There has been more news on eBook hardware front recently. Microsoft is floating a two-screen device idea reminiscent of Nick Chen‘s thesis work that he has published in part in CHI 2008. The video is worth watching. The rendering of the MS ‘Courier’ device is slick, but at this point no specs are available. A UX mockup video shows some nice ideas, but it is not clear how much of this will survive in the product. And of course it will need to compete with the Apple tablet, whether that thing materializes.
The device is meant to compete with Amazon’s Kindle, for which purpose IREX has partnered with Barnes&Noble and Verizon. Although the device should be able to handle personal PDF documents, it does not have a Wi-Fi link, but only a 3G connection via Verizon. It is not clear at the moment whether it comes with a cable (USB?) through which documents could be downloaded.
It’s screen size is probably good enough (8.1 inches, 1024×768 pixels, 16 shades of gray) for many documents, and once the software allows the same kind of annotation capability that the Iliad had, it may become a useful stepping stone to a reading appliance for the office, not just an e-book device for leisure reading. Some of the requirements for reading in the office include freeform annotation, full-text search, a color display, and cross-document reading ability. IREX seems to be positioning itself to enter this market, and has announced a 10.2 inch, full-color device due out in 2011. It will be interesting to see if its software development keeps up with its hardware. The Iliad was good for annotation, but had poor search and cross-document reading support.
One thing to note is that these devices can act as general computing devices, rather than as dedicated e-book readers. The MS ‘Courier’ design clearly demonstrates a range of features based loosely on the Tablet OS and OneNote. The Apple iTablet is rumored to be a cross between a laptop and an iPod. The Iliad uses a linux OS, which should allow third parties to develop other applications for this platform; presumably the IREX RB800 will have the same capabilities. This is consistent with some of the feedback we got from interviews around XLibris in which people said they were reluctant to carry both an eBook device and a laptop. The design challenge remains in managing the combination of affordances characteristic of reading and writing.