Plastic Logic unveils E-reader that’s everything Kindle isn’t

At the Demofall08 conference that was held this week in San Diego, (“72 companies. Each with six minutes to show their product to the world. It doesn’t get any more straightforward and fast paced than that.”) a company named Plastic Logic introduced a new type of e-reader that looked like it featured nearly everything the Kindle doesn’t, at least in its current incarnation. Take a look at this video:

Demo08 Plastic Logic

Some of the oustanding features of this yet to be named product are:

  • Touch screen
  • 81/2 by 11 inch display
  • as thin as a pad of paper
  • durable, unbreakable plastic (not glass) display screen
  • virtual keyboard
  • Bluetooth and Wi-fi capable
  • allows notes and annotation on a document
  • handles PDFs and other open format content

Some reviewers have commented that it lacks content, when compared to the Kindle’s library of 170,000 or so titles. But the device was presented to the crowd as a “Business reader”, in contrast to the Kindle, which they referred to as a device for “recreational reading”. Elsewhere they  mentioned that their device allows them to work with publishers to create “new business models”. Perhaps they could find an intrepid textbook publisher that would be willing to offer textbooks on the device. Its form factor and durability would appear to make it far more suitable for the high school and college market than the Kindle. Whoever gains the first mover advantage in this market will be able to write their own ticket when Jeff Bezos comes calling.

When Irish Eyes Are Smiling: Schoolkids Get Free E-Readers

The country that gave the world U2, Guiness beer, and the shamrock also seems to be on the cutting edge of educational technology, according to a story in Thursday’s Irish Times:

A GROUP of 18 secondary school pupils yesterday became the first students worldwide to replace their academic books with electronic devices. The first year students of Caritas College girls’ school in Ballyfermot, Dublin, each received an electronic book, pre-loaded with the required textbooks, as well as 50 classic novels including Moby Dick, Pride and Prejudice and Oliver Twist . The use of the electronic devices will mean a dramatic reduction in the weight of the pupils schoolbags, replacing more than 6kg (13.2lbs) of textbooks, workbooks, an English dictionary and a novel with a 400g (0.9lbs) e-book.  In addition, the students will no longer need copybooks to take notes, as they can write and doodle on the electronic pages, similar to a regular copybook.

The pilot program has apparently been launched by Dublin based educational publishers Gill & Macmillan. Their director of sales is quoted as saying: “Although we believe that the widespread adoption of e-readers is some time off, this project allows us to determine how well they work in the classroom, how the pupils interact with them and to examine their potential.”

The device being used for the pilot program is the Iliad, by iRex Technologies. It list for $599 U.S. and is generally regarded as the Mercedes of e-book readers. In addition to handling e-books (including PDFs), this device incorporates Wacom’s pen writing technology, allowing the user to write directly on the screen with a stylus. The mind boggles when imagining the scenario in which a student can carry all her books and notes in a 15 oz package that fits in her purse.

No doubt some critics will say that at this price, why not buy them all laptops, but you’d be hard pressed to find a laptop with handwriting recognition and touch screen technology incoroporated for $600. Besides, the electronic paper display is unbeatable for reading long passages of text. The iliad comes with built in wi-fi for downloading content wirelessly, as well as an optional ethernet hook-up, in contrast to the built in “Whispernet” feature of Amazon’s Kindle, which is based on Sprint’s high-speed mobile phone network.

This is a bold step for a publisher to take, assuming they are underwriting the full cost of the program. If this assumption is correct, this begs the question, (or several questions): Does Gill & Macmillan plan to migrate all its textbooks to an electronic medium? How is their economic model different from that of North American textbook publishers, who so far have shown little interest in adapting their content to an electronic format? And finally, could they please open a U.S. branch?

We will be following the progress of this experiment in digital publishing closely over the coming months. Stay tuned.

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Welcome to the Age of the Wikitext!

An interesting item in May/June issue of Multimedia & Internet @ Schools on the future of the textbook, in a world of Web 2.0 education:

Now let’s get some perspective. Let’s say you were in college in 1978. When you received an assignment, you would use reference books and journals in the library to do your research. You would then handwrite your notes and use a typewriter for your final draft. You used a slide rule to work on your discrete math homework. Sometimes you called your parents from a telephone booth to beg them to mail you pizza (aka beer) money. Not to mention that your biology textbook was a 6-pound, 700-page tome that took 3 years to get published and was already out-of-date.

Now, 30 years later, your son is entering his second year in college. He takes class notes on a laptop and does his research with online databases and (of course) Google while using a free Wi-Fi hotspot at Starbucks. He gets help with his math homework by contacting classmates through Facebook, and he forgets to call you from his cell phone because he doesn’t need money for pizza—he just uses his credit card.

But you don’t worry about him too much. His phone is practically a part of his body, so you subscribe to an online service that uses the GPS locator to sync it up with Google Earth, so at least you can see exactly where he is at all times.

Only one thing hasn’t radically changed—his biology text, which has now grown into a 12-pound, 1,000-page mammoth of a book that still takes 2 years to get published and is already out-of-date. What’s wrong with this picture?

“Textbooks have yet to respond to changes in technology, teaching philosophy, and student life,” says Paul Bierman, a professor at the University of Vermont. He made this statement at a workshop he initiated of 54 leading scientists, educators, and technology experts at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. They met under the theme “Reconsidering the Textbook.”

http://serc.carleton.edu/textbook/index.html

Here’s another thought-provoking excerpt:

Textbooks have been another casualty of budget cuts. Many schools are being told, “Don’t even consider ordering new textbooks for next year—the funds just aren’t there.” If only there was a cost-effective supplement. Hmm …

http://www.mmischools.com/Articles/ReadArticle.aspx?ArticleID=13676

If a small fraction of the amount spent on producing, printing and distributing textbooks each year was invested in digital technology (such as Kindles or other e-reading devices), the long term savings would be sufficient to bring teachers’ salaries up to a level commensurate with their value to society.

Observation: A scan of the speaker roster at the “Reconsidering the Textbook” workshop reveals a collection of academics and technology leaders, but not a single representative of the publishing industry. I guess this would be a little like inviting the suits from the record companies to a confab hosted by Napster back in 1999 called the “Future of the CD”.