Saturday, April 20, 2024

eReader Battles: All About Software

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There is a lot of activity on the eBook front: Sony earlier announced
that they would be moving towards supporting the open ePub eBook
format on their eReaders, and they are expected to announce a new
eReader that incorporates cellular data connectivity. Barnes and Noble
announced this week that they are partnering with Irex Technologies
and will come out with a new device later this year.

But with all the hoopla and promise, one thing missing from a lot of
coverage is the software side of things. That is where the eBook
eBattles will be fought and won.

eBooks are beginning to take hold for a lot of different reasons:
finally there are enough titles available (although in a confusing
array of formats and readers). Prices on the devices have come down
and quality has gone up. Prices on the eBook titles themselves are at
parity with the mass market paperbacks. The size and quality of the
screens is approaching that of printed paper. Battery life is

All of this may be well and good, but the real reason that eBooks are
doing well is that the software is finally catching up with the

Why so? Because you need a great combination of eReader
software along with Web storefronts that offer the books for sale and
allow people to shop and discover books that they want to download to
their readers. Some of the people that design the Web stores that
offer up the eBooks are getting some clue here. The best example is
Amazon’s Kindle storefront. Why? Because first and foremost, they know
how to sell books online. Inside of about 35 seconds, I can find and
purchase an eBook, and in another 35 seconds, have it in my hot little
hands and start reading. It is hard to beat that kind of delivery

Sony’s Web store,, comes in second, such as trying
to find bargains. On both you can sort eBooks by price, but because
Amazon offers so many free eBooks, it is hard to find current titles.
Sony does a better job. Sadly, in order to buy an eBook from Sony, you
need their desktop client software. B& is just plain miserable.

My choice of eReader is to use the Kindle app that runs on the
iPhone/iPod touch. I don’t have to carry another device around, and
while the Kindle reader does drain my iPhone battery, I can deal with
it. I also don’t read much beyond text: if I had a need for more
graphics-rich documents, I would consider another reading device.

I have read about a dozen books from start to finish on my iPhone and
found the experience to be more than satisfactory. Most of these are
the sort of books that I would buy in airports and dispose of or
donate almost immediately after reading.

The iPhone Kindle app has a
few things going for it: since I carry my phone everywhere, I am not
without reading material to fill in those small time gaps during the
day while I am waiting in an office for an appointment or so forth. At
night, I can continue reading in bed without annoying my wife, since
the screen is backlit. The page turning process is something you get
used to, and the ease at which you can find a book and start reading
within about a minute is great for those of us that require
near-instant gratification. You can be well into the new best seller
of your choice before anyone else had even time to get to the
bookstore, let alone wait for the overnight Amazon shipment.

If you are in the market for an eReader and have an iPhone, it is a
simple matter to download the free app, start browsing Amazon’s Kindle
store, and stuff it full of eBooks. If you don’t have an iPhone, it
almost makes economic sense to buy an iPod Touch and dedicate it to
reading books: the cost is nearly the same as the Kindle hardware
device. The downside is that you will need to be in WiFi range to
download your books. On the iPhone, like the Kindle hardware, you can
download over the cellular network.

If you have a Blackberry, Palm and some other PDA, then you have two
choices: either the Barnes and Noble eReader or the Mobipocket
eReader. Both are more cumbersome to use than the Kindle app, and
require you to download books to your desktop first. I couldn’t really
get the B&N app going, it seemed like it had too many moving parts.

Sony’s eReader currently lacks the communications but supports a lot
of different book formats, including their own which they are phasing
out by the end of the year in favor of ePub. And they have a growing
culture of modders who have exposed the underlying Linux OS to do
various things

ePub-formatted books can be read on the iPhone with Stanza, but the
process is also cumbersome and clunky, certainly nowhere near the
experience of the Kindle. Google and others have digitized many public
domain books in this format, but few of the current best sellers are
in it. Amazon, by virtue of their market position, is in a better
place here. They also understand how to develop Web software,
something Sony — and B&N for that matter — still haven’t caught on
to. The better the Web stores are, the more eBooks will be sold.

For eBooks to be truly eUniversal, Kindle needs to be able to read
ePub formats, and be available on Blackberries and Palms and other
larger-screen phones and PDAs. And all the various players – including
Sony – need to eliminate the digital rights management that comes with
your eBook, as has been reported with last month’s debacle over

While nothing will ever replace the physical bookstore browsing
experience, at least for me, I am glad to see this market continue to

David Strom is an expert on Internet and networking technologies who
was the former editor-in-chief at Network Computing, Tom’s, and He currently writes regularly
for PC World, Baseline Magazine, and the New York Times and is also a
professional speaker, podcaster and blogs at and

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