CS/UX: E-Readers

Let me start out on some personal commentary on E-Readers:

The world has not managed to make the e-reader that I really want. And I find this strange, because it seems to me that the e-reader I really want is the obvious thing to make.

My demands:

  • The size of a large paperback book (you know, like when you get the expensive paperbacks from Vintage) with no chrome on the sides at all – it should look essentially like a piece of paper
  • Enough heft to feel like I’m holding something (not so much it’s a hassle to carry around)
  • No back-lighting or conditional back-lighting. I want to be able to read in sunlight. Mainly I don’t want light shining into my eyes as I read, it hurts after a little while.
  • No excess 4 layers of menus. It should automatically come up with one of two things: my list of books or my current text. There should be a way to get to the other settings and such, but don’t automatically drop me there. seriously. (other settings should be getting new books, changing the way the device operates, connecting to the internet, and looking through my file system
  • Download books over wifi (through google books, not some proprietary locked-up service) – bonus points for running android and other apps
  • Let me put my own files on it, and be able to read them correctly

And then the things that I want but are less stupid-obvious to make happen.

  • Fast! Faster screen refresh, faster processing. And I know we can mock up some of these things in software.
  • New e-ink technology. Color is sort of icing, but what I actually care about is so much higher contrast than the tech we have now.
    I only know the basics of how various displays are built, but I feel like we would have some luck using more-reflective beads (functioning like mirrors) to heighten the contrast in e-ink.
  • Some interactive ability, especially text entry *without* putting a keyboard on the device

It’s a shame, because it looks like e-ink is working so much harder to get low-contrast color, than they are to improve the actual readability of their screens.

Now, color is nice, and it could actually help them improve the readability of their screens, but I just can’t read something that is gray on slightly lighter gray. And other people will agree with me. But I’d like the solution not to be LCDs winning (see ipad) because there is a very good use case for reflective rather than illuminated screens.

E-ink also just isn’t developing new tech fast enough. I know that sounds whiny, but it’s true. The market is emerging in droves for what is essentially screens you can hold in your hand.

Last comment – if E-ink can up the contrast without too much cost overhead, I am certainly hoping for ubiquitous low-power displays replacing billboards/street ads/announcement and notice postings, printed menus and basically everything else we have to print out knowing we’re going to throw it out in a week and immediately replace it with a different printed thing.

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