Blog Archive: 2010

Et tu, Nook?

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After a round of price reductions, Nook has now joined Amazon Kindle in offering a software application to read books on Android devices. I take this as more evidence in support of my earlier assertion that dedicated book reading hardware is not useful for customer who also carry other  devices such as smart phones or tablets, and that multi-purpose devices will win out in the not-so-distant future.

Listen to the students

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Recently, I came across an interesting article on students’ attitudes to reading online vs. in textbooks. The article appeared  in the Nieman Reports, published by the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard. Esther Wojcicki, a teacher, relates her students’ reactions to being asked to read online. She reports that

…early in the school year many of these students had written a fiery editorial about e-textbooks in their social studies classes. In part it read, “… online textbooks hinder study habits and force the use of computers. … and are detrimental to learning and inconvenient.” The editorial concluded with these words: “If the school wishes to cultivate the use of e-books, it should at the very least offer students the option to continue using the old, hardcover books.”

The teacher thought that six months of use of online reading devices (she doesn’t say which, but I am assuming that a Kindle device was involved, since she says that this happened before the iPad was released) would accustom students to the new medium. She was wrong.

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Kindle’s fate

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Last week I made a handshake bet that Amazon will stop selling the Kindle device in a year’s time. Today I am putting it in writing. Amazon will stop selling its devices for several reasons: because the margins are higher on books, because ultimately people won’t want to have multiple, specialized devices with significantly-overlapping functions, and because the devices themselves are quite limited.
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UW Kindle study results

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The University of Washington was one of several universities participating in Amazon’s pilot study of the Kindle DX to see whether the Kindle DX served as a suitable replacement for students’ textbooks. About 40 CSE students enrolled in a dozen Computer Science courses participated in the study. A number of articles published last summer (e.g., Forbes ) touted the advantages of the device for students, citing lower weight and cost compared to the paper editions of the same textbooks.

The results, unsurprisingly, were disappointing.

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iAnnotate revisited

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A couple of weeks ago I wrote about iAnnotate, a document annotation app for the iPad. On Friday, the folks who develop the app left a comment on the blog enumerating some of the changes made to program. In addition to redesigning the document view, the most significant change made it easier to import documents. Now not only can you download documents through a dedicated server that you run on the network (I run it on my laptop) but also from an integrated web browser. This makes it easy to collect PDF files and then to switch back to the reading mode of iAnnotate to read the newly-downloaded documents.

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Kindle vs. iPad

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In many ways, the iPad represents very different point in the design space of hand-held devices for reading. Whereas the Kindle is geared toward a low-power, book-like experience, the iPad is positioned closer to high end (but currently too heavy) slate computers. It is designed for richer interaction, for color, for animation and video, all the things that were discarded in the Kindle design for the sake of a longer battery life and less weight.

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Learning from eBooks

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Some time ago I wrote about reports of books being replaced by electronic devices for academic reading. My take was that this kind of techno-utopianism will not improve the quality of education because the current crop of devices is not designed for active reading. This hypothesis was put the test recently at Princeton and four other universities. At Princeton, 53 students in three courses participated in an experiment where they were asked to use a Kindle device for course-work related reading. Results reported by the Daily Princetonian indicate that while the amount of in-course printing dropped by about 50%, students complained about a variety of limitations of using these devices for course work. Not surprisingly,

…users said they often found its design ill-suited for class readings. Students and faculty participating in the program said it was difficult to highlight and annotate PDF files and to use the folder structure intended to organize documents, according to University surveys. The inability to quickly navigate between documents and view two or more documents at the same time also frustrated users.

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