an iPhone which I can use for browsing the Web when I’m in bed.” He said they had nothing like that, but he wanted one too.

So when I saw photos of a group of proposed readers in an article by John Markoff in the New York Times this weekend I thought my dream had come true.

But Markoff has a different view. He says he also used to think he was looking for a mid-sized reader for the Web. He went over some of the issues. But he reached the conclusion that although chip power means that you can’t get book performance out of a phone sized reader yet, people could be comfortable reading newspapers on a three-and-a-half-inch screen.

I took his implication to be that if people are happy with a small screen for reading newspapers and blogs, there will be no call for a mid-sized reader.

But I still want one. And I still believe the company that successfully develops a tool that has the same benefits as a novel, in usability, portability and ruggedness, will make a fortune.

3 thoughts on “The Size of the Future

  1. mattbg

    Actually, I’m getting the point where I may cancel my newspaper subscription because it’s too big, physically. Compared to something like “The Economist”, which is very portable (and has better reporting than my newspaper, too), I’m finding that I don’t read it as often as I used to just because it’s not something you can pick up and manipulate with one hand.

    On the other hand, the lack of consequence in mishandling something like a weekly magazine or a paperback is also appealing. With most electronics, just trying to be careful with them is of enough concern that I probably would never get as attached to an e-reader as I would to a magazine or book.

  2. Improbus

    The first company that produces a reader like you suggest for under $200 will have a happy customer in me. I hope they remember to leave out the DRM.

  3. Robin Lubbock

    Interesting points. One of the symptoms of my frustration with not being able to find a decent Web reader, involves going through the ads in the NY Times looking for a tool that might work for this purpose. e.g. a games player that you could use to run Firefox. But you need a keyboard.

    On cost, these things go for around $150. So that’s only the equivalent of buying 20 paperbacks. Also I’m of the belief that tools should be used, not cherished. So I wouldn’t be too worried about occasionally dropping one in the tub.

    I’d love to hear any thoughts on tools that are out there that could be used, or adapted, to be Web readers.


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