Classic Home Toys Installment #16
The Case of the Electronic Book Reader

Author: James Russo

There is probably no area of computing, most especially palm computing, that has been more trouble and filled with more failures and false starts that the idea of a palm held electronic device that can be used to read books, newspapers, and magazines.

From Apple’s Newton right up to the latest contenders including the Amazon Kindle, computer manufacturers are still trying to get the public to embrace the ability to read without holding any paper.
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There is probably no area of computing, most especially palm computing, that has been more troublesome and filled with more failures and false starts that the idea of a palm held electronic device that can be used to read books, newspapers, and magazines. From Apple’s Newton right up to the latest contenders including the Amazon Kindle, computer manufacturers are still trying to get the public to embrace the ability to read without holding any paper.

Actually, millions of computer users have already embraced a form of paperless electronic text without even realizing it…HTML or Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is the most popular form for text on the World Wide Web and variations of it are used to display text on PDA’s and cell phones. The tremendous advantage to HTML is that the text can be deciphered easily and in the blink of an eye by the most common and widely used web browsers such as Mozilla, Firefox, Netscape, and Microsoft Explorer.

One of the boldest and most innovative attempts at creating a truly portable electronic book reader was the Newton eBook developed by Apple. Newton eBooks had a .pkg extension which stood for “package”. Newton could package several ebooks together in one file such as all of the books of a trilogy. In anticipation of the popularity of paperless reading and because Apple was one of the first major computer companies to successfully put on the market a reliable, easy to use, and affordable ebook reader, many major book publishers published books in the Newton format. Many found themselves stuck with an electronic “white elephant” as the Newton quickly failed to attain the sales that Apple had anticipated. Apple eventually absorbed Newton back into its operations, but there were many users who had published books (many of them more expensive hardbacks) with the .pkg extension and no way to decipher them. Apple posted the Newton ebook reader on several websites where it could be downloaded. The file allowed Newton ebook owners to finish reading their electronic books on their PC.

It would be several years for the concept of the ebook to find its way to store shelves again. Another electronic text format called Libris was introduced which allowed to display of simple text on cell phones at only one page at a time. After Libris, another titan in the electronics industry, Sony Corporation, would follow in the footsteps of Apple and once again try a portable ebook reader.

Many believe that in introducing their ebook reader, Sony had ulterior motives besides just financial and aesthetic gain. Apple is dominating the portable music business with their wildly successful iPod and variations of the pocket held device. The Sony discman, the iPod’s predecessor, had been almost completely decimated. Many industry analysts believe that Sony’s ebook reader was an attempt to exact retaliation on Apple for this tremendous upset. The Sony PRS-505 was introduced in the United States in 2006 and is holding its own. Like many Sony products, the PRS-505 uses Sony’s own patented ebook format called, BBeB or “Broadband ebook”.

No sooner did Sony release their ebook reader than Amazon.com released their own portable book reader, the Amazon Kindle. The Kindle is very similar to the Sony ebook reader except that it uses an alreadsy existed language for its ebooks called Mobipocket.

Related Links:

www.sony.com
www.amazon.com
www.wikipedia.com (under Sony ebook reader and comparison of ebook devices)

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