Tuesday, January 05, 2010

New Electronic Reader from Kurzweil - Blio

Wired.com reported on Dec. 28 that Ray Kurzweil has reinvented the electronic book as a platform that sits on any type of device, from a PC to an I-pod to a cell phone or PDA or one of the newly developed tablet devices. SingularityHub has another story on the same product with some more detail. The Blio is due to debut at International CESweb.org this January 7-10 in Las Vegas, so it has not come out yet, but is due out very soon. Blio preserves text's lay-out, including color and images, including graphics and images. It includes high quality text to speech capability (Kurzweil has worked closely with the visually disabled community).

You can even synchronize a PDF with an audio book to get read-along highlighting. By focusing on the software, and not trying to maintain a hardware device, Kurzweil hopes to provide the most versatile, life-like electronic version of print books and enhance them with multimedia. Best of all, Blio is free.

The race to dominate the electronic reader market is really just starting up. Kindle and Amazon have a firm lead but Stanza, Barnes and Noble, Sony, and Samsung are all staying competitive, not to mention potential tablets from Apple and a host of other companies. Heck, for that matter, the PDF format itself is doing very well and provides much of the same experience as an e-reader for many users. While hardware evolution has focused on the best uses of e-ink or the fastest download times, software is all about formatting. How does the book look? Can I read it the way I want to? Are diagrams legible? By preserving original publishing page layouts, Blio may be providing the nearest experience to actually reading a print book you can find. Of course, the question remains, is that what we really want? As traditional media continues to struggle and new media tries to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up, there’s no clear understanding of how and what humans will be reading in the next decade.

Yet even if e-readers turn out to be a transitional medium, they are still exerting a powerful influence. Best selling electronic books on Amazon are usually free, or very cheap. This may force publishers to rethink how they make money off their products. Which is why it makes so much sense for Blio to be free as well. The e-reader can be uploaded onto an iPhone or kept on your desktop. From there, users will be able to purchase reading materials at whatever price becomes feasible.

Available books will start with an extensive catalog from Baker & Taylor which should include 50,000+ volumes in January and 180,000+ soon there after. Information released from knfb (see table below) seems to suggest that more than a million books will be available in one format or another. Kurzweil and knfb are working with Google to try to make their extensive catalog of printed materials available for Blio. They are also aiming to have major publishers port their books into PDF for free. Apparently you don’t have to worry about being stuck without something to read.
(from SingularityHub review) That link on the extensive catalog from Baker and Taylor takes you to an interesting blog post on the publishing business aspect of this deal at http://industry.bnet.com Nothing in the reviews so far address whether Blio will address the academic law market concerns about e-readers. For instance, there are really not titles of direct interest to law libraries in any of these catalogs yet. And none of these readers will allow readers or researchers who own an e-book to mark passages with highlighters or maker marginal notes or link from the e-text to notes. However, the Blio's excellent audio capability and ability to highlight text as the audio plays hints at some possibilities there. This will be interesting to watch! Link to either of the reviews from Wired.com or from SingularityHub to see interesting graphs that show comparisons between the existing readers on the market, including Blio. There is also a video at SingularityHub, that is worth watching.

Of course, Blio is far from the only electronic reading software out there available for free. See Kobo which is also platform independent. Adobe Digital Editions is the format they use, another pdf, providing $9.99 best sellers and free books out of copyright to your smartphone, e-reader, Mac or PC. As far as I can tell, Kobo does not have any audio capability, nor any highlighting or margin notes ability. But it's free!

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