What is an e-book (ebook)?
An e-book, (electronic book), provides the content of a book in an electronic form. An e-book can be viewed on a computer or in device especially designed for reading e-books. Such devices tend to be tablet type or hand held device (PDA).
As you talk or search information about e-books (ebooks) be aware that people tend to use the term "e-book" loosely sometimes to name the file or computer programs that can be read with reader software. Other times they call the hardware devises the "e-book". Presently, most people call e-books the content file as there are less hardware devices that are made only for reading e-books and the ones that are made for that purpose are addressed by their brand such as the Kindle.
While many people still prefer to flip paper pages, e-books do have advantages which will improve as technology improves.
- Currently e-books offer the advantage of portability. You can have many volumes of books in a computer or PDA. You probably could not physically carry that many paper books but in the e-format portability is not an issue.
- E-books offer the ability to bookmark pages so you can easily return to where you left off, highlight text and erase highights, and write notes and erase them.
- E-books offer search or find features making them efficient to use
- Some e-books can have built in dictionaries so you can click on words to find out the meaning.
- Some e-books can be multimedia friendly including pictures and animations, as well as, video and audio clips
E-books cannot be immediately accessed if you don't have a device to view them in, such as a computer, hand held device (PDA), or a e-book reader.
E-books are not comparable to paper books in the physical dimensions and feel to which we have gotten very accustomed. The challenge for e-books is not just technical is psychological. Some e-book formats are getting closer to challenging the traditional concept of a book but we are not quite there.
Not all e-books have intuitive highlighting, note taking, and bookmarking although most do and are improving.
Not all e-books have "clear type" or other readability enhancing technology.
E-Ink based e-books are still only available in black and white. Color e-ink is coming but not yet in the market.
What kind of E-book hardware is there?
E-books can be read in any computer and on hand held devices such as PDAs. These devices were not designed specifically for e-book reading but perform well with the appropriate software installed in them. Microsoft Reader, Adobe Reader, and Mobipocket are some of the software that run in these devices.
E-books can also be read in devises specifically designed as e-book readers. These devices are comparable to books themselves but can store many books or even a library, and play back their media. They also have improved screens for better readability.
New e-book hardware is being tested and some has been brought to the market by Sony and Amazon. The new hardware makes use of Phillips and E-Ink technology. Screens are thin, are very energy efficient (long use between recharges), and are very readable due to E-Ink. The E-Ink technology simulates the texture of a printed page on the flexible screen. These combined improvements part of the long awaited breakthrough. In addition, Amazon has added great functionality to their e-book called the Kindle.
The computers, hand held devices, and e-book readers all have to be connected to the internet to download the e-books.
Paper vs. Electronic...whats in the future?
For some time people have predicted that e-books would take over from their paper counterparts, yet, the change has not happened. Some blame the technology that in the past did not provide enough readability but the issue seems to be more cultural and generational than technical. Younger people are more comfortable with the devices and reading from screens while older individuals prefer paper even when the features of the e-book mimic every aspect of the paper books (bookmarks, note taking, highlighting, etc.)
While years ago they had predicted that by now we would all using e-books, it is clear now that paper books will be around for a long tome to come, yet, that does not mean the e-book market will not grow. On the contrary, it is and will expand as customers get more used to the format. Some indication of this in seen in the large book retailers offering "peeks" of the e-book format before you buy the paper product. In some cases they also provide you with access to the e-book so you can start reading it right away even before the paper book gets delivered to you. As more customers use this format they might slowly start moving towards e-books and away from paper.
E-Ink technology, flexible screens, and improved readability will help make e-books much more attractive in the near future. Yet a concern remains that the technology now being developed has the goal of making the e-books look and feel as paper-like as possible. Yet, the new generation is not attracted to the paper media as much as they are to electronic and interactive media. Perhaps the current trend to use high tech to imitate the long lived paper book is indeed an important but generational phenomenon. Time will be the judge.
What are the e-book formats?
Some software and formats are more flexible than others. Microsoft Reader, an open format reader, works with books from other formats. Microsoft Reader now offers "Clear Type" which is designed to improve readability on LCD monitors. This format also supports copy protection something of vital importance to protect copyright and support viable business models.
Closed formats are GemStar and Rocketbooks, for example, lock the use into their software. Some, including this author, hope that these closed formats fail as they have only caused delays in the expansion of e-book use.
Currently the most popular formats are Microsoft Reader, Acrobat Reader, and Mobipocket. Here you can see an e-book reader comparison. In all cases the reader software must be installed before the device can display the e-book.
