Category Archives: tablets

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.

The Kids Are Alright: Making New Stories

Peter Brantley -- August 23rd, 2012

There has been much discussion recently on the future of book design. Much of the debate centers around whether explicitly defined packaging such as EPUB or EPUB3 is necessary to contain an ebook, as opposed to “books” that live on the open web as networked resources. Obviously there are advantages for commercial publishing firms to preserve the constraints of packaging in order to sell goods (as opposed to services), and there are also good arguments for the portability and preservation of an author’s expressed intent. My own prejudices tend to run towards an assumption that authoring for the web, particularly as growing HTML5 support permits more advanced rendering and user interaction, will ultimately be a more compelling design experience.

Continue reading

Hey, Dad, what’s a “file”?

Peter Brantley -- August 3rd, 2012

Like a lot of people in my generation, I am system administrator for my parents. That’s okay – I’ve been one in real life, so I don’t mind it very much, and I try to think of it as a learning opportunity. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had to update my father’s computer, a Mac Mini, and it was instructive in unexpected ways.

Most experienced systems admins will tell you they abide religiously by several inviolable rules, one of which is: upgrade applications when necessary; operating systems, rarely. The problem with an OS upgrade is that it often changes how people work with their computers, not just in one application, but across the board. Throw in a random number of incompatibilities and surprise, forced upgrades in both peripherals and utility software, and you have a predictable nightmare. Yet sometimes, pain is necessary, and I knew that upgrading my dad’s Mac Mini was going to mean a move to Mountain Lion. I read John Siracusa’s review and got ready.

I keep system privileges for myself, and it was after I created his “standard” user account that I found myself surprised. When you create a new user in 10.8 and open up the finder, you get a very simple menu. In the left hand panel, “All Files” will show you a flattened view of your account; there are the customary folders for “Music”, “Pictures”, and “Movies”; plus “Documents” and “Downloads”. Snarkily, I didn’t expect to find “Books”, and it wasn’t there. Continue reading

At play in fields of tablets

Peter Brantley -- July 22nd, 2012

One of the interesting trends this summer has been the ramp-up of interest in Google’s new tablet, the Nexus 7. Its launch portends far greater fireworks to come. Google has already sold out of its initial stock of the 16 GB version, and is shipping its remaining 8 GB tablets at a fast clip. The tablet, released with the newest version of the Android operating system called Jelly Bean, has received almost unanimously positive reviews for its functionality and responsiveness. Its 7″ screen size seems to hit a hand-holdable sweet spot between Apple’s 10″ iPad and large “phablets” like the HTC One X and Samsung Galaxy Note 2, which sport 5″ or 5.5″ screens.

The Nexus tablet was released as a portal device to Google Play, Google’s media catalog roughly comparable to Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s more chaotic we-sell-everything online store. Early write-ups of the Nexus 7 almost inevitably describe the Google tablet as everything the first generation Kindle Fire tablet should have been – it has better construction, a more fluid user experience, a more open store, and more impressive technical specifications. The comparisons are fitting; Google is not releasing this tablet simply as a Jelly Bean showcase. This is an arms race of dreadnoughts among emerging technology superpowers. Continue reading

Live-Blogging the Amazon Press Event

Craig Morgan Teicher -- September 28th, 2011

10:51: Kindle Fire will cost $199.  Ships November 15.

Bezos keeps stressing the notion of “premium products and non-premium prices.”

10: 44: The browser on Kindle fire will be something new:

Bezos says Amazon asked how it could use its server power to improve the speed of mobile Web browsing.  A new product called Amazon Silk, a split browser that lives half on Amazon’s cloud computing systems, half on Kindle Fire.

10:43: This won’t kill the iPad, but it will be the first device to compete…

10:37: Bezos takes aim at Apple, saying the model of backing up content is “broken” as is the idea of syncing.  All content on Kindle Fire is backed up in the cloud.

Whispersync works with all content on Kindle Fire.  Pause a movie on the device, pick up where you left off at home on another device.

10:34: “Is there some way we can bring all of these things together into a remarkable product offering that customers would love?” -Bezos

“The answer is yes: It’s called Kindle fire.”

7″ IPS display, duel core processor.  14.6 oz, all the content.

10:29: Now Bezos is running down the various facets of Amazon’s media businesses: Amazon Prime, streaming video, MP3 store, cloud player.  Lead-up to a tablet that synthesizes all of these?

10:27: Now Bezos is talking about how Amazon has spent 15 years building its media business.

Customers who don’t want touch can get a $79 Kindle!  This devices ships today.

Pre-order starts today and ships 11/21.  “We’re going to sell many millions of these,” says Bezos.

Also announcing Kindle Touch 3G.  Same but with 3G.  $99 was the wi-fi.  3G is $149.

Kindle touch will cost $99!  The fabled $99 e-reader arrives.

10:18: New feature called “x-ray” that lets you look at “the bones of the book,” by which Bezos means looking up various historical references and real characters mentioned on a particular page.  Amazon has “pre-calculated all of the interesting phrases” in a book, so along with the book comes a “side-file” with all of this information included.

10:14: Unveils Kindle Touch with infra-red touch display.  This is a surprise, sort of…no tablet yet. But this is very cool.  New kind of touch display that, Bezos says, enables readers to switch hands.  With infra-red touch, Amazon has revised the tap zones so it’s easier to turn pages no matter how it’s held.

Bezos is running down all the things Amazon has enabled the Kindle e-reader to do: e-ink, real page numbers, Kindle singles,

10:05: Jeff Bezos takes the stage…

10:03: The event opens with a video of cool professionals touting the virtues of the old-fashioned Kindle.

