Archives for posts with tag: eReaders

As part of my PhD work at Cornell, I get to hang out with folks from Science and Technology Studies and Information Science. Both groups are very interested in how various parties, and in particular “users” affect the development of technologies. Case and point: the Model T.

When Ford introduced the Model T, a significant number of rural adopters found a novel use for the car – as a “mobile” engine for powering farm equipment. As the illustration above depicts, farmers would jack the car up, remove the rubber tire and attach the wheel to various crank driven machinery. 3rd party vendors even sold kits to help adapt the car for this type of use (in modern terms they were jailbreaking the Model T) – at least until Ford Motors cracked down on this application.

The moral of this example: the way users use technology can vary greatly from the way the creators imagined it should be used.

So how does this tie into a discussion on eReading?

As I’ve posted a number of times, pree iPad Steve Jobs, as late as two years ago, was holding firm to the idea that people didn’t read anymore, and even if they did, the iPhone wasn’t a reading platform. In 20/20 hindsight this may seem like an odd position, especially with the launch of iBooks and the iPad. But at the time it made some sense. Seriously, who would read on a device with a tiny LCD screen that consumed a lot of power?

Well, as it turns out, iPhone users, especially those who had a daily commute, would.

Like the Model T and farm equipment, there were outside factors that influenced how people used the technology.

First, for most people, the iPhone was a replacement device; by that I mean that it probably wasn’t a “gateway” cellphone for most people. While it might have been their first smartphone, the vast majority of users had already integrated a cellphone into their daily rhythms. They were used to carrying that sort of device with them wherever they went. And, more importantly, they were used to routinely charging it (we’ll get back to that latter point in a moment).

These same people had also grown accustom to the notion of using a phone to help pass downtime (waiting in line, at the doctor’s office, and, most importantly, on commutes). In fact, cell phone providers have been touting this as a “feature” of cellphones since the early 2000’s (apps as a revenue stream predate the iPhone). So iPhone users did what you might expect – they used their phones to “kill time.” And the best way to kill time was to explore the App Store.

As mentioned previously, ¾’s of the apps downloaded from the store are free ones. And, not surprisingly, most (if not all) of the eReaders available on the App store are free. So, people began to download reading apps. And, while projected text (as opposed to the reflective eInk surface of the Kindle) is “harder” on most folks the eyes, when content is begin read for limited periods at a time (say on a commute), people didn’t notice the strain (especially when there were convenient, multi-touch zoom in and out controls).

Likewise, while an LCD consumes far more power than an eInk display, people had integrated routine charging of the phone into their daily routine (see, I told you I’d get back to it – this, by the way is why, even though LCDs consume far more power than eInk, eInk isn’t going to win on its power efficiency). And they did it regardless of if they had read or not.

Thus common wisdom about reading on an iPhone (or other smartphone) was proved wrong.

The lesson here is that people use technology in unexpected ways. And the unexpected ways that they use technology have unintended consequences on other technologies. Nothing operates in a vacuum. As the cliché goes, a pebble dropped in one end of the pool can case ripples (if not waves) in the other end. So let’s discuss a potential downside to these mobile technologies.

Data Strain

While smartphone and the apps that run on them may change our expectations about what “technology” should do, they have lost of unintended effects. In June of 2009 AT&T revealed that the average iPhone user consumes upwards of 400MB of voice/data bandwidth a month. That is significantly more traffic than AT&T is used to providing. In fact, according to AT&T, 3% of smartphone users, primarily iPhone owners, are responsible for 40% of total data usage on the network. If you’ve been to a major US city and experience poor quality on your iPhone, this is part of the reason.

This isn’t just a problem with AT&T. As more feature and app rich phones (and tablets) come online with different companies (for example the Nexus One and Droid on Verizon) networks are going to become increasingly stressed by data demands. And, at least as of this writing, US cell phone providers are not quite sure how to keep up with the demand.

Typically smartphones require subscribers to sign up for both a voice and a data plan from their cell phone providers. Current carriers offer a variety of tiered data plans, ranging from a few megabytes a month to unlimited data transfers. Typically customers are “nicely” pushed toward the more costly unlimited data plans. However, carriers are beginning to discover that consumers are more than capable of consuming unlimited data and more.

