Blog Category: ebooks

Obviously wrong

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So Microsoft is suing Barnes & Noble for patent infringement. Well, that’s what patents are for: the right to sue. And that’s what licenses are for: the right to avoid getting sued. The only thing is, if you’re going to sue someone with half a brain, you should at least make sure your patent is reasonably solid.

With that said, one of the patents that Microsoft claims that Nook is violating deals with annotating documents, an area I know a bit about. The patent, filed in December 1999, claims a system and method to associate annotations with a non-modifiable document. The idea is that file positions in the document associated with user-selected objects are used to retrieve annotations from some other location, and to display these annotations for the user.

Sounds obvious, no? So obvious, in fact, that when we built such a system in 1997, we didn’t bother patenting this.

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Google eBooks

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So Google has unveiled its eBook store, setting itself up to compete with Amazon, Barnes&Noble, and everyone else selling books. Google offers its editions through the browser and on a range of devices such as Android phones and the iPad. The reading experience on the browser on my laptop was OK: not great, but the text was legible enough, and would even switch to a two-page layout in a wide window. On the iPad, Google offers two choices: the browser, and a free app. The browser interface implements a swipe gesture for page turning, although there is no visible indication that it’s possible, nor any visual feedback until the page flips. The iPad app sports an animated page turning transition, but does not have a two-page mode.

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Kno news is good news

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Kno has announced the specs, price, and availability dates for its slate computers designed for the academic market. According to the Kno web site, the one- and two-screen devices will be available in the US on December 20th. The one screen device with 16GB ram will cost $599 for students, and the two screen device will cost $899. 32GB versions will be $699 and $999, respectively. These devices feature both a touch screen and a stylus, and come with some pre-loaded applications, including a textbook reader that handles annotations, a notebook, and a web browser. There are provisions for third-party developers to deploy other apps, which will be written in Javascript: “We’re powered by the WebKit browser engine, so if you can build a website, you can build a Kno app.”

It’s interesting to consider how this device, designed for a specific vertical, stacks up against its obvious competitor, the iPad.

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eBook evolution

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The diversity of tablet-based textbook and ebook devices seems to be increasing of late. The success of the iPad seems to have emboldened hardware manufacturers (e.g., Sharp, Dell, NEC, etc.) to announce a number of similar devices for the Android platform. In addition, there has been some competition in the software textbook space (e.g., CourseSmart, Inkling, etc.).

Another interesting development is the approach taken by  Kno: The Kno device is a prototype textbook device that seems to be designed around explicit feedback from students about how they use textbooks. It hasn’t been released yet (I couldn’t even figure out much about the hardware and OS that it will be running), but some things are clear: Kno is an integrated hardware/software platform aimed at high school and college students’ use of textbooks. It has been announced in a two-screen and a one-screen version.

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Playbook

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“Hey Mike we’ve decided to develop a new product!”

“Hmm, I don’t know…”

“Don’t worry, it’s taken directly from Apple’s playbook.”

“Neat! what should we call it?”

Parts of a vision

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IDEO released a concept video of three ebook-related designs: one (code-named Nelson) for reading and analyzing data, one (Coupland) for managing the social context of reading, and one (Alice) for interactive hypertext fiction. While these themes are certainly relevant to computer-mediated reading, the video breaks little new ground.

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There is no Ink in Inkling

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Inkling is an iPad textbook app through which textbooks books can be purchased, read, and annotated. It has a pleasant user interface, and (as of this writing) a small collection of what look like high school or intro college level textbooks on a range of topics. This content seems to have been either developed, or heavily adapted, for the iPad app. This makes for a smooth reading experience, loosely anchored on the book metaphor. In addition to reading per se, the app offers some standard navigation and annotation features, but these are works in progress.

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The dynamic Duo

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According to ubergizmo.com, Dell demonstrated an iPad-sized tablet device with a fold-out keyboard that runs Windows 7 at the Intel developer forum. While convertible tablets running a Windows OS are nothing new, it’s a bit surprising that Dell is starting to market one right now to compete with the iPad.

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App as silo

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A little while ago I wrote about the lack of details in reports of iPad/eBook use for education; I am happy to point to an article that gets it right. Joel Mathis surveyed some recent efforts by universities to use the iPad to replace some more traditional educational materials. He reported on some specific apps that one university was considering using (although the textbook app by ScrollMotion appears to be in development, as I wasn’t able to find any details on this app other than the Februrary 2010 announcements. According to another article, the tool would integrate multimedia textbooks with note-taking and other features. Does that mean that the notes would be attached to the textbook app, or could they be exported and integrated with notes on other materials?

This is a specific instance of a more general pattern of data use on the iPad: with each app holding on to its own data, it’s difficult to see how to manage notes and annotations across several applications that are required for one’s studies or work.

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Deus XLibris

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For about 20 years the cast of Mystery Science Theater 3000 has been entertaining science fiction fans with funny commentaries of bad movies. The concept is strangely simple: mad scientists (at various times: Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Frank Conniff and Mary Jo Pehl) have launched a man (Joel Hodgeson and later Michael J. Nelson) into space and are forcing him to watch the worst movies ever made. To keep his sanity, the unfortunate spaceman and his robot friends (at various times: Beaulieu, Weinstein, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Jim Mallon) make fun of these movies. The original show was canceled about 10 years ago but most of the people involved are still riffing on cheesy movies – “the worst they can find”.

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