what BusinssWeek review on Nook missed

Yesterday, Barnes and Noble introduced its own e-book reader, Nook. Hardy Green wrote a review of Nook for BusinessWeek. At the end of the review, Green says:

“Still missing here is the paradigm-changing gadget, the book equivalent of Apple’s iPhone. In fact—although you can load a number of e-reader applications, including Kindle and Barnes & Noble apps, onto an iPhone or iPod, Apple is keeping mum on any plans to produce its own device. But with a touchscreen that utilizes the same technology as the iPhone and its Google Android platform, the nook may have Apple’s technoids thinking twice about entering the e-reader fray.

There still is probably space for that paradigm-shifting thing that is so terrific—so mind-bendingly lovely to fiddle with and to use for a variety of functions—that it actually expands the number of book readers. But at the moment, and for several years’ time, e-books have represented only around 1% of the shrinking book-reading public. Not only must that percentage rise, but also the overall number of book readers must increase—then we’ll know that e-book nirvana has arrived.”

While I agree that there still is space for paradigm-shifting thing that is so terrific, I think Green completely misses the point by suggesting that it is a hardware that will do the job. What is missing is not hardware, but the content management software (that is equivalent of iTunes and iTunes music store) that integrates many different aspects of user experiences of acquiring, storing, and reading digital reading materials (not just books). Just like listening music is only one facet of digital music experience, reading is also only a part of digital reading experience. What Kindle does well (and I assume Nook as well) is the integration of book purchase into the device. What it does not do is the acquisition and management of other reading materials. It also does a terrible job of managing Amazon contents once they are bought.

Since I travel frequently with many papers, I bought a Kindle DX. I carry my DX almost everywhere I go. In addition to a copy of Lost Symbols and the latest issue of New Yorker, I have many articles that I read or review on my DX. When I download a paper from a journal site in PDF form (through the university library), instead of printing it, I simply drag and copy it on my DX. I also print some Word documents that I need to review by converting them into PDF and carry them on my DX. This process works fine; but it reminds me of how MP3 players worked before iPod + iTunes.

Right now, there is no client software to manage contents on Kindle. What is needed is a new content management software that combines some features of Papers, Kindle on-line store, and sync capability. Paper offers a good user interface for finding, retrieving and managing articles (using a combination of Google Scholar and the databases such as JSTOR). It pulls PDF and reference information at the same time. One can read the PDF file in full screen mode and export reference information to EndNote, a leading reference database that works with Word or Pages.

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By integrating these features into a single software platform, one can radically change the user experience of digital reading in the same way iPod+iTune changed on-line music experiences. Such an experience can be useful not only to book lovers, but also knowledge workers and students. Taking this idea further, one can also envision how such system can change the way we assign reading materials for students. Professors can create and manage reading list for their classes by creating a list of digital readings that are organized based on course schedule. Students can simply subscribe the course syllabus from their eBook reader and the reading list will be automatically updated as the professor might add and drop readings as the course progresses.

Of course, there are many hardware features that need to be improved, such as note-taking, touch screen support, etc. However, looking for a breakthrough innovation in digital reading domain from a hardware seems to be a repeat of the many mistakes that Apple’s competitors made in response to iPod. They kept coming back with better color, better music quality, smaller design, longer battery life and prettier industrial design. At the end, it was how one can manage digital audio contents (not just music) that really drove the iPod experiences. I surely hope to see a similar, mind-bendingly lovely, innovation take place in digital reading domain. But I am pretty sure it will not be from hardware even if it is from Apple.

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One thought on “what BusinssWeek review on Nook missed

  1. I currently use the Calibre software to manage the news and book articles and it does sync with Kindle and other multiple software. But I do agree that a concept software-hardware integration such as Papers+Kindle would be dynamite. btw, does your PDF read well in the Kindle Dx? How do you get rid of the headers/footers?

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