I love books but I also love gadgets. Is there room for both to live in perfect harmony? Amazon have been instrumental in promoting this black and white partnership up to now, with some effort from Sony. Now Barnes & Noble have entered the eBook fray with the nook – the first to feature an additional colour touchscreen.
There is something quite special about losing yourself in a book, allowing your brain to completely switch off from outside influence. Browsing the internet or watching television (no matter how mundane) never successfully achieves this. It is all too easy to succumb to distractions when indulging in modern multimedia pastimes.
In an environment where we are all expected to have the attention span of a Premier League footballer and a decreasing thirst for books, it is comforting to see digital media adding value to literature, rather than trying to kill it off. For the blind and partially sighted, these devices also signal increased independence with built in speakers or headphones and various text sizes maximising audio book and podcast use.
Barnes & Noble are a US-based on-and-offline book retailer who have just joined the growing eBook market. Amazon were the first to pioneer the concept with the Kindle (now in it’s second generation) but despite the online giant’s access to such a vast range of products, B&N are offering more than 1 million digital books, newspapers and magazines at launch, compared to 280,000 from Amazon.
All current eBook readers feature ‘digital paper’ (or E-Ink) – a monochrome screen without the need for backlighting and therefore resembling real paper and reducing eye strain. The nook supplements the main image with a smaller colour touchscreen at the base of the unit, used for scrolling through the on-board reading material (holding 1,500 eBooks as standard, expandable to 17,500 with a 16GB memory card) and accessing the virtual keyboard.
The nook speaks fluent Android to rival Apple’s Mobile OS but this does make it more flexible than the Kindle and will provide healthy competition. Other notable features include 3G and WiFi connectivity for accessing the Barnes & Noble online store to download new titles and the ability to ‘lend’ eBooks to friends using a nook, iPhone, iPod Touch, Blackberry, PC or Mac.
If you want to give your nook the personal touch, a selection of coloured backs and outer cases are available to distance your new purchase from other early-adopters.
So where next for eBooks? With Apple poised to launch their new media viewer, the iPad (or similar) early next year, the market is likely to be whipped into a frenzy along the same lines as the mobile revolution following the launch of the iPhone. The key difference here, and Apple’s strong USP, is convergence. Why carry a separate eBook reader, video player, iPod, web-browser and gaming device around with you when you can have one that combines all this cutting-edge technology?
Another triumph for Apple will be in the simplicity of its user interface and the integration of the already well-established App and iTunes Stores for easy access to books, newspapers, magazines, video, music and the internet. Rather than 16 levels of grey, the iPad will feature a beautiful colour multi-touch screen turning the publishing world on its head, with reference books and periodicals becoming interactive portals to additional immersive content and marketing opportunities.
Following Apple’s benchmark of high production values, ergonomic simplicity and ‘i want one’ design cues, the new unit will not want to hide away in a case but will make its presence felt by sheer weight of numbers as the buying public helps make the iPad part of the fabric of our society.
If I were in the market for an eBook reader now (and I lived in the US as it’s not available here yet), I’d go for the nook as it injects a sense of character into what is currently a dry market. However, I’m holding on for Apple’s next big thing – watch this space...