Category Archives: apple

Through the E-Ink, Darkly

Peter Brantley -- August 20th, 2013

For the blinkd voter
In May 2013, three large ebook retailers and e-ink reading device manufacturers – Amazon, Kobo, and Sony – filed a petition with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission asking it to “waive the accessibility requirements for equipment used for advanced communications services (ACS) for a single class of equipment: e-readers.” In other words, dedicated e-ink devices are difficult to use for the blind, visually-handicapped, and reading disabled, so the manufacturers are asking to be relieved of the need to make them accessible. I find nothing in this pleading which will “advance the public interest.”

At first glance, it seems like it might be reasonable request. The petition observes that e-reader devices are typically low-powered to preserve battery life, have relatively low resolution screens with slow refresh rates, lack sound capability such as microphones and speakers, and cannot support full-featured web engines. As the counsel for the manufacturer coalition states, although these devices “have a similar shape and size to general-purpose tablet computers, e-readers lack many of tablets’ features for general-purpose computing, including ACS functions.” As some on Twitter caustically noted, these devices “suck” too much to support accessibility.

I can’t help but find the arguments of these retailers pathetic and depressing. As the retailers note, “This Petition demonstrates that e-readers are devices designed, built, and marketed for a single primary purpose: to read written material such as books, magazines, newspapers, and other text documents on a mobile electronic device.” I assert that the affordance the blind would most like obtain from increasingly powerful mobile technology is exactly this: to read text on a simple device. For ebook retailers to set up a straw man argument between blinged out retina-resolution tablets supporting complete software stacks and e-ink devices is poor logic and shameful conduct. The choice is not between a Model T and a Tesla – a Kickstarter project could likely find a happy engineering medium if large corporations cannot manage it.

This is an amazing market opportunity gone missing, and as many advocates of accessibility have noted, helping the blind also means helping a rather large number of individuals who have various incapacities, many of which inevitably arise or increase with age. Vast numbers of the blind do use smartphones and tablets to read – they are a vast improvement on the expensive, dedicated accessibility devices of years past. But they are often overkill, and their complexity frustrates as much as it aids, despite Apple’s long dedication to accessibility support. Building an e-reader device that is not a tablet or smartphone but which does support accessibility would be a huge boon to literally millions of readers whose reading is sharply restricted today.

Furthermore, as law professor James Grimmelmann noted in Twitter, this is not a war that ebook retailers should be fighting. If publishers want to disable text-to-speech and other accessibility functions, then they should petition the FCC, not Amazon, Kobo, or Sony. A cynical observer might think that despite Amazon’s recent acquisition of high-end text-to-speech (TTS) technology, the removal of TTS capability from the Kindle Paperwhite series – when it was present on prior Kindles – might suggest that they are simply forcing consumers upstream to tablets. Gasp: could it be possible that the petition to the FCC is motivated by their own financial interests, and not those of the public?

There is one other omission to note: the complete silence from the International Digital Publishing Forum. The IDPF has spent years working on its new EPUB3 standard, with a stated goal of enhancing accessibility. The EPUB3 specification document calls out: “It is important to note that while accessibility is important in its own right, accessible content is also more valuable content: an accessible Publication will be adaptable to more devices and be easier to reuse, in whole or in part, via human and automated workflows.” Even the American Association of Publishers’ newly launched EPUB3 Implementation Project notes that “Through EPUB 3’s innovative assistive features, people who are blind or have other print disabilities will have access to the same titles, at the same time, as all readers.”

Paradoxically, two of the members of the “Coalition of E-Reader Manufactures” – Sony and Kobo – are members of the IDPF. Although the BISG’s EPUB3 compliance table documents only partial readiness from reading system providers, both Sony and Kobo have publicly indicated more complete EPUB3 support by the end of 2013. Unfortunately, that endorsement seems to falter at one of the format’s core design features. Despite the manufacturers’ naked disrespect for the EPUB3 specification, as far as I can tell the IDPF has yet to issue a press release on the request for FCC waiver, or submit a filing in response to the petition. That is unfortunate if true; the board of a not-for-profit must carry some responsibility.

More fundamentally, corporations able to advance access to knowledge through innovative technology should take gracious pride in the opportunity to open horizons as a fortunate reciprocity for their charters. Instead, in this petition, I see hubris. Make your voice heard: the last date to submit comments to the FCC is September 3, 2013.

Apple Sends Out Invites to Rumored iPad-Mini Event

Craig Morgan Teicher -- October 16th, 2012

If you’ve been following recent tech rumors, then you’ve heard Apple has a roughly 7″ version of its iPad tablet in the works. Rumors say the company is planning to unveil the device, which will compete with smaller tablets like the Kindle Fire and Google Nexus 7, on October 23rd.  Today, Apple sent out invites to the tech media featuring the graphic above (via Engadget) for an event to be held next Tuesday, the 23rd.  Most likely, Apple will be making a strong push into the textbook market with this new device and hoping to lure new iPad users with a lower-priced device.  We’ll keep you posted as we know more.

Gnashing of Teeth: Publishers vs Readers

Peter Brantley -- March 11th, 2012

Seldom has news of litigation against publishers demonstrated such differences in opinions. But as the Department of Justice signals that it may file suit in a case alleging that the largest U.S. publishers and Apple combined to set high prices for books, the shrill cries from publishers suggesting that “the end of retail competition for books is nigh” remain largely deaf to the myriad benefits for customers. If agency pricing is struck down, readers may once again see reasonable book prices from online retailers that years ago acknowledged that digital music and videos have a very different value than their traditional analogues. Continue reading

Fast Devices, Walled Gardens

Peter Brantley -- November 5th, 2011

Something about Amazon’s release of the Prime Lending Library for Kindle owners finally made me realize that both e-book retailers and publishers confront vital new struggles. The conflict is immediate for e-book retailers, yet more fundamental for publishers; neither has much to do with publishing, but far more to do with the Internet and technology.

