Friday, 13 November 2015

The ultimate e-reader?

The Good E-Reader is aiming to produce an 'ultimate' e-reading device, running Android, that offers all the premium features desired by dedicated e-readers. However, the product concept puts forward a device that already exists - albeit through niche and lesser known sellers. Icarus, Onyx, Hanvon  and Boyue, for example, all offer open Android firmware on dedicated e-readers. Another point is that Android, in my opinion, is not suitable for an an e-ink device. Most dedicated e-reader applications, available through Google Play, are designed for tablets and e-ink refresh rates render the use of these applications bothersome, to say the least. Also, the proposed device misses the point in regards to firmware - the problem with re-branded e-readers from Chinese manufacturers (sold by, for example, Icarus and Onyx), before the adoption of Android, was poor functionality and an overly complicated and unintuitive interface.

To develop an 'ultimate e-reader' requires not only the bulk ordering of hardware with premium specifications, but also, more importantly, the development of dedicated firmware that would compare and even surpass the experience available on the Kindle. This is problematic as Amazon offers a user experience that is difficult to match - this includes everything from extensive cloud syncing, send-to-Kindle and free conversion to mobi file format. However, there is a workaround to this through the integration of third-party applications into an operating system; this may include existing cloud storage services such as Evernote, Onenote and Dropbox. For example, Kobo offers the option to send web articles to their devices through Pocket, though this lacks the all-round versatility of Amazon's send to Kindle features. The point here is that Android is not a platform that works with e-ink; dedicated e-reading devices require the development of firmware that makes use of the unique strengths of e-ink, while considering its current limitations.

I do think the project of an 'ultimate e-reader' is a good idea but it needs something more extensive and collaborative. May be an alternative direction would be to crowd fund, at first, a project to develop a dedicated operating system for e-readers. Delivering on this means whatever iteration follows from this 'ultimate e-reader' would already have an existing firm basis. The trajectory of Android, as a mobile operating system, and its uses by other manufacturers for their own purposes, demonstrates this. Ultimately, this would be a bigger project but something that is sustainable beyond a one-off premium e-reader; further it may offer variety, in the future, beyond six inch devices that dominate at the moment. Of course, this does not solve the problem of cost that comes with ordering hardware for larger devices but it might, at least, kick-start the process for an initial six inch reader. If this synergistic experiment of both excellent firmware and hardware works, then this may be expanded to larger e-readers.

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