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What Would Your Ideal E-Reader Look Like?

I’ve seen a number of articles discussing the e-reader merits of low-cost laptops like the Asus Eee PC and the OLPC. Reviews say both machines adequately handle e-reader duties, but the overall experience is like reading a magazine through a Web browser: novel, but not really practical.

On the opposite side, the Kindle, Sony Reader and other dedicated e-readers continue to be debated. The screen resolutions and portability of these devices are generally appreciated, but there are broader issues with ergonomics, ebook formats, proprietary quirks, connectivity, etc..

Put it all together and it’s clear we have yet to reach the e-reader promised land. But that doesn’t mean we can’t play with the topic …

What I’d like to know is, if you had your druthers, what would your ideal e-reader look like? What specs would it feature? What formats would it handle?

Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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Comments: 25

  1. A VERY lightweight laptop with a wireless connection. Something with email capability so I could text passages to people. Accepts all ebook formats. Allows me to pull up multiple books simultaneously so I can search in each one, and extract passages from each. Automatic citations. THEN I will plunk down $400.

  2. Might as well accept my own invitation …

    I’m holding on to the dream that I’ll someday have one mobile device that can handle everything I need, so a dedicated e-reader contradicts my overall goal. I’m focused on e-reader *software*.

    What I want is a software platform that offers:

    * A screen resolution/format (managed through software) customized for long periods of reading on a small device.

    * Wireless connectivity to a variety of online ebook databases. Or general mobile Web access that automatically syncs downloaded ebooks and related ebook material to my device software.

    * Compatibility with all major ebook formats and the opportunity — either through plugins or community resources — to add support for additional formats. (Remember, this is my ideal … I never said it’ll happen).

    * The ability to copy/share/access ebook material on my mobile device from a variety of other devices (computers, tvs, dedicated e-readers, etc.).

    * Price: I’d pay around $99 for a program that handles all this, maybe more if the connectivity and ease of use were really impressive and/or had application beyond ebooks.

  3. It’d be big enough to be able to display comics, graphic novels, and manga, with a color screen, very thin and very light, touchscreen, back-light, and it would handle every format under the sun (DOC, PDF, HTML, TXT, PDB, PRC, etc). It would have e-ink for better battery life.

    It would also feature wireless downloading from ANY bookstore, and those bookstores would have no DRM so that you wouldn’t lose your collection of books if you switched devices.

  4. Andrew Savikas

    * Touchscreen

    * Wireless (EVDO + wifi)

    * Contents mirrored/synced on one (or more) computers

    * Content and annotations included when I do a Google Desktop Search

    * Should read PDF & Word, but be built for ePub

    * Support for embedded audio (to allow me to toggle back and forth between hearing the book content and reading it)

  5. * Large full colour e-ink screen, optimised for long periods of reading

    * Should read all non-DRM formats

    * Wireless connection with web browser (preferably Firefox) for accessing online ebook stores

    * RSS Feed Reader (because I want to read newspapers, magazines and blogs on my e-reader) which downloads all latest feed items for offline reading later.

    * Where there is no full-content RSS feed, a facility to automatically grab the page at the permalink and download (with graphics) for offline reading later.

    * the ability for me to add marginalia, notes and cross-referencing hyperlinks to all books in my library.

    * Reader software is Free Open Source Software on a Linux OS so that I’m not shackled to one company’s costly proprietary software.

    * Syncs with my desktop PC via USB if I want it to.

    * Support for audio and video so I can switch to listening to a podcast

  6. * Wireless, always-on, no subscription fee (in exchange for buying n titles per year)

    * Water-resistant (I don’t expect to be able to submerge it, but it should survive a few coffee spills)

    * Color e-ink, when it exists

    * Enough on-board storage to support “pushing” content to me that I might be interested in buying, such as the first chapter of a book

    * Should also push supplementary content for books that I’ve bought, such as notable reviews or author interviews

    * Once I buy it, I can re-download it many times, and get a discount for a print/POD version

    * If DRM is inevitable, the device should support multiple DRM formats, and of course every imaginable open format

    * Touch should be primary interface, but keyboard support too

  7. Personally, I’d agree with much of the above. However, the single most important thing that I’d like to see would be some way of sharing ebooks wirelessly – subject to appropriate permissions – with other reader users in range. In recent history books have always been social objects, which we discuss and lend to friends – and this could be replicated with ebooks where author and publisher choose to allow sharing of all or part of the book.

