October 20, 2010 Leave a comment
As an avid reader, here is what I expect to find in an e-reader.
The more the better, as long as it is a text media file. I do not need image support (as in galleries, photos), I do not need audio support (as in mp3, ogg), I do not need movie support (as in avi, mpg)! I want to store many books (pdfs, plain text, html, latex, man-pages), and read them. That’s it… Seriously… I really just want your e-reader for, you know, reading!
Independent of media format, I want to be able to select my favorite font for reading. That also means, unless you have licensed every existing font and ship it with your device, I can drop a TTF (or some such) onto the reader and select it. I want to freely change the font size. Not between tiny and extremely large, but in 0 – ∞ points/pixels.
Again, independent of media format, I want the best possible text flow on the display. I don’t care about the layouter’s fancy ideas regarding paragraph length, indentation, margins and paper size. I’m not reading text on a letter-sized, A2, A3, A4, A5, whatever-size sheet of paper, I’m reading text on an e-ink display with a 5-10″ diagonal and X by Y pixels. So whatever text I’m reading, better be perfectly reflowed for the e-reader’s display.
I don’t need or want your super-special online bookstore, or super-special, super-wonderful synchronization crapware that only works on Windows 7. I want to drag-n-drop the files in my file explorer, HID USB Mass Storage Style that works anywhere, anytime, on any OS.
Since I want to read HTML documents, you’ll need to include a decent HTML render and browse component (hint: webkit). But stop right there, I do not want a full online browser, e-ink display refresh rates don’t make this a very usable or enjoyable experience.
Make it easy to search for a book title, really easy! Modern storage media will let me store thousands of books, a fact you so readily advertise. Showing me thousand books, ten books a page isn’t usable, it’s a cruel joke! I don’t need book covers or icons, I need titles, authors, categories, tags, bookmarks! I need a search that lets me find a certain book about ip_filter and nat setup on linux, a search that lets me find that fantastic recipe for chocolate macadamia cookies, as search that lets me find the one passage with that funny quote in that one book I can always only remember half of.
Don’t impose your tags and categories on me, let me use mine instead. I know much better than you, how I want organize my books (alphabetically by title? by date of release? by count of words? by file size?), so make as much information about a media file available as possible and let me decide what I want to see, when and where I want to see it.
Some bonus thoughts and tech tips on that: use a database like sqlite for metadata storage, add new documents and media info as discovered, scan in reasonable (or even better configurable) intervals for changes (some file systems have journals, if you used that, no need for intervals), create a GUI from browser component, render database information as HTML, make this easily customizable (use lighttpd and lua for scripting this and let us hackers access it).
While I do like the thought of note taking on such a device, any input method has so far appeared to be cumbersome. Tiny, cheap unresponsive alphanumeric keypads waste space, are uncomfortable and frustrating to use. Stylus input is laggy due to slow refresh rates and the reflective screen covering nullifies the readability comfort of e-ink displays. Touch displays have much the same problems as the Stylus based displays and add fingerprints and smudges to it. Thus your e-reader should not include note taking, unless you come up with a much better alternative to Touch and Stylus displays.
I do not need or want WiFi, 3G or some other wireless connection in my e-reader. I’m going to drop several hundred books on it, and not bother with it, until I’m through with most of them. If I need any more books or am out of battery, I’ll grab the micro USB cable and hook up the e-reader to my PC or laptop. Those people with social network dependency or constantly-online ADD are most likely not your target group, these people want “flash-n-bang” iPads, not “blink-blank-refresh” e-readers.
The less buttons, the better. By no means does this mean no buttons what-so-ever, though. It means some navigational buttons like a d-pad, and at-most one previous page button and one next-page button.
The casing should be made only from very durable and forgiving off-white plastic. Not black, not pink, not puce, not lime. And leave off any cheap chrome trimming, this only creates reflections and glares. I’m reading lots of text and I don’t want any distractions like absurd contrasts between the display area and casing. If you must absolutely add your device name, company logo and other silly stuff, put it on the back. I do not need to constantly see the name of the device or your company, I already chose and bought it. If you want others to see that stuff, the back is probably the perfect place, too. You know, because since most of the time the front with the display will be facing me, the back will be facing everything and everyone else.
Make me an e-reader that is only good for reading, storing and organizing lots of books in any form and nothing else. But make it do that extremely well.