Sorry I haven’t posted for a couple of days (not that anyone is reading this blog yet, but I digress); I’ve had a nasty head cold.

The iPhone is coming out this Friday, and my current plan–given that my birthday is this month, and my existing cell phone is an ancient Motorola v180 that even my 9 year-old son has noticed is getting long in the tooth–is to get one. And as a huge eBook fan, I’m hoping that eBooks will be readable on the iPhone. Certainly one can read eBooks on a Mac; the question is, will they be supported on an iPhone (which is essentially a Mac, but streamlined and tweaked).

I’ve done a lot of looking around, and I’ve looked at their promotional, welcome video, and I still haven’t found an answer, alas. I also emailed the good folks at eReader, but haven’t heard back as yet. And yes, I’m sure Apple will have some kind of support for PDF viewing, but as a person who is hugely, profoundly, horrifically familiar with Adobe products, I have to say that I am not a big PDF fan. I won’t go into it right now; let’s just say that I feel that PDF is not the future of online book and document viewing.

I read an interesting article today about the iPhone and eBooks, the gist of which seems to be that Apple should support the e-paper technology, and that is the future of online books. To which I say, yeah, well, maybe.

I tested the Sony Reader for Gear Diary, which uses the e-paper/e-ink technology. My understanding is, the big advantage of this technology is its low power use, which enables a huge amount of “page turns” or “page views” between recharges. You can read my review for the full report, but the bottom line is, unless some major changes are made in how the technology is implemented, I simply do not see how it can be sold in a big way. Aside from the fact that it is black-and-white, and the world has now become accustomed to color images embedded in their documents, there are a few other things about e-ink that I find really annoying (and the mavens at Sony assure me these are e-ink problems, not problems with their implementation):

  • It’s dim. Really dim. While fine on a bright day in sunlight, if you are trying to read in a dim room, you’re out of luck.
  • E-ink has a noticeable refresh delay. This causes a delay when you turn pages, when you change menus, any time you redraw the screen. The Sony folks said I would get used to this; I didn’t. I found it spectacularly annoying. The screen also “flashes” black for each refresh, which is extremely distracting, especially in combination with the slow refresh rate.
  • It’s black and white.

So in any case, I think putting up with that simply to get more battery life is simply unacceptable. E-ink may be the Next Big Thing, but I think it’s got a ways to go first. I would invest in better batteries before I would throw my money behind e-ink technology, honestly.

The new iPhone specs put the battery life at 7 hours of video playback time, which is boucoup eBook reading time (take it from me–I watch a lot of movies and read a lot of books on handheld devices). So the question is, are people really going to want to trade off a full-color device with embedded images that can move for a black-and-white e-ink device that has a slow refresh rate for the nominal advantage of a few more hours of battery life? When most people are used to plugging their phone in at the end of the day anyway? What market would this be for? The international, 14-hour plane flight set? C’mon!

As a doc guy, I’ve been watching e-ink development for nearly 15 years now, and it still is a few years away from being completely there. Meanwhile, CRT and plasma screen technology and battery technology development marches on, as we see in the iPhone. I won’t say that e-ink is dead, but I read the first stories about it before I got married, and now my daughter is about to enter Middle School, so I’m not holding my breath, if you get my drift.

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