The problem that US carriers are facing is that their existing infrastructure is not prepared for load that unlimited data use puts on it. AT&T’s recent network issues in cities like New York have been directly tied to the overwhelming amount of wireless data transfers taking place. As more and more devices rely on mobile networks for internet access, this problem is only going to increase.

To date, the networks have responded in three ways. First, new cellphone plans require a larger amount of cell phone subscribers (including non-smartphone users) to sign up for basic data plans. The second move is to create a number of tools to “politely” inform users of the amount of bandwidth that they are consuming. This is directly tied to the final move: AT&T and Verizon are beginning to float (or perhaps threaten) the elimination of unlimited data plans.

And that was before this:

Not only is there a tension between users and cell providers, but, there’s also one between the providers and equipment manufacturers. Take for example Steve Job’s rhetoric during the announcement was that of a “breakthrough deal” with AT&T allowing unlimited network access for $29.99 a month. Thus Apple positions itself as the good guy, fighting for better data rates. The question remains, how will the influx of new users tax the existing networks (and potentially lead to everyone else paying higher data prices to make up for the difference).

Either way, there’s a message from Apple and Google to USE THAT 3G NETWORKING at the same time AT&T and Verizon are taking actions that say “but not too much.”

[iPad and patent application]After watching bits of the iPad announcement simulcast and following the “live tweets” my reaction to Apples tablet is, … well …


It didn’t live up to the hype. Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s an important step towards the future of media consumption and eReading. But was it equal to the hype? No. Did I expect it to be equal to the hype? No. Could anything short of the second coming in 3D live up to the hype? Nope.

For folks who have followed the leaks/speculation on the tablet for a while, there wasn’t much news in the announcement.

So quickly, here are my thoughts:

  • It’s a terrible name.
    Not surprisingly #iTampon was a rising trend on twitter after the announcement. The jokes write themselves. In fact, they wrote themselves years ago on MadTV. While this isn’t a Chevy Nova, it’s a bad name for a product.
  • Is it going to be a sucess? Yes.
    The price point works. Will it be overtaken by Android slate format tablets? Yes. But they won’t get as much press. Nor will a single company control as much of the market share.
  • Its running a build on the iPhone OS
    The iPhone OS has done more for Touch than any other Moble OS, so it’s not surprising that Apple stuck with what works.
  • What’s surprising by its absence (camera, multitasking, flash)
    The lack of Multitasking and Flash are legacy issues tied to the iPhone. The failure to implement both is dumb and will need to be corrected. No Flash is especially troubling when imagining the future of cross platform enhanced books. I’m curious about why no camera was included. It couldn’t have affected the chipset that much…
  • $12.99-$14.99 for eBooks?!
    I’m unconvinced that Apple will be able to get away with charging on average $2 more for eBooks than Amazon, B&N, and other eBook resellers.
  • How will 3rd party reading apps do?
    Likewise, I’m very interested to see how 3rd party eReader apps perform on the iPad, in particular the Amazon Kindle Reader and Blio.
  • 3G for Data Transfer only
    The 3G models are data transfer only. I had been hoping that they might handle voice as well. Still the tablets have bluetooth capabilities and built in microphones, so Voice over IP is a possibility.
  • Clogging a clogged network
    $29.99 a month (no contract) unlimited 3G internet access isn’t going to help AT&T’s network load or pricing problems. But when Apple says “jump” they ask “how high.”
  • Unlocked doesn’t necessarily mean unlocked
    Having unlocked 3G doesn’t mean that you have 3G. According to reports the tablet won’t get high speed internet access of T-Mobile’s network as it doesn’t use the correct 3G frequency. So you’re not quite as free as you might expect.
  • Pricing and the “premium” option of 3G
    I’m a little curious as to why the addition of the 3G and SIM card results in a $130 premium. My gut (and experience with product development) tells me that Apple is taking a hit on some if not all of these devices… not a terrible one (especially if AT&T is subsidizing), but a hit none the less. Given that the current 8GB iPhone costs approximately $175 to manufacture and that doesn’t include development costs, I have a hard time believing that the 16GB iPad can come in at $499. If anything, I suspect that they’re making the loss back on the 3G models.
  • Who wins in Apple v. Amazon?
    I’ve seen tweets from folks in publishing who seem giddy about Apple challenging Amazon. I’m not sure if this is a win:win scenario, especially given Apple’s across-the-board application of a 30 (Apple) / 70 (Publisher/Developer) profit split. I suspect this is more like one Empire versus another with publishers, creators, and readers caught up in its wake.

