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How many times can you fold a sheet of epaper?

Thursday 30 April 2009

My review of the iRex iLiad has just gone up on Adrian Graham’s site. Adrian’s readership will be familiar with terms such as ebook but not everyone is, so here’s a speedy run-down.

What is an ebook?

Ebook, e-book, electronic book: sounds obvious, doesn’t it? It is a book in digital form, which may be purely text – just the words – or may include a table of contents with links to each chapter, an index similarly hyperlinked, and so on; and may include cover art and other illustrations.

But what is an ebook reader?

Ebook reader, ereader, ebook device: Basically, anywhere you can read an ebook is an ebook reader. That can mean software such as Mobipocket Reader, which allows you to read ebooks on screen – effectively turning your computer into the ereader. Similarly, of course, Adobe Reader. Or it can mean the hardware that allows reading of ebooks, for example the iLiad, the Kindle, the Sony Reader, or the FLEPia. Commercial ones generally use epaper, which is a big difference from reading ebooks on your laptop.

IN BOX: You do get a lot of people who, on seeing an ebook reader, exclaim, ‘Oho! An ebook!’ (Well, maybe not ‘Oho’.) But the physical object is not the ebook – the digital one is. It may not seem an important distinction but the ebook, as a product, as a concept, is commonly judged on the reading experience provided by the ebook reader – and so far, the perfectly versatile, user-friendly, stylish ebook reader hasn’t been built. That’s why the ebook is still not a commercial phenomenon fifteen (or, depending how you count, ) years after its introduction. But it’ll get there. Ebooks, while I don’t think they’ll replace printed books, are NOT going away.

And what is epaper?

Epaper, electronic paper: It’s clever stuff. Yes, it’s electronic, but it displays text (and pictures) without backlighting. So you can read in bright sunlight, and more importantly read all day without the headache a normal screen leaves you with. There’s no screen flicker. The thing you can’t do it read under the covers without a torch. Epaper is in its infancy, technologically; we’re only just seeing epaper than can display in colour, or bend, and at the moment it’s very expensive. (I imagine market forces will drive this technology pretty quickly.)

Here’s a demo of three dedicated ebook devices, giving you an idea of what epaper is like and showing refresh rates and so on. For me, the colour version is yet nowhere near usable enough to be worth spending very much.

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