Electronic Ink Readers

I have been the proud owner of an iLiad eBook reader for about a year now (thanks to Pioco‘s Steve Chao), but I hardly use it. Why? Because it is way too slow, likely because it is a pre-production model and because the content I want to have is not available. The device is great, the electronic ink technology is so much better than reading from the screen of my laptop. It really feels like reading a book. For me the most important success factor for an eBook reader is not the way it looks or how much it costs, but simply the content. The content I want is newspapers and magazines that I cannot buy in China, or that are only available a few days later in the bookstores here. So when earlier this year the announcement was made that Dutch newspapers De Volkskrant and NRC would become available on iLiad format I was very happy. But no, for some reason the newspapers backed off, and is still not available on the iLiad format.

I believe in electronic paper and hope it will break through. So I was very happy when announced the launch of its own eBook reader, the Kindle. It looks like a 1970’s electronic calculator, but that’s OK as long as it is functional. The content problem is no issue either, because already 90,000 books are available in this format. And best of all, newspapers like the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Germany’s FAZ, plus magazines like Forbes or Time are available on it as well.

So I was ready to place my order, until I read the first reviews this morning. What did Amazon do? They built it to work only on the EVDO network and the machine has no wifi connection. I am not 100% sure, but I think that makes it useless outside the US. I tried to order it anyway, but got rejected (“We do not ship to non-US addresses). What a stupid move from Amazon, the world is really a lot bigger than the US, Mr. Bezos. Not only that, the Kindle uses its own proprietary format and cannot read many existing other formats.

Maybe this gives iLiad a second chance, their product looks a lot better but it seems they have a serious marketing problem. Why can they not make deals with a couple of newspapers? As an entrepreneur I see some very big opportunities here. Newspaper circulation goes down worldwide, because of the internet. People are finally more concerned about the environment. This is a killer product for these two issues. If I could get a subscription to a few foreign newspapers on an iLiad or Kindle, I would do it right away. But it’s impossible. If you get your favorite newspaper delivered to your home or office every day, you cannot read it while traveling or on vacation. With an electronic ink version you can get it wherever you are. It hardly costs the newspaper anything to add a subscriber, so what is holding them back? And not unimportant, with eBook readers the amount of paper that we use daily can reduce a lot.

I hope the Kindle will break through, and that very soon a version 2.0 with wifi will come on the market. Or otherwise that iLiad gets some entrepreneurial marketing people on board that can put the product into the market. People don’t know how fantastic electronic ink is, and that’s why they don’t use it. If I would have time….

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  1. I was extremely disappointed too when my order couldn’t get finalized due to this ‘small’ problem. I don’t think the Kindle is going to work outside of the US, and it might take a long time before they start to roll out non-US, non-EDVO versions. Too bad, I was looking forward to reading books and articles and newspapers on the train…

  2. why is the electronic ink better than laptop screen? is it the high resolution? Can’t they integrate that technology on computer screens? I buy audio books when I can, because it’s much easier to carry an ipod than a few books. But hopefully, with an electronic bookreader I’ll soon be able to carry my library of books with me, that would be fantastic!

  3. @Lei: Electronic ink is a completely different technology. The page is built up with ‘ink’, so it does not get refreshed many times per second like your laptop screen. It is therefore much easier to read, it does not make your eyes tired. It looks like you are really reading from paper.

    You cannot use this technology for computers, because it only works for static content. The page is only refreshed when new content will be displayed. So you can never play a game or watch a video with electronic ink (at least not at the current level of technology).

  4. It is indeed easier to think of e-ink as a portable printer rather than the screen. I also have an Iliad, but have been disappointed with the poor user interface. Trying to zoom in on PDF text is difficult because you can’t easily move the zoomed window from side to side (like you can on an iPod Touch). Don’t lose the pen either.