As far as the overall effect on the market and on user practices…. Well, rather than writing my own account, I’ll turn it over to Berkman Fellow Doc Searls who wrote the following, incredible articulate overview of the pros and cons of the iPad platform for users:

“I got a ride home tonight from Bob Frankston, who was guided by a Nexus One vocalizing directions, serving as a better GPS than my dashboard’s Garmin. Earlier in the evening Bob used the Nexus One to do a bunch of other stuff the iPhone doesn’t do as well, if at all. More importantly, he didn’t need to get his apps only from Google’s (or anybody’s) “store”. And if somebody else wants to make a better Android phone than this one, they can. And Google, I’m sure, hopes they do.

“One big lesson here is that the market’s ecosystem includes both the vertical silos and the horizontal landscapes on which those silos stand, and where all kinds of other things can grow. Joel may be right that “the average consumer” will have no trouble being locked inside Apple’s silo of “simple, closed Internet devices”. But there are plenty of other people who are neither average nor content with that prospect. And I’m betting that, in the long run, they comprise a bigger market. Not because their numbers are larger, but because the room for growth is so much bigger.”

Aside: Between twitter, blogging, and eMail lists, I’ve had a lot to write about the future of eReading and the iPad. Lest anyone think that I’m getting too big for my britches, let me assure you that I don’t assume anyone is reading any of this. Part of my goal is to simple get my thoughts straight on most of this since I’ll have to talk intelligently about it at two upcoming conferences. I fully acknowledge that is right in saying:

[Blogging: Dispair Style]

[Apple iSlate Event Invite]

First, what’s it’s actual name?
Second, how much will it cost and will a subsidized by a cell carrier?
Finally, if I can buy it through a cell carrier, can I make calls on it?

Beyond those three questions, everything really doesn’t matter at this point. Every sign points to the fact that the tablet will be “honey I blew up the iPhone/Touch.” And that’s not a bad thing at all. Essentially Apple’s been working on a tablet since the release of the Touch and there’s no need to reinvent the wheel or the UI. It would be shocking if the UI/experience stunk. The name though… that could possibly stink.

Price, though… that’s critical. The question really is how much and it costs and whether or not we can get it subsidized (via a cell company). It seems to me that Apple would be making a huge mistake if they actually release it at $1000. The current rumors of ~$400 (with a contract) to ~$700 (unlocked and unsubsidized) are far more sensible. Anything much more than that and the tablet would suffer from “I paid between $99 & $299 for my iPhone. I know this slate is bigger and badder, but $1000??!!!” The similarities (form and function) between the iPhone & the iSlate would be far too close to allow for any significant pricing disparity (at least if they want it to be a success). For more on the reasons for this, see the last few posts.

Beyond the name and price, we pretty much know what it will do (again, it’s a big iPhone). It will handle apps, it might have a second video camera (not a big thing, internationally many smartphones have a second camera). What will be worth watching is if it can make calls on a traditional cell network (as opposed to internet calling) and if it’s optimized to use a headset (bluetooth or tethered). The reason that the question of telephony is worth asking is if it can be used as a phone, then it may be a step towards a re-conceiving of what a cell phone is and how one works. It may also have an effect on whether upcoming Android slates will incorporate calling.

One more thought on price: it will be interesting to see Apple can sustain the rumored $12.99-14.99 for a book. Stanza will have prepared part of the intended audience (hmm, hopefully you’ll be able to take your books across device). That said, it may be tough sell when compared to Amazon and B&N’s eBook pricing.

Either way we’ll know in a few hours.

Oh, my twitter friends remind me that there is a fourth question: whether or not it will cure cancer while taking on Chuck Norris in a fight to the death.[Apple iSlate Announcement

This is part of a series of articles about the technologies that are changing eReading. For those who have been following them so far, it’s probably becoming clear that like O’Reilly’s Andrew Savikas, I see mobile devices as the mainstream future of eReading. Previous articles have touched on the GMS mobile telephony standard and how the iPhone has changed the expectations smartphones and other screen based consumer electronic devices and mobile OS’es On the eve of the announcement of the iSlate, it’s a discussion on how Apps transform expectations.

