Since the release of the iPad, fans of the e-book have debated about the future of eReaders. Is the future represented in the glossy touch-screen LCD of a tablet or the eminently readable, but obsequiously plain eInk screen?
If the talking heads at Kobo and Barnes & Noble are to be believed, the answer is both.
Kobo fired first with the announcement of their new Kobo eReader Touch Edition. It features the same 6-inch eInk screen that has come to be the industry standard, but instead of relying on buttons to navigate the fields on-screen, it sports a new infrared technology that allows users to swipe pages, highlight passages, and take notes all using a slick touch screen interface.
Barnes & Noble quickly followed up with the announcement of their own. The new Nook also utilizes that brilliant infrared technology to power its touch interface. Like the Kobo reader, the new Nook is shorter and slightly thicker than its predecessors. The eInk display also reportedly has 80-percent less “flashing” when turning pages, and sports a number of interface improvements, such as the ability to tell how many more pages are in a given chapter.
On the periphery are features like battery-life and storage size. Barnes & Noble is making a lot of noise about how their new batteries can hold a charge for two months, but those claims seem spurious at best. The Kindle is still the market leader in terms of native storage, with 3 GB standard, but both the new Kobo and Nook sport slots for SD cards, so power users can add as much as 32 GB — good for, oh, about, 32,000 books.
Of course, this wouldn’t be too much of a coup unless these new entrants were competitively priced, and they are indeed. The touch-screen Nook is debuting for an eminently reasonable $139, and the Kobo comes in slightly cheaper at $129. Compare that with the comparable third-generation Wi-Fi-only Kindle, which sells for $139 ($114 if you don’t mind seeing ads instead of Agatha Christie’s face on your screen saver), and it becomes clear just how drastically the landscape has changed.
The brand recognition alone will continue to buoy the Kindle until they can counter with their own touch-screen model, but in a world dominated by smart phones, it’s hard to underestimate the familiarity and novelty that lies within the touch interface. It’s easier to see now why the plucky folks at Kobo were so confident that they could survive the bankruptcy of their partner Borders. And for their part, Barnes & Noble can continue to pride themselves on putting out a superior product, even if their market share so far lags behind their determination.
Bookworms may soon find reason to reacquaint themselves with their local libraries after Amazon announced a new program called Kindle Library Lending on Wednesday. The fledgling program would allow customers to borrow community-owned copies of e-books from any of 11,000 participating libraries in the ‘States, and read them from the comfort of their Kindle or device equipped with a Kindle app.
Heavy readers like Christian Orlov are already enthusiastic about the prospect. “I grew up practically living in the library, but it’s hard to justify lugging around hard-cover books since my wife got me the Kindle, says Orlov, a 27-year-old grad student at American University in Washington D.C. “Free is free though, and if I can go back to lending, I’ll have to try and find my library card.”
Amazon is working with Overdrive on the project, the biggest digital content provider for libraries in the country, which lends some weight to the endeavor. According to OverDrive’s Blog, Kindle customers will be able to take advantage of its existing infrastructure and library of content, so if your local library is already an OverDrive partner, you can take advantage.
Borrowed books will work the same as store-bought books, with the ability to sync across devices, highlight text and make side annotations, traditionally a no-no in library books. If a user opts to purchase a book or lend it for herself again, those notes and highlights will be there waiting.
A Proven Model
While Kindle Library Lending won’t be operational until “later this year,” that’s no reason to shy away from library e-book lending in the interim. Other ereaders like the Barnes & Noble Nook , Sony Reader and the Kobo eReader already support lending from the OverDrive network, thanks to their native support of the ePub file format. OverDrive always offers an app for mobile users of the Android, Blackberry, iOS, and Windows Mobile platforms.
The Kindle faithful don’t have to stand out in the cold either. As we covered back in February, sites like Books For My Kindle allow you to take advantage of the Kindle’s nascent lending capabilities to swap books with strangers. The options are limited as is the lending period, it’s true, but when you consider that most libraries only purchase a single copy of any given e-book, it’s still not a bad option.