Monday, September 14, 2009

The Asus Eee-Reader: I Don't Get It

Have you seen the leaked photos of the upcoming Asus Eee-Reader? If you missed it, here's a short article on CNET with a picture. OK, I get the lower price. Sure, that's something the market is clamoring for as the Kindles, Sony Readers, etc., are destined to be nothing more than nichey luxuries as long as they're $300+.

But what's with the 2-panel hinged display? Why take a relic of the print book and force it into an e-reader? Think about it. There's not a single time in the past year where I've said, "gee, I really wish this Kindle had a second display that hinged onto this one." Never.

Why? First of all, I can only read one screen at a time. OK, things get more interesting when you can have full color with hi-res so that images pop. Um, that's not the current state of the Kindle (or Sony) technology though, is it? So a second screen is just there, waiting for me to get to it. Oh, and btw, it costs more to make. And since this new device won't be using eInk display technologies, it's basically a pair of LCD screens that suck more juice from the battery. What's there to like?

They talk about using the second screen as a virtual keyboard. Anyone who owns an iPhone will tell you the thing they like least about it is the virtual keyboard. Heck, even the chicklet Kindle keyboard is better than a virtual one. (Wow, did I just say the Kindle has an interface feature that's better than the iPhone's?! That's the only one, btw.)

The article goes on to talk about how the device will have speakers, a webcam and a microphone built in. Sounds great, but isn't this starting to smell a lot like a netbook? Asus has been in the netbook space for a few years now and they're just tweaking their product a bit and calling it an e-reader.

I'd rather just have a netbook. And if there's one thing I've learned in 2009 it's that the dedicated e-reader doesn't have much of a future. Sure, they'll still be around in a few years but the real action will be with the multi-purpose devices like mobile phones and tablets.


Mike said...

Anyone who owns an iPhone will tell you the thing they like least about it is the virtual keyboard. Heck, even the chicklet Kindle keyboard is better than a virtual one.

Regarding the former assertion, that's simply false. I own an iPhone, am about to buy a new one to replace my current one, and I like the virtual keyboard. It is not the thing I like least about the iPhone.

Regarding the latter assertion, I despise the Kindle's chicklet keys. Especially the kludgy "SYM" button.

Part of the issue might well be the Kindle's overall slowness. There's a certain crispness missing from data entry, and that microsecond delay between input and feedback in the form of the typed letter appearing on the display feels like eons some days.

I think the thing I really like about the iPhone keyboard setup is the sense of instant feedback on what I just typed. I don't have to divide my attention between display and keyboard: The display *is* the keyboard, and I can see the letter I pressed over my fingertip (thumb-tip, actually) as I press it. If I miss my target, I can roll my thumb to the left or right a little and correct on the spot. Much harder proposition with the Kindle.

Joe Wikert said...

Mike, I've gotta say you're in the minority. You're the first person I've encountered who really loves the iPhone virtual keyboard. That's also why a poll I saw earlier this year asking what add-on you'd most like to see for the iPhone was...drumroll please...a mini keyboard using Bluetooth.

I hear what you're saying about the responsiveness of the Kindle keyboard. It's awful. I was just referring to the accessibility but you're right to point about the slow response rate.

Tomlin said...

Split screen would be handy
for side-by-side translations
like Beowulf and Canterbury Tales
but the Dx could possibly do that
with a little genius programming

Anonymous said...

Actually the thing I like least about the iPhone is AT&T. The keyboard is right up there at number 2 however.

Anonymous said...

"And if there's one thing I've learned in 2009 it's that the dedicated e-reader doesn't have much of a future"

Not necessarily agreeing or disagreeing, but how did you "learn" this?

(Unless you're Steve Jobs, and you're just hoping that saying it makes it so.)

I like my dedicated e-reader (Kindle 2), but that may be because I'm unimaginative and don't know what else I want an e-ink device to do. (If it were LCD, that would be different, but if it were LCD, I'd still be reading paper.)

For all the love of Swiss Army tech (and I'm usually a fan of minimizing my gadgets, Kindle aside), we still have plenty of single-purpose stuff in the world that is applauded for being great at what it does and for not trying to be everything to everyone.

I'm not saying that dedicated e-reading devices will survive, but it is my fervent hope that they don't get downgraded into something less wonderful because people would rather have a subpar (backlit, small screen, no sample chapters, no free wireless) e-reader than carry around a phone/GPS/mp3player/flashdrive/toaster *and* a book.

Joe Wikert said...

Dear Anonymous, I made that statement after more than a year's experience with both the Kindle and iPhone. The Kindle does a couple of things moderately well but the iPhone's flexibility allows it to do many things exceptionally well.

It's an admittedly rough experience trying to read an entire book on the iPhone, so yes, the Kindle succeeds there. But I'm convinced more and more short-form content is going to be consumed in the coming years and less book-length works. That's hard for a publisher like me to admit but the momentum is clearly on the short-form side and it's only going to get stronger.

TheH2 said...

So many things for so many years have "competed" with books from radios to the TV, to cable, to video games, etc. and the book is still around. I'm not sure how short form is gong to take over. One reason why is the number of people receiving advanced degrees continues to rise. It seem counter intuitive to have rising incomes and falling demand for books. And, can there be short form if there is no long form to reference?