How Smartphone Apps will change our Experience/Expectations about Computers

Over the past few articles, I made the argument that smartphones have changed our expectations about the availability of touch and downloadable 3rd party apps on similar devices. These expectations are because of similarities in visual appearance, functionality, and price point. Put another way, because my Kindle costs roughly the same amount as my (subsidized) iPhone (or Droid, etc), is mostly screen (like my smartphone), and is used for the display of digital information, I expect it to have the same features (touchscreen, color, apps). If I paid more for the Kindle (or other eReader) than my phone, then it definitely should have those features.

As recently as this past December, Jeff Bezos touted the fact that the Kindle only did one thing well:

And then for the Kindle device, we want that to be the world’s best purpose-built reading device. It’s not a Swiss Army knife. It’s not going to do a bunch of different things. We believe that reading deserves a dedicated device, and we want Kindle to be that device. It’s like a digital camera. I like having the digital camera on my smart phone, but I also like having a dedicated camera for when I want to take real pictures. (Jeff Bezos, Newsweek Jan 4, 2010)

Unfortunately, the problem with uni-functional/dedicated devices is that the average consumer isn’t willing to pay a heavy premium for them. Take his example of the digital camera – unless someone is a gadget person or an aspiring photographer, chances are that they paid less for the camera than they did for their smartphone. In fact, it wasn’t until the price of a digital camera dropped below $200 that they truly took off as a category. (Side note: I’m unsure if consumer digital cameras will survive in the long run given the increasing quality of cellphone cameras.)

The same is true for eReaders. If the Kindle cost less than $150, I think people would have an easier time treating it as dedicated device. For the moment, that isn’t the case. And, not surprisingly, last week Amazon announced that they are bringing apps to the Kindle platform.

But what happens when you start to bring apps to a given device? As I mentioned last post, one thing that can happen is that the applications lead to a reinterpretation of the “purposes” of that device. As previously mentioned, even though in 2008 Steve Jobs didn’t think people would read on the iPhone, 3rd party app developers and iPhone didn’t see things that way. Taking advantage of the iPhone’s mobility/portability, its multi-touch interface, and its ability to easily access content from the internet, apps like Stanza turned the iPhone into an eReading platform.

Note that we shouldn’t forget the users in this account, as they are as much a part of the story as Apple and the App developers. They had to discover the reading application (either by browsing the app store or via word of mouth) and figure out a way to integrate them into their own routines.

I’ll get back to the role of the user in a future post. For the moment though, I’d like to think about the intersection of hardware and software. Returning to smartphones, I want to discuss how their ability to combine “contextual” information with a constant connection is going to change our expectations about what both devices (including computers), and perhaps even books, can do.

By context I mean that the smartphone is constantly “aware” of its position in the world. Between GPS and cell tower triangulation, it’s possible for the phone to locate itself down to a few meters. The accelerometer within the phone can judge its orientation (landscape vs. portrait) and if it is in motion. Newer phones even include magnetometers (or digital compasses) to provide information about which direction the phone is pointing. Finally, specific environmental information can be conveyed through the phones recording devices (camera and microphone). Add that all up and mix in constant internet access and the result is a device that not only knows where it is, but it’s able to share that information with outside services.

This “awareness” is the foundation of applications like the popular Foursquare. Foursquare is a location-based social networking game. Users gain points by checking-in at venues using text messaging or a smartphone apps application. Acquire enough points and you become the “Mayor” of a specific venue. In some locations, venues have partnered with the service to make special offers to subscribers. What’s important to note is that this type of application would be difficult to execute, let alone build a significant following, using laptops or other portable computing technologies. The success of the Foursquared platform is directly tied to the specific capabilities of smartphones.