  8. Oh, and how about a reader that I can set to automatically update any of the social book services I use: Facebook Visual Bookshelf, Library Thing, Bkkeepr, etc.

  9. I’m not interested in a do-it-all device … I’m a fossil who prefers to have several do-it-well devices instead.

    224 double-sided leaves of e-paper, bound in cloth-covered plastic boards, and able to refresh simultaneously so that the result is a full (or significant part of a) browsable, readable book.

    Electronics and flash memory in the spine. Forget EVDO; synching with my laptop by Bluetooth would be good enough for me. Handles as many formats as possible.

    It’ll be a long time (a decade? more?) before that becomes practical, but I’m hoping it does.

  10. Mike Hendrickson

    I think we are pretty close with the Kindle. Add touchscreen capabilities similar to the iPhone, and lose the closed/proprietary formats for the content and we are even closer to ideal. Add the storage of a 40 gig iPod and nirvana is not too far off. I’d be a very happy camper if these wishes became reality.

  11. You know those ball-point pens that have 4 cartridges in them so you can press a button to switch from black to blue, red, or green ink? The ones that are about as thick as a kielbasa? Even if you have an urgent need to write in 4 different colors, how often are you in a situation where carrying 4 pens is impractical?
    That’s my beef with Kindles and all other varieties of e-books. If I want something that looks, feels, and functions like a book, I’ll get a book. Maybe 3 or 4 of them. If I want to take an encyclopedia’s worth of reading on the plane, I’ll put it on my laptop, which I’m going to carry anyway so I can have e-mail, spreadsheets, word processing, music, video, etc. Is “reading a magazine through a Web browser” really so bad?

  12. @Victor: I certainly have no beef with magazine *content* in a Web browser, but I’ve never been comfortable “flipping” through pages in a digital environment. Just doesn’t make sense to me, especially since the content is the draw, not the format.

    And I agree re: books — if I want a book experience, I’ll buy it.

  13. I also agree that the kindle is on the right track. There are a few wishes I have though:

    -Price. The price needs to drop by half — I think something around $200 would be acceptable.

    – Quirky design. I don’t appreciate the odd placement of some of the buttons, like the one you always hit that turns the page. Would be much nicer to have a touch sensitive screen with gestures, much like the iPhone. I also would ditch the keyboard, or at least make it a slider like on some cell phones.

    – Form factor. I would like the size to be a little bit larger, just a little. It would also be nice if we could have facing pages. By this I mean facing screens. This would allow a more book-like form factor and more importantly provide a means of protection. I don’t like leaving the screen exposed, closing it would be one solution.
    – Open. Of course, I too would like everything open, from the EDVO and wireless connectivity to the book providers and book formats. Also needs to be able to handle audio formats, including audio books, like those from Audible, as well as music.

    Just some of my wishes.

  14. In November I wrote a bit about the ebook readers that I hope we’ll end up with in The cheap commodity eBook reader of the future.


  15. Maybe I’m too far off into the future here, but I was surprised that nobody brought up what to me is the #1 requirement of the digital content device of the future: foldability. (Wireless connectivity and open formats and all those seem pretty much like no-brainers.)

    What about something that looks like a piece of 8.5 x 11 paper that you can crumple up to fit in your pocket, or fold down the middle to hold like a book, or lay out flat to project infinite amounts of content––whether it be books, web sites, applications, what have you? That’s what all the kids have in the fantasy books anyway, Marauder’s Maps and the like. I think fairy tales may be on to something, and it may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

    The first step was the thin, responsive, versatile touch screen––Apple just did that. Next, make it thin, flexible, and durable. This will solve the size conundrum that plagues all mobile devices and readers. (The question that’s left is input: keyboard? stylus? both might work with this.)

    Then we’ll really have something that can compete with books.

  16. ania said:
    > and it may not be as far-fetched as it seems.

    or maybe it is…


  17. In addition to the current perks of ereaders (e.g., e-ink, long battery life, portability, external media) I want:
    1. Wide, non-DRM format support (Adobe, that includes you).
    2. Responsive pen input that is easy to extract the notes onto the computer for backup.
    3. Search capability across multiple documents!
    4. Nice bonus: >8″ diagonal screen and/or color.
    Willing to pay $600 for this baby!

  18. I seem to be going in the opposite direction from all the rich people who want to pay hundreds of dollars for a single “laptop computer for reading e-books” device.