10:01: Nuthin’ doing yet.  Some speculation: I think we’re likely to see an inexpensive, lightweight tablet that will be, like the Kindle, a pipeline into Amazon’s various content stores and fairly low-powered in terms of other functions. Not expecting, for instance, a fancy Web-browsing experience.  This will be the t

Someone’s coming on stage and taking a cover off of something on the podium…

9:50: Things haven’t started yet, but we’re seated in front of a stage with a big Amazon logo projected on the screen.  The conversation here is all about whether and what kind of a big deal this announcement might be.  Also, lots of complaining about the cold and the heat while waiting to get in.  Things are supposed to start at 10.

9:25: I’m here with a whole lot of other journalists waiting to get in to the Amazon event where we are expecting to see the unveiling of Amazon’s tablet offering, rumored to be called the Kindle Fire.


The PW Morning Report: Friday, May 27, 2011

Calvin Reid -- May 27th, 2011

Today’s links! And please check out our new Facebook Page.

Teen YA Lit Monster Mashup. It’s all about mixing chills, thrills, adventure, and romance at BEA’s YA Buzz Panel.

Politics and Superheroes. What’s Superman’s position on the death penalty?

Robot Librarians! Robots take over the University of Chicago’s new $81 million Joe and Rika Mansueto Library, sort of.

Book City USA. Amazon Ranks the most literate cities in the U.S.

King Kindle. Despite Agency Model, the Kindle leads the pack in titles, readers and sales, while the iBookstore brings up the rear.

Google and the Future of Everything. Google Talks at BEA; people listen.

The Tablet: the Future of the Past of Newspapers

Craig Morgan Teicher -- May 2nd, 2011

This video, which was produced in 1994 by a Newspaper industry think tank and more or less anticipates the age of tablet computing, has been going around the Web lately, and it’s so uncannily spot on about its predictions–so many of which have come true–that I want to make sure PW readers don’t miss it.

The video features Roger Fidler of the Knight-Ridder institute, where a group of journalists and technologies got together to imagine the future of Newspapers.  What they came up with was almost exactly like the iPad. In the vision of the future according to this video, “”We may still use computers to create information, but we will use the tablet to interact with print, video and other information.”  Aside from the fact that video predicted we’d have tablets in our hands by 2000, it’s pretty much right about how we would use tablets (and their smaller, unanticipated precursors, smartphones) to consume information.

Of course the video mentions books as well.  There’s a lot to be learned from looking back at the future of the past, which, it turns out, really became the future.  The video’s a bit long, but well-worth watching if you can spare a few minutes.

[via TUAW]

An iPad 2 Roundup

Craig Morgan Teicher -- March 3rd, 2011

Unsurprisingly, everybody’s talking about the iPad 2 today.  Here are a few blogs’ and journalists takes on it.  Above, you’ll see Walt Mossberg of the WSJ giving his initial impressions right after the unveiling event yesterday.

Here’s a TUAW blogger on why he’ll be buying an iPad 2 after holding off on the iPad 1.

Here’s eBookNewser’s play-by-play of the Apple event.

A blogger or TechCrunch loves the iPad 2, noting it feels a lot like holding a Kindle.

Finally, in this post, Engadget offers some video and pics from the hands-on area Apple set up after the event.  One video emphasizes how fast the new iPad is, even down to the page turns in iBooks.

What do you think?  Gonna buy one on March 11?

Tablets, Tablets, Tablets

Craig Morgan Teicher -- February 28th, 2011

It’s going to be a big week for tablets.  On Wednesday, March 2, Apple will hold its iPad 2 event, at which the company will show us what it’s got in store for the next model of the iPad.  There’s lots of speculation.  The image above, from the Web site BGR, is circulating around the tech blogs: it was hoped to be an illustration of the actual iPad 2, but seems, instead, to be an Apple’s fan’s imagining, according to TUAW (I frankly doubt Apple would design anything this square).  There’s murmurs, too, that Apple will release this next iPad in both black and white models (see this post from MacRumors); ooooh.

Whatever Apple brings to the next iPad (a camera, better display, can opener), for the first time, the world’s most popular tablet has some actual competition: David Pogue of the NYT favorably reviewed Motorola’s entry into the tablet game, the Xoom, and he says that its operating system, a tablet-specific version of Google Android called Honeycomb, is “the real iPad competitor,” though he also notes its in some ways too complicated and counter-intuitive.  But this is the OS that will power the throngs of tablets soon to hit the market.

We’ll have to wait and see whether Apple has anticipated Honeycomb’s advances and shortcomings.  But whatever happens, this is going to be the year that the tablet becomes a product category, not just another name for the iPad.  And that should mean more e-books, and e-books becoming more a part of readers’ way of life. And it’s likely to really get underway this week.  Whoa…

iPad 2 Unveiling Event Confirmed for March 2

Craig Morgan Teicher -- February 23rd, 2011

Apple has sent out a none-too-subtle invitation to a March 2 press event at which, as you can see above from the iPad peeking out from behind the iCal icon, the company is almost certain to unveil its next iteration of the iPad.  Note, too, the slogan, a riff on the media tag that 2010 and 11 would each be the year of the tablet.  Looks like Apple is pretty confident it won’t be the year of other companies’ tablets.

Rumors have been going around that the iPad 2 will be thinner, have an improved display, a camera, a faster processor and other enhancements–Apple’s always got some surprises, so we’ll keep you posted.

[via The Loop and TUAW.]