Stealth eReader Devices

Early adopters have been consuming eBooks on PDAs and mobiles for a long time, but a 320×240 display affords at best a mediocre reading experience, even for reflowable text-centric content. While I’m a big fan of dedicated reading devices, and especially like the upcoming Sony Reader, I think it’s too soon to write off multi-purpose devices. One sea change is the emergence of higher-resolution displays on small devices.
There are now over a dozen VGA PDAs. I skimmed an eBook on one of these 640×480 VGA PDAs and found it surprisingly readable. And SVGA (800×600) device displays are available, at least on keitai in Japan. At least for the next several years dedicated devices will provide a far superior experience for immersive reading (at a price), but we should not ignore the millions of users who will have multi-purpose devices that are capable of consuming text content. Even the Sony PSP handheld gaming device is generating interest as an eBook platform. And, while Tablet PCs are much mocked and scorned, the folks in Redmond are nothing if not persistent and I think we can expect more on this front later (not to mention the eventual Apple tablet device).
As with digital cameras, dedicated devices will be first to achieve parity with the analog world: eBooks will not supersede pBooks thanks to a Treo. And like digital cameras (and unlike music players) every choice will involve compromises, no one model will be “good enough” along every dimension. But as with camera phones, the combination form factor should eventually prove popular as well. Reading is a ubiquitous human behavior and we should be striving for open cross-platform solutions for eReading that are able to be deployed pervasively across the spectrum of devices that we will be using. Well, except for the living-room TV – even a decade of Microsoft persistence hasn’t been able to make “lean back Web surfing” appetizing to users, much less immersive reading.