    For me – a bare-bones device that’ll read from an SD card full of .pdf’s and display them for me on a daylight-readable screen. No wireless or wired ethernet needed. No “automatically connect to Amazon.com to ‘buy’ books”. Just keep it cheap.

    That way, when the device wears out, breaks, is dropped, gets accidentally left behind, is stolen, etc., I’m only out, say, $50-75 and not $500 (and the original .pdf’s are safely at home on my server and/or backup CD’s, where they can be easily re-loaded onto the $50-75 e-book reader I buy to replace the old one).

    Alternatively, an inexpensive printing-and-binding machine would be nice…but I don’t think there’s any way to reasonably get the price of such a thing down below a few thousand dollars any time soon.

  19. My wish-list e-reader:

    folding clamshell or trifold (like a wallet)
    closed dimensions (approx): 12cm x 9cm
    open dimensions (approx): 18cm x 12cm
    (should be able to hold one-handed while reading)
    integrated table stand

    Color touchscreen.
    On-screen keyboard that autohides.
    Proofreading tools, notation, and search
    very few physical button (page up/down, menu, power)
    no stylus

    Cost-subsidized with subscription (book of month, magazine or news)

    Wifi, WiMax, EDGE or other method for wireless sub. updates & purchases
    USB connection port to sync with desktop, updates
    Removable media slot (SD card, etc)

    Unlimited. Support for ALL open specs (PDF, TXT, etc), proprietary formats and software upgrades to allow more formats.

    no real need for this to be a MP3 player, video device, PDA or phone. It’s supposed to replace a book. Web browsing functions could be included, but with a focus towards discovering e-reader content.

  20. Very Simple Design.

    One button for next page, One button for prev page, and One Button or click Wheel or Touch Screen for everything else. Optional external standard USB keyboards for more advanced needs (note taking/annotating). Comfortable to hold.

    Buy books with handheld, or online with any computer. Books/Magazines/Newspapers reside in account. Only temporarily on handheld.

    Ability to give away or sell books to other accounts. It will eventually be erased from handheld.

    Keep it simple!

  21. Ideal e-book:
    must have
    1 – must be able download full colour comic books & PDFs.
    2 – should be able to search multiple documents files in a go. Making researching easier.
    3 – touchscreen interaction.
    4 – must be able to interact with other computers and/or e-readers. Through wi-fi, SD card, or other.

    Full colour is great but hi-res B&W would be just as nice. That means white needs to be close to white, not just lighter gray.

    Some note taking features needed. But not necessary.

    Just like hard coded “next” and “previous” buttons are nice but not strictly needed or even wanted if the touch screen interface was used.

    Which could simply be a button under either side of the screen. But that really brings up the point – what is the price point of this gadget?

    It should be ideally under $200. That would truly make it the must have item.

    Ideally it should be open-source compliant so that others could write extensions and updates, that could also extend the product life as well.

  22. I tend to “interact” with books… take marginal notes, thoughts, and underline. Much of this is because the very vast majority of my reading is academic/research.

    Another major consideration is the ability to interface with journal databases (something like Papers ( http://mekentosj.com/papers/ )

    Also the ability to manage bibliographic data (Endnote, RefWorks etc.)

  23. I am a home educator. I have been trying to figure out where we can actually make these requests known! So thanks for the opportunity to speak on the matter… does this info go to anyone who helps engineer future products? 🙂

    Anyway, my request is this:
    1) The look and feel of a Kindle that kids and non-techie parents can use. (easy on the eyes, portable, intuitive)
    2) The ability to access all the free online book sites (Baldwin Project for Literature, Heritage History, Gutenberg Project, etc. etc.) — and simply read them “where they are” without having to download them, reformat them, email them, sync them, etc.
    3) Parental controls to limit internet access to an assigned reading list.
    4) A price that would allow me to buy one for each student!!!

  24. OK… reading all these comments after some time has passed is interesting, still i dont agree with many.

    I want to read a book, no high tech idiocy but i dont want to carry 10 books in my vacation or realise i forgot the one i want or that i wanted sumthin different and so on.

    so, it should be light
    usb is enough
    some internal memory and maybe a slot for a card
    screen of about 12/20cm… closest i can figure the 8″ screen would be just about the right size… not too small and not too big
    should take in popular formats like pdf, txt and such.
    some soft to allow basic configuration while connected to a comp
    no touch screen
    no fancy anything
    no mp3 player
    no wireless stuff