New E-Book Reader
March 24, 2004 10:01 AM   Subscribe

E-paper to make its consumer debut. A little Cambridge, MA firm called E-Ink is teaming up with 2 global partners (Philips and Sony) to introduce next month "the world's first consumer application of an electronic paper display module." The size of a paperback book, it will allow storage of the equivalent of 500 books, and display of up to 10,000 pages on a single set of batteries. The display technology comes closer to the appearance of a printed page than any previous electronic display. The future of this technology: "'expressive surfaces'-intelligent displays that are built right into everyday products." At the research level it is already capable of displaying color video.
posted by beagle (29 comments total)
I want one....
posted by SealWyf at 10:10 AM on March 24, 2004

Already thinking about all of the book moving costs my fiance and I would save if we had a couple of these puppies. I'm just blown away by it.
posted by BurnedEve at 10:34 AM on March 24, 2004

I am not interested in this product, even though I read dozens of books every year. However, it will unquestionably replace virtually all technically oriented paper product out there. Then it will go on to replace the printed novel and non-fiction book for the general reader. And the world, as I love it, will end.
posted by Faze at 10:46 AM on March 24, 2004

No so, Faze, in the same way that the iPod and the Walkman have not replaced the home stereo. There is a real need for a portable library of this sort, but it won't replace the book-library, which does not need its batteries changed. And it certainly won't replace the magazine-that-can-be-read-in-the-bathtub.

As for technically-oriented paper product, consider how much of that has already been replaced by PDF files. Technical paper has always been a special case.
posted by SealWyf at 10:56 AM on March 24, 2004

I very much like the idea of this (and I'm a printed-book collector as well).

However, my fear is that by the time the technology is widely distributed, it'll be so super-proprietary and DRM-ified that its full potential won't be realized.

And looking at the photos of the device on the site, it looks like printed books still have a much more intuitive interface and a lower rate of malfunction--they're not going anywhere.
posted by Prospero at 11:00 AM on March 24, 2004

We've been hearing about how this is just around the corner for how many years now? I'm excited to hear it's finally happening and bitter as fuck that it's coming out in Japan. Dammit. I want one.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 11:01 AM on March 24, 2004

No so, Faze, in the same way that the iPod and the Walkman have not replaced the home stereo.

For some people, their portable music player, such as an iPod, has replaced their home stereo just as some people, their mobile phone has replaced their landline phone.

And just like the people who do a total transition to portable music players or mobiles, people who transition to e-books will have a whole set of unforeseen issues to deal with: DRM problems, sale or loss of their device, reading in electronics-hostile environments (many of which, like the bathtub, aren't very friendly to paper anyway!), etc.

Already thinking about all of the book moving costs my fiance and I would save if we had a couple of these puppies.

True enough, but think of the cost of buying all those e-book versions of your paper books! Until there's some very cheap consumer book scanning devices, or maybe consumer-market priced scanning services, won't it remain much easier to rip a CD than to transfer a book to an e-book at home, legalities aside?
posted by Stoatfarm at 11:11 AM on March 24, 2004

I feel like I've been time-warped back to 1999.

How is this different (conceptually, I realize the technology has advanced) from the failed e-books of the past?

I'm not being snarky, I'd like to know what people think. I wanted one then, and I still want this to be a reality, but last time people ignored them in droves. Are the technical upgrades going to make the difference?
posted by o2b at 11:22 AM on March 24, 2004

Who do I have to kill to get one of these?
posted by Grod at 11:29 AM on March 24, 2004

o2b Yes, the technical upgrades make all the difference. If you read the articles you'll see that these are actually ink/pigment based systems, the pixel density is two or three times an lcd display, the surface is reflective like paper (rather than back lit) making it readable anywhere paper is readable. In addition, the power consumption is tiny. The difference between reading this and a book, at least in terms of how it treats the eyes, should be miniscule. Compare that to LCD displays and this is the biggest advance since Gutenberg printed his bible.
posted by Grod at 11:33 AM on March 24, 2004

o2b ,
Difference? It's not lcd and seems like printed words on paper. I have not seen them in real life, but I did stumble on some video footage of it once (can't find it now). It looked so much different than the floating lcd dots that make up lcd ebooks.
posted by tomplus2 at 11:33 AM on March 24, 2004

Now just take this device, add wireless access for email and internet text feeds, basic pda functions, and get the hell out of my way. Thats why prior ebooks failed. They wanted to only be ebooks. If you can make it an ebook/pda/wireless box that works at starbux you might sell a few. Its all about making the computer thingy do only what you really need it to and having it be as reliable as a toaster.

I would pay to download books. I have been waiting for this special ink tech and the wireless newspaper subscription for years. I think the big deal about this thing is the super low power draw and the readability. People haven't like reading from LCDs. If it reads just like newspaper, will it work? We'll see.