Information and links to e-book software providers:
- Microsoft Reader uses ClearType which is more readable than traditional computer text. The reader also has control over its contrast. Microsoft reader complements its ClearType with a very readable page format. Microsoft Reader provides a good user experience as it offers bookmarking, good and easy to use note taking, and highlighting of text. In addition it provides book reading and great compatibility with mobile devices.
- XplanaBook is a Flash-based media book platform that transforms traditional textbooks into integrated learning experiences for students. XplanaBook has advanced tools including bookmakring, note taking, and highlighting. It's Flash interface allows for vector graphics so one can zoom in and out of the page without pixilation or degradation.
- NXTbooks open in a standard web browser. NXTbooks require no downloading, are delivered immediately to the browser and work on both the PC and MAC platforms. NXTbooks combine text, images, animation, sounds and videos into a single media-rich document, which is read like any printed publication. Among other things, NXTbooks allow bookmarking and note taking. NXTbooks does not allow highlighting. This product makes it possible to very closely match the "E" and "Print" version of a book.
- Acrobat eBook Reader provides reading similar to that we are used to in PDFs. It makes it possible to match the "E" and "Print" versions of a book but it is disappointing that Acrobat did not include the nice features of the competitors listed above. No highlighting and cumbersome notes are some of the weaknesses.
- The Kindle, read move about in the following sections.
How does e-book Copy Protection work?
When you install the software you register with Microsoft via their web site. This process also generates a code that is embedded in the program you have installed. When you download and e-book it is stamped with the same code of your reader so only your computer and that reader can read the e-book. This is a very important feature. Protection will guarantee publishers will come into the e-book market.
E-books... where do we go from here?
E-books have come a long way and many are available today as can be evidenced via a simple web search, yet, e-books have suffered from the format wars and the psychological attachment we have with the printed page. As users realize the benefits of portability and that e-books will bring features not available in traditional books, the momentum will shift.
Another influencing factor will be users' realization that they don't need to have special devices to read e-books and that the enhancements, such as "Clear Type", make e-books much more appealing to the eye. In the meantime you can expect the shake up of the e-book industry to continue, especially for those with proprietary formats.
Some encouraging news comes from companies such as Everybook Inc and E-Ink. Everybook Inc has been doing studies about how people read books and are trying to develop devices to match. Some of the devices have two pages (LCD panels) to mimic the traditional book. Others, rather than building hardware to mimic the traditional book are trying to do the same with software. An example is ebookstarter.com
E-Ink, on the other hand has been working on readability issues and now has a vastly improved system that give the reader the feel of peper-like texture for the e-book. Lets hope this exciting new technology matures.
What is the Kindle?
It is an e-book product of a merger of technologies including:
- a content format
- a reader hardware format
- Internet technology
- mobile phone technology
- Books, journals and other content to be read in the Kindle need to be converted into the Kindle format. The process produces the pages, provides the correct fonts, creates menus from the table of content, and processes images.
- The user need to have a Kindle device. This device was built to include an e-Inc screen that is not only highly readable, but it is also very energy efficient as it doesn't utilize a back light. The device also has enough memory to store hundreds of e-books, journals and other content. It also accepts memory card for even more storage.
- The Kindle as access to Internet technology so it can not only store your books, newspapers, journals, and magazines, but it can also allow you to read blogs and other rss content.
- The mobile phone technology makes it possible for the Kindle to operate without the need of a computer connection as was the case with prior devices. Kindle it truly a stand-alone device. Books an other content get delivered to it automatically via the mobile phone technology without user intervention. Basically if you buy a Kindle e-book or subscribe to a Kindle compatible newspaper it will just come to your Kindle as soon as you hit the purchase button or the newspaper is ready in the morning.
Note: I'm not linking you to Amazon because I want to sell you something, I have no vested interest in this. You are being linking there because Amazon developed the Kindle. On their site you will see nice images and video explaining the product.
What is next for the Kindle?
The current first generation Kindle is cool but it has critics. Some of the criticism is obviously due to the lack of color. The color version is anxiously awaited. Other people criticize the plastic look of the interface but that is probably the easiest thing to improve on. Perhaps beyond that the next step if even greater integration of technology so one can use it as a phone, video conferencing device via 3G, more powerful browsing and Flash compatibility. This list can get very long but the current Kindle is a great start and Amazon deserves the credit of having see the Sony e-book, spotted its weaknesses, the major one of which was the need for a computer connection to download content, and improved it to make the Kindle a generation of it own.