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.

Drawing only on Kno’s description, here is my sense of the pros and cons compared with the iPad:

Advantages of Kno

  • Good integration between reading and note-taking applications
  • Notebook app designed specifically for active reading
  • A stylus designed for writing

Advantages of iPad

  • Light-weight: 1.5 vs. 2.6 pounds for the single-screen Kno; dual-screen is 5.6 pounds.
  • Longer battery life: 9-10 hours of use vs. about 6 hours for the Kno
  • More applications

Unknowns

It’s unclear how the Kno application development framework will stack up against the iPad. JavaScript development makes it easy for Kno, but doesn’t necessarily make it easy to create appropriate interfaces. For example, will there be built-in support for inking? Will it be possible to share data among applications, so that, for example, one could write an app that used the presence of annotations in a textbook to launch searches using associated terms? Will it be possible to analyze or present data from the notebook in a novel way?

The iPad development model is well-understood, and some of these data integration ideas are precluded by design. On the other hand, it’s possible to build sophisticated, elegant interfaces for the iPad, that may be difficult to rival in JavaScript. The other advantage of the iPad is scale — the large deployed base creates obvious incentives for developers to produce affordable (if not free) software. The Kno market will likely be much smaller: it’s aimed at a vertical that doesn’t feature particularly rich consumers, and the total number of users is likely to be smaller for the foreseeable future.

7 Comments

  1. I’m anxiously awaiting reviews to see how well active reading does fare on the Kno. So far from the website it’s not even obvious that PDF and EPUB are supported (though with the WebKit browser, those can be fudged).

  2. Their focus seems to be on textbooks, so they ought to be able to either do format conversion or handle some common formats. The site seemed to suggest that textbooks were displayed without distortion, which suggests some kind of a page-oriented (as opposed to HTML) data format.

    We’ll see soon enough!

  3. Sashikanth says:

    Your typo scared me for a second, 16g of ram for 599$ sounds like a steal.

  4. Sorry, it’s not RAM. Call it storage.

  5. Mark Taormino says:

    I actually received a demonstration of the Kno reader during the week at CES in Las Vegas. The note taking and annotation functionality was very impressive. The writing with a stylus was natural and nearly instantaneous. It was the best annotating functionality I’ve used yet in an electronic device. I liked it much better than the iPad. It was too hard to determine just how fast navigation would be overall given it was a demo piece of hardware. The device seemed fast enough not to be distracting, but not as fast as the iPad.

    A couple of things I did not like. One, the ability to pinch and zoom in/out was not present. Not being able to zoom pdf documents for me, is a killer. So many pdf docs require zooming to read clearly, I cannot imagine not having this functionality. Kno claimed an update in the Spring would address this issue.

    One caveat to the superb annotation functionality was the users have to purchase the textbooks through Kno. One can upload books to the device purchased elsewhere, but then the annotation functionality would not be present. Kno takes content and formats it for their device which includes the ability to annotate on screen. I don’t fault Kno for the business model, but locking into a single content provider might be worrisome for students and education leaders. But on the other hand, Amazon has done well with their Kindle format, so who knows. I would just feel more comfortable as a potential user having options for digital content purchases.

    Despite the weight of the two screen device, I really liked it for the ability to read side by side documents, and the ease in which documents could be switched between the two screens. Alternatively, there as a single screen model as well for those wanted a bit less heft. However, it’s just my opinion that the two screen offers more around the ability to work effectively with academic texts, that it is worth the extra size. At the end of the day, I still think a 5 pound device with a huge library is not bad when compared to a 20 pound backpack. I personally would go for the dual screen model because of the dramatic increase in utility when studying.

    That’s my 2 cents about what I saw. We’ll have to wait and see if the marketing of the device proves fruitful and advances the industry. I think for education, they have introduced a device that is uniquely tailored to student needs, and the concepts of active reading. I was very glad to see a device manufacturer focused on key aspects of active reading and the unique needs of students. I wish them well.

  6. Thanks Mark!

    That’s a nice review. I am sorry to learn that annotation is limited to textbooks. It seems useful to annotate a wider variety of content. It’s also not clear to me whether third-party developers can add that kind of functionality, given that the plugin programming environment is JavaScript running in a WebKit browser.

    But, as you suggest, it is a step in the right direction. As to the one-vs-two screen issue, I wonder if two screens would be necessary if the device could share data with a desktop machine so that additional monitors could be used as peripheral displays.

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