Tech Talk

Features - July 7th, 2006

Finally, eBooks for the Rest of Us?

by Andrew Robinson 

A few years ago, an article in WIRED magazine intro­duced a new technology for displaying electronic text called E Ink. Basically, instead of a backlit screen, this new method would make reading text in bright day­light or a brightly lit room very easy on the eyes. It was called the closest thing to reading text on paper yet, and Sony has a product coming out this spring in the States (and, presumably here in Japan as well) called the Sony Reader that makes use of this technology. This may perhaps finally bring electronic books to the mainstream.

No one wants to read The Da Vinci Code
on their laptop or their Palm device —
one’s too awkward and one is way too small.

This isn’t the first Sony product based on E Ink. A few years ago, Sony’s Librie was released in Japan, though it turned out to be not much of a success due mostly to poor marketing decisions. Why is the re­lease of this ‘new’ Sony Reader interesting? Content that (hopefully!) shows a triumph of open standards in electronic books (or ‘eBooks’) over Sony-only sold formats in a thin, light, handheld screen.

eBooks are not new. There have been a number of attempts at both portable readers and various elec­tronic formats for books and periodicals. Microsoft, Palm and Adobe all have ‘Reader’ software that will run on various platforms, usually a laptop or a hand­held PDA. None seemed to find the magic combina­tion of a device that’s easy to use and look at, and content that is easy to get.

No one wants to read The Da Vinci Code on their laptop or their Palm device — one’s too awkward and one is way too small. We want a device the size of a paperback book, light, easy to read and that is compatible with a wide range of current eBooks. Sony says it’s Reader ( will read Adobe PDFs as well as it’s own proprietary content. So, with the ability to make PDFs from almost any printable electronic document on my Macintosh, I can look forward to reading not only this summer’s bestselling beach book, but work reports, email, saved blogs, not to mention anything from Project Gutenberg (

Light, pocket or purse sized, easy to read — you really have to see this E Ink to believe it, it’s amazing — with a capacity of around 80 books and 7,500 page turns on a single charge, this second round eBook device from Sony has a real chance to make eBooks finally really work.