Looking to the future…

With recent increases in the processing and graphic power of smartphones, lots of interesting things can begining to happen. Rather than talk about new chipsets that are just becoming available from companies like Nvidia (btw, at this moment their stock is severely undervalued – hint hint), let’s go to video evidence:

This is an HTC HD2, a currently available smartphone, acting as a Playstation emulator. While gameplay is a little slower than on the PS1, it’s still an impressive leap. As these capabilities become standardized on smartphones, it will allow for Augmented Reality interactions. Augmented reality is used to describe a live direct or indirect view of a real-world environment whose elements are merged with (or augmented by) virtual computer-generated imagery – creating a mixed reality. Here’s an example of an ARG developed by grad students at Georgia Tech. Using a smartphone and a specially designed gameboard, the students have created a unique zombie shoot-em-up game:

The interaction with the game board is based on the QR Code (3d Barcode) technology. The software recognizes the image of a static graphic matrix and decodes information orientation information from that matrix in order to render the building structures. Here’s a similar example, using a desktop computer, where a print ad for the Mini was enhanced by an AR rendering of a Mini.

In the case of the Zombie game and the Mini ad, the majority of the information about the graphic code is contained within the app itself. The graphic simply provides positioning information. However, that doesn’t always have to be the case. A QR Code, for example, can encode up to 4,296 characters of alphanumeric data (30x the limit of a twitter post). Already there have been a number of interesting experiments with QR code enhanced reading:

These are all examples of hybrid projects that rely on the capabilities of a smartphone (or technology commonly found within a smartphone) to function. Each integrates with print to deliver an enhanced reading experience. It’s also possible to think about how cell phone technologies could enhance an ebook experience. Imagine for example a constantly updated electronic Zagats guide that uses a phone GPS technology to find nearby resturants, provides walking/driving maps to your dining location of choice, and actively solicits you for feedback on the location you just visited.

For other ways that the eReading experience might be enhanced, we turn to an interesting project from Japan. Nintendo Japan and Harlequin are teaming to release Love Stories for Adults: DS Harlequin Selection for Nintendo’s portable DS game system. Each of the 33 eBooks released for the DS will feature a character relation chart which is updated as you progress through the stories, view summaries of what you’ve read so far glossaries of terms and names, and background music. There is also a social reading component. Readers can record impressions of the works by simply selecting keywords, and will be linked to online columns about the work.

We’re just beginning to beginning to see what enhanced ebooks might look like. Clearly social reading (like social networking) will fit into the experience.

This continues an exploration of the technologies and trends that are influencing the future of reading. Previous posts have discussed the GMS mobile telephony standard and how the iPhone has changed the expectations smartphones and other screen based consumer electronic devices. As always, crossposted at the OPL)

[App Store]As mentioned previously, one of the things that smartphones did was to highlight the value of the Operating System. Beyond the user interface of the phone, the key place that the OS created value was through app delivered via App Stores. There is no question that the undisputed leader here is Apple. Gartner Research recently reported that Apple accounts for 97.5% of all applications downloaded from all app stores.

Let’s spend a moment with that number. First note that it includes the download of paid and free applications. The research group Gigaom has calculated that approximately ¾’s of the applications downloaded from the store are free applications (please, visit that link for a beautiful visualization of this information). Still, the results of people paying for a quarter of those applications is nothing to dismiss. In December of 2009, the quarter of the downloads from the App store that were paid for accounted for $250 Million in revenues of which 30% goes to Apple and 70% goes to the developers.

Also, it’s important to note that not all of those downloads took place on iPhones. Many purchases were made via the iPod Touch, which also runs the iPhone software. This tends to lend some credence to the possibility that the upcoming Apple tablet will run iPhone software, or at least have access to the Apple App store. It’s in Apple’s best interest to make sure that as many devices of their devices as possible can buy from the store.

Given the relative “newness” of the Blackberry/RIM, Android/Google, and Microsoft App stores, it shouldn’t surprise us that Apple is so far ahead. We can expect that as those stores mature, and as the number of devices that can access these stores increase, Apple’s share of the download market will decrease.

The greater point in all of this is that users see smartphones as a platform for apps and that they are willing to routinely download and even pay for apps, if the installation process is “one click” easy. Those apps in turn, are expanding people’s expectations about what a smartphone can do. And as we have seen expectations are often carried over to similar product categories – especially if the products are in similar price ranges. Just as people have come to expect that eReaders have touchscreens, similar expectations may develop around downloading and running apps. Take for example the Amazon’s announcement of a Kindle Software Development Kit. Also note that such a move isn’t just about keeping up with the ApplesJones, it’s also the hope of developing their own app store (you know, it’s not like Amazon has experience handling eCommerce).

