Future home: the future of reading

Digital libraries and e-ink vs. LCD struggle

The future of... | gaming | television | music | reading |

The humble book's ascension into the world of premium consumer technology has been slow, but finally tech producers are latching onto books as either a feature they can add to an existing tech (as with Apple's iPad and its iBooks application, or Amazon's Kindle app) or as the heart of a gadget itself (as with Amazon's Kindle DX or Sony's PRS600 eReader).

The conflict here over the next year will be between the dedicated gadgets, which pack easy-to-read e-ink screens but as yet can't do colour or advanced web browsing, and tablets like the iPad, which display colours and webpages beautifully but are hard on the eyes over long periods.

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But LCD screens have another advantage over e-ink than just vibrant colour; with more and more newspapers and magazines releasing digital editions, e-ink will start to lose ground if publishers start including video and audio content to their downloadable versions. The Times already has an app for the iPad which includes playable video within articles, something which eReaders are unable to reproduce. With the tablet market still fairly nascent, the next year will see whether customers prefer the more content-rich tablet option over e-ink's extended battery life, visibility in sunlight and ability to read for extended periods of time.

Whichever of these two formats is adopted (assuming that one of them will be), should digital copies of books become mainstream the publishing industry will begin to face the same problem that the film and music industries have been struggling with unsuccessfully for the past decade: piracy. The ebook's success as a format will hinge on whether the extra profit from easier distribution of digital content outweighs the cost of said content finding its way onto torrent sites and P2P filesharing networks.

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