Good news flies in

Dear reader,

Via “Engadget” I discovered this interesting news:

We’ve been hearing rumblings that the FAA wants to start letting you use certain gadgetson airplanes through the “terrible 10,000 feet,” and according to the WSJ, it’s about to do just that. A 28-member industry and government panel’s draft report strongly recommended relaxing blanket rules against electronics that have been in place since 1966 due to massive changes in technology since then. The committee also cited reports showing that passengers often forget to turn off gadgets without any consequences and that airlines, left to enact their own rules, are much too conservative. If it goes along with the document, the FAA will likely allow the use of certain devices, like e-readers and music players, during all phases of flight — though the ban on cellphones is expected to continue since the panel wasn’t authorized to broach that controversial issue. As for other devices, the details are still being bandied about, and the FAA is unlikely to announce a formal decision until the end of September. Still, now might be a good time to start fortifying that music and book collection ahead of your next big trip.

E-reading devices compared

Dear reader,

More and more signals appear that the E-ink technology that is used in many popular e-reading devices is getting beating upon beating from the realm of the tablets. Not very surprising, as tablets become more and more affordable and offer more versatility compared to e-readers that you can ‘only’ use to read.

♦ So what is the difference of the reading experience between the two?
Here is some imagery from my own devices (forgive my lack of craftsmanship on these):

E-reader, large overview

Image from a piece of text on my e-reader. It almost looks like a book to me.

E-reader, detail

Up here you see a close-up of the text on the e-reader.

Tablet, black on white, overview

Here you see a snip of text on the tablet, with the device set to a white background and black text.

Tablet, black on white, detail

A close-up of the tablet’s display. Of course, you would never lie with your nose on a tablet this way, unless you fall asleep on it.

Tablet, white on black, overview

Here is the same text but then reversed in image. White text, black background.

Tablet, white on black, detail

And to be complete: here is a close-up of the text in white on black.

As you see, there is quite a difference when you look at the devices this way. The display on the e-reader seems a bit smoother. This of course has to do also with the way the tablet lights up its text: from behind, and the fact that this is an extreme close-up. When reading from it, the difference is hardly noticeable.

♦ And what is the similarity of the reading experience between the two?

Both devices do what I want from them when I read on them. The display is flicker-free, the response when paging is good (remember that you get what you pay for, do not expect snappy responses from a low-budget tablet). Both devices can hold a large number of books, font sizes can be adjusted and everything just works.

The tablet has an added benefit here: I can install free reading apps from anywhere (Aldiko, Kobo, Amazon, etc.) so I can purchase books from everywhere and read them immediately. This benefit also is a drawback. I want to read a book. Where did I buy it? Oh, yes, so I need that app to read it. That is something you don’t have to worry about on a dedicated e-reader, everything is on there. Which has in turn the drawback that when you want to buy something on Amazon and read it on for example a B&N Nook, you will need to do some trickery with conversion and DRM removal before you can load your purchase on your own device. Especially the latter part needs some attention as it is not legal to tinker with these things, even when you have bought the book.

For now there is one clear point where an E-ink device wins hands down over a tablet: reading outside. A tablet does not display anything clearly when you take it outside in bright light. And the brighter the light, the clearer E-ink is.

♦ The decline of E-ink.

I see why it happens. Tablets are more versatile. You can read on them, you can also browse the web, you can listen to music (which is possible on most e-readers as well), and you can run all kinds of programs and games on them. E-ink will have a hard time beating that – as well as getting a facelift to displaying colours.

Improvement in tablets may ‘doom’ the e-reader

Is the e-reader doomed? According to Matt Alexander on The Loop, it might just be on its way out as tablets get better and better.

Alexander’s argument basically boils down to the fact that e-ink is an intermediate step, a necessary compromise between readability and display quality. E-ink is evolving toward being able to present color and full motion video, he suggests—and when you have an e-reader that can do that, it won’t be an e-reader anymore, but rather a tablet.

And really, the naming of these devices, the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet/Color, is resounding evidence of the looming death of dedicated readers. The Fire is sharing the Kindle name not only because it helps in marketing a new product, but because the concepts are on an inevitable path toward merging. The e-ink Kindle is limited, but with the converging technology in displays, its brand and legacy will live on in an entirely different form. The e-ink Kindle and Nook will fall into a niche category, while tablets (or similar) will continue to thrive.

The craze for the fire-sale TouchPads, Alexander suggests, shows that consumers are only putting up with e-readers but what they really want are tablets. (I know that my uncle, who prior to last Christmas was quite pleased with his 3G Kindle Keyboard, is now looking to sell it and buy a Kindle Fire like the one he got for his wife and then fell in love with himself.) E-readers are just a “stopgap” to tide people over until tablets get good enough, and it looks like they’ll be there before long.

This reminds me of what happened to PDAs. They used to be the mobile computing device. but they gradually vanished as smartphones took over everything they could do and added communication capability too. Now phoneless PDA devices like the iPod Touch and the Galaxy Player are very much the exception rather than the rule. Perhaps that future is coming for e-readers, too, if tablets can get good enough and inexpensive enough to take over the niche.