The Smartphone Mobile OS

As people expect more and more from their phone, the line between the smartphone category and the portable computer category will begin to blur. Based on products shown or rumored at CES, it’s clear that said blurring has already begun. Smartphone OS’s have begun to “invade” other devices. Google’s Android OS has made its way onto netbooks and eReaders. And while Microsoft currently has different operating systems for mobile phones (Windows Phone) and other mobile devices (Windows CE), there is much speculation that these will eventually fold into the same platform. Finally,as mentioned above, in addition to driving the iPod Touch, there is much speculation that the upcoming Apple iSlate will also run the iPhone OS.

Beyond including access to apps, there are a number of reasons why Mobile OS’s are on the rise:

  • They are (in theory) designed to run efficiently on lower powered processors. While the capabilities of mobile CPUs continue to increase, they still lag far behind their traditional computer brethren. So mobile OS’s have to do more with less and while balancing functionality with heat discharge and power consumption (you don’t want to have to recharge your device more than once a day).
  • Touch (either finger or stylus) is the primary interface device. Unlike traditional OSes which focus on mouse and keyboard, these platforms were designed from the ground up to be touch first and keyboard second.
  • Telephony and mobile networking is built into the OS. Since they are designed to work as (smart)phones they have to be able to connect to a mobile phone network. This means that when a manufacturer chooses to implement a given mobile OS they know that they have the software capability for mobile networking.
  • And in addition to telephony, there are a number of other “bonus” features enabled by the OS including support for built in cameras, accelerometers (motion sensors), magnetometer (digital compass), and GPS.

Where manufacturer/developer choice comes in

For manufacturers, choosing one of these OS’s means that you don’t have to program your own custom OS for your device. However there are a range of decisions and, in some cases, restrictions that influence the decision of which OS to use.

Of the major OS’s:  Apple Iphone, Google Android, Microsoft Phone, RIM Blackberry, and Nokia/Sony Ericsson/Samsung Symbian – only Android and Windows Phone are licensed so that any manufacturer can incorporate them into their devices.

Apple, Nokia, RIM, Sony Ericsson, and Samsung tightly control their respective OS’s, placing them on devices that they manufacture. The advantage to this, from a manufacturer’s standpoint, is that they can tightly control the hardware that the platforms run on. The argument for this control is that it provides users with the best possible base experience: You never have to worry about encountering iPhone software on a device with a slow processor.

Microsoft and Google take a different approach. By allowing anyone (or at least anyone who is willing to pay the development licensing fee in Microsoft’s case) to develop hardware for their platforms, the hope is to capture the market through volume. The recent proliferation of Android devices is a great example of this. It’s hard to say “no” to a free OS that provides all the advantages listed above.

On one hand, this flexibility means that these OS, in Microsoft’s case Windows CE, find their way into a wide range of devices including eReaders and tablets. However, there are potential dangers to this strategy. Microsoft attributes part of the problems that they have had with their Mobile OS to inconsistent user experiences due to variation screen sizes and processor power across devices:

Our fragmentation issue is primarily around screen resolutions and assuming a minimum CPU and storage. So it has been a little bit challenging, because that choice, that flexibility, that freedom that people have to build any kind of device and use any kind of device: touch, non-touch, keyboard, soft key, has required a little bit extra effort in some cases for developers to target apps that run across a wide array of devices…” ~ Microsoft’s Greg Sullivan, Senior Marketing Manager

For app developers, there are different costs to be weighed. If developers choose to program for Android, it means learning a new OS. Microsoft, on the other hand, markets their OS by highlighting the advantage that programming for the OS is very similar to writing a standard Windows program, which helps keep costs down. Apple makes a similar claim about the Cocoa programming language for the iPhone – if you can program a Mac, you can program an iPhone.

Obviously market share and platform popularity influence choice as well. But, returning to the beginning of the article, distribution through App stores may be the biggest factor. By signing on with Apple, for example, a developer knows that if they can get their application into the iTunes App store, then they have the greatest audience exposure and a “turn key” infrastructure for getting paid.

The question that we’ll tackle next is how Smartphone Apps are changing our expectations about what programs (and computers) can do.