From my perspective, the lesson of Amazon’s lending service is not that publishers might not be getting a fair compensation model. Rather, the problem is that Amazon’s new tablet, the Kindle Fire, combined with the Amazon Prime program, provides access to “18 million movies, TV shows, songs, magazines, and books.” And in that, it is not the free books that are a problem for book retailers and publishers: it is the movies and the music. Continue reading

‘Penguin’s Family’ iOS App Giveaway

Craig Morgan Teicher -- July 28th, 2011

It’s time for another iOS app giveaway.  PW has been trying to bring some attention to app developers we think are doing cool things and also giving away a few free copies of the apps to lucky readers who race over to our Facebook page and claim a promo code before they’re all gone.

This week, we’ve got codes for Penguin’s Family, developed by OceanHouse Media, which has been bringing out very nice app versions of classic Dr. Seuss, Bernstein Bears and other books. The apps are great for kids, with read-aloud feature and smart touch screen enhancements that let kids explore language and pictures at the same time, while still offering a pretty traditional book-like experience.

Penguin’s Family is part of OceanHouse’s series of Smithsonian apps–the other is about the mighty T-Rex.  Penguin’s Family, written by Kathleen M. Hollenbeck and Illustrated by Daniel J. Stegos, follows the story of a family of Humboldt penguins as they teach their newborn how to survive in the world.

We’ve got 10 codes to give away, and we’ll post five today and five tomorrow in a note on our Facebook page.  They’re first-come-first-serve, so head over there now and grab one!

The PW Morning Report: Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- June 21st, 2011

Today’s links!

Ellsworth Remembered: The NYT obit for the first publisher of the New York Review of Books.

B&N Profit: ZDNet wonders whether the Nook will alter the profit equation when Barnes & Noble reports its earnings today.

Make Borders Stores like Apple Stores: That’s one idea a private equity firm has for the bookseller. From AnnArbor.com.

Whitcoulls Absorbs Borders New Zealand: All Borders in New Zealand will become Whitcoulls stores. From the National Business Review.

European E-Growth: The Bookseller reports good digital growth in Europe despite the threat of encroaching US E-book companies.

Haiku for Keanu: Salon rounds up some hilarious haiku supposedly written by, but also sort of written against, Keanu Reeves (who, it turns out, is a budding author in several genres).

The Paris Review Goes Digital

Craig Morgan Teicher -- June 16th, 2011

Today the Paris Review announced it is now offering a digital subscription through the Zinio platform.  Digital subs start with this summer’s issue and cost $30 for a year, meaning four issues.  Zinio offers an easily accessible PDF iteration of the magazine viewable on iOS devices and on the Web.

The Paris Review is among the elder statesman of lit mags, so it’s significant of a new era that it, too, should go digital under the new editorship of Lorin Stein. So, if you are looking for something to read…

The PW Morning Report: Thursday, June 16, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- June 16th, 2011

Today’s links!

Borders to Save More Stores: PaidContent reports on a deal between Borders and its lenders that could save more stores.

Apple Vs. Amazon: CNN wonders whether Amazon will comply with Apple’s new in-app purchase rules, and, if not, whether Apple will book the Kindle app from the App Store.

Brooklyn Book Fest: Here’s a list of confirmed authors appearing at this year’s Brooklyn Book Fest. From the Brooklyn Paper.

Saving a Bookstore from Hockey Fans: A Vancouver resident defends his local bookstore from rioting hockey fans. From the Globe and Mail.

More Potter: JK Rowling has unveiled a mysterious Web site at www.pottermore.com. From Digital Spy.

Publishers Remember 9/11: AP looks at publishers’ low-key plans for 9/11 remembrance this year.

Timothy Leary’s Papers: the New York Public Library has bought them. From the NYT.

The PW Morning Report: Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Craig Morgan Teicher -- June 15th, 2011

Today’s links!

Go the F**k to The Top of the Bestseller List: Meet Adam Mansbach, the dad behind Go the F**k to Sleep. From Salon.

Bizarre Minister: Australian booksellers call their Small Business Minister’s remark about the upcoming death of bookstores “irresponsible” and “bizarre.” From Smart Company.

Apple Bypass: How publishers can get around Apple’s App store with HTML5 Web apps. From Mediashift.

Book Flogger: The Philadelphia Inquirer looks at how an author must flog her book daily to promote it.

Che Diary: An unreleased Che Guevara diary has been released in Cuba. From the Guardian.

Barnes & Slowble: A survey finds that B&N has some of the slowest customer service among e-tailers.

The ‘Waste Land’ Model: Salon looks at how the new T.S. Eliot app is the best example yet of a book app.

Amazon Tries to Lure Would-Be iPad Consumers with Kindle Cover Colors

Craig Morgan Teicher -- June 13th, 2011

Is Amazon trying to trick would-be iPad buyers into buying a Kindle instead?

You’ll recognize the almost-iconic top image of Apple’s iPad 2 Smart Covers fanned out in all their colors.  But what do you think of bottom one, found on Amazon’s home page beside a Father’s Day Kindle promo?  Is Amazon trying to subliminally lure would-be iPad consumers over to the E-Ink side of the e-reader fence?