And honestly, I think every publisher around would be more than willing to make an ebook version available for download. Why not? Very little cost, huge profit margin.

I agree with everyone who says... Where's mine?
posted by jopreacher at 11:37 AM on March 24, 2004

Looks good, but I agree with Prospero - the technology is going to be buried under so many layers of DRM that it will end up being nearly useless.
posted by letitrain at 11:48 AM on March 24, 2004

yeah, just like those iPods. remember those?
posted by badstone at 11:50 AM on March 24, 2004

You can start with Faze, since the world as he loves it is ending anyway.
posted by strangeleftydoublethink at 12:00 PM on March 24, 2004

I wonder how durable the "screen" is. I'd love to see this developed into a tablet/digital sketchbook.
posted by Sangre Azul at 12:21 PM on March 24, 2004

I have a feeling that the DRM on this and any future eBook will not survive for long when faced with hordes of hackers desperate to upload plaintext onto them.

I've seen E-Ink products in real life - the contrast is great and the resolution is perfect for reading. If this thing retails for $300 or less (and I see no reason why it shouldn't) then it should do very well.
posted by adrianhon at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2004

I prefer reading books on real paper.

However, there are a million books or more online that would be awesome to read with this device that are not available in paper format.
posted by stbalbach at 12:32 PM on March 24, 2004

How is this different (conceptually, I realize the technology has advanced) from the failed e-books of the past?

I think that o2b's question makes a good point. I was an early Apple Newton user, still a huge fan of that device, but I have to admit that by "jumping the gun" before technology was ready in terms of display, weight, size, handwriting recognition, etc. the Newton may have set back the PDA in some consumer's perceptions, so that when Palm and others came along, the response from some people was "oh no, this again?".
posted by Stoatfarm at 12:36 PM on March 24, 2004

According to this post at Slashdot, the price of the eBook will be $400 and subscribing to the e-book service costs $5-10/month. Purchasing single books will cost 350 yen, about $3.25.
posted by adrianhon at 12:42 PM on March 24, 2004

I'm skeptical, too, considering how long we've been waiting for this (flying cars, anyone)? Yet, this past week I had an odd experience: I was using an e-magazine reader (Zinio?) with my keyboardless Tablet PC... and liking it.

As a fan of newsprint and pulp, I was as surprised as anyone. It might be too late for us, but I'm thinking, maybe by my daughter's time, reading on paper might seem as quaint as, I don't know, handwritten letters are to some today.
posted by pzarquon at 1:03 PM on March 24, 2004

Yes, but when I can start giving out illustrated Primers?.
posted by phyrewerx at 1:45 PM on March 24, 2004

$400.00 is too high for the device. I'm thinking that the price would have to be way under $100.00 to catch on. Say like $29.99. Also, it would have to pass the "oops! I dropped it" test at least 100 times before I'd be interested.

By the way, assuming those conditions could be met, I'd buy one in a heartbeat. i've been waiting for this for years. I read at least 6 books a month and frequently am reading 2-3 books at any given moment (ADHD - or something like that).
posted by mygoditsbob at 2:54 PM on March 24, 2004

o2b's question is the most important one that has yet to be answered. look beyond the shiny thing...
posted by gen at 6:04 PM on March 24, 2004

o2b's question has been answered at length: contrast, definition, low-light visibility, and the ability to maintain state without power, are what differentiate this. Sure, it would be nice if the e-paper were actually flexible like some of the research models, but I still want one. And if people are willing to pay $400 for a glorified Walkman, they will pay $400 for this, especially if Sony has any sense and lets you view arbitrary [HTML/PDF/ASCII] files.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:50 PM on March 24, 2004

Hideous design on that thing.

People haven't like reading from LCDs.

I is people, and I do all of my novel and nonfiction book reading (3-6 books per month, usually) on my laptop. For what it's worth.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:19 PM on March 24, 2004

I don't like that it has only one page. A "real" book has two opposite pages, and my reading tempo is adapted to that.

But I see definite potential for this, on two conditions: the page "turning" has to be fast enough - I *hate* how slow scrolling PDF pages is.

And: it needs a remote control so that you can suspend it above your head in bed. Think of all the benefits: turning pages without getting your hands out in the cold. No more blood running out of your arms from holding your book in the air! No more back problems from sitting in awkward positions! I want one!
posted by NekulturnY at 3:13 AM on March 25, 2004

E-Ink can do two pages, and it can do flexible surfaces, as I understand their technology. The structure of this product is based on what the clients want--other clients might want different things in future.

I agree that I would want something that looked like an 8.5" by 11" sheet of paper folded in half, that was switchable from "book format" to "single-sheet format", just because that would be closer to my reading style.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:00 AM on March 25, 2004

*Faints with product lust* (Disclaimer: I'm an otaku, sort of. But still. This is by far the coolest thing I have ever seen.)
posted by Tlogmer at 2:09 PM on March 25, 2004

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