Friday, 10 January 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

The Nook RT Lives. But Nook Is Dead.

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 08:11 PM PST

Multiple reports out of China — which should be considered official leaks from Microsoft because that's how the Chinese roll — indicate that the long-rumored Nook RT is still coming [Google Translate, Google Translate, Google Translate].

Or at least a cheap Windows RT tablet is.

Microsoft hasn't given up its goal of shoving RT down the throats an OS running on an ARM CPU and has decided to partner with Inventec and Allwinner.

Inventec does crappy industrial design. Allwinner makes second-tier CPUs that require cheating at AnTuTu to sell as tablets.  This time, however, the rumor is that Microsoft intends to put RT on Allwinner's new octa-core A80 CPU.


Let's hope that's true. Because if Microsoft decides to go really cheap and use the Allwinner A31s, it'd be a bigger disaster than the Surface has already been.

The Allwinner A31s CPU, as already stated, is a second-tier CPU primarily being used in iPad Mini clones.

The CPU leader in that space is Rockchip's 3188, which has an AnTuTu score in the 20,000-range and is reflected in real-world user experience.

The Allwinner A31s — when not cheating — scores in the 12,000-range and that's also reflected in real-world user experience, with games featuring intense graphics having a bumpy ride.

In addition, going with the A31s CPU would mean that whatever RT apps exist for PDFs would have a very tough time dealing with the massive Google Books PDFs that really stress hardware more than any game does.

So going with the new Allwinner A80 could be seen as beneficial to both parties. On the other hand, even though the A80 is based on Samsung's design, we have no idea yet of how the chip performs.

Why do I continue to maintain this cheap Windows RT tablet with be headed to Barnes & Noble?

Because their Nook division is dying. They had deservedly-bad sales during the holiday season. Devices and accessories crashed, dropping 66.7% from the prior year's sales, and Nookbooks also dropped 27.3%.

But Microsoft, which sunk a lot of money into Nook, might still want to try to protect their investment before giving up completely and writing it all off.

The Nook division itself is rumored to have an eight-inch Tegra 4 tablet in the wings. But given that even Nookbook sales are down, it's clear to me that people are now abandoning Nook hardware.

Look, the brutal truth is that there's just no reason for anyone other than Nook owners to buy Nookbooks. That's due to the suicidal DRM scheme Nook has used since its inception.

Amazon has the largest eBook selection and sterling customer service.

Kobo uses "standard" Adobe DRM (as does the near-dead Sony Reader Store).

Nookbooks are the odd man out in many ways.

So, Barnes & Noble sinking more money into a new tablet would be throwing away more money on hardware no one is buying. They just don't stand a chance any longer with any tablet running Android. All of their non-book competitors have better hardware.

This means any new hardware must be done on Microsoft's dime. Thus the Nook RT, as I've been calling it.

What I'd like to see Microsoft do is be adventurous with this hardware and make it an eight-inch screen at 4:3 ratio. There's nothing running Windows — RT or 8.x — like that. All current eight-inch tablets run full Windows 8.x and have 16:9 screens. A screen at 4:3 is just better for books and magazines.

According to the reports, Microsoft wants to hit a US$150 price point.

Even so, I can't see retailers scooping this up — they've been seeing firsthand how bad sales have been of their current inventory of the new Surface (RT) 2.

That leaves just one retailer that could be forced to carry a cheap Windows RT tablet — Barnes & Noble.

Imagine two people who can't swim desperately grabbing onto each other for help and you've got a clear picture of this situation.

So, yes, until it happens otherwise, I'm still calling this a Nook RT.

But it's not going to save Nook or Windows RT.

I don't think anything can.

The post The Nook RT Lives. But Nook Is Dead. appeared first on The Digital Reader.

EnchantMoon Handwriting Tablet to Ship in US This Fall

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 01:56 PM PST

130423enchantmoon01[1]CES 2014 is wrapping up today, and as I was on my way out I caught sight of a rather odd-looking tablet.

The EnchantMoon is an 8″ Android tablet (with an electromagnetic stylus) that forgoes any recognizable interface and instead encourages you to build your own from scratch. This is a handwriting tablet conceived with a stylus obsession, which means that every command is entered by writing or drawing on the screen.

Want to include a photo in the note you are writing? Draw a shape and then write the word camera, and that shape will become the viewfinder for the EnchantMoon’s edge facing camera. Unlike most tablets, the EnchantMoon  doesn’t have a rear facing camera, just one on the edge and one facing the user.

You can browse the web and clip content to add to a note. Drawing a circle around a part of your note will bring up a menu, and you can either modify what you circled or simply move it. You can also draw shapes on the screen and then assign actions to it (a macro, if you like) by programming it in what I think was Javascript.

This set up video from the developers should give you a better idea of what it can do:

Physically, the tablet is a thick, black slab. It’s most noticeable feature is the heavy duty handle\foot which can be used to set the tablet vertically or prop it up like a wedge. It’s rather heavy, too.

This tablet launched in Japan last year (it retails for 39,800 yen or about $383 USD), where it has sold around 5,000 units. It’s due in the US this Fall, and while I don’t know the specs for the US model I do know that the Japanese model has a 1.2GHz CPU, 1GB RAM, 16GB of storage, and Wifi (according to one retailer).

I played with it for a few minutes and I am more than a little puzzled.vPerhaps I am not artistic enough, but I don’t see why one would want to spend so much in order to enable a new type of digital note-taking. On the other hand, perhaps I have been tied to a keyboard for too long; it might have blinded me to the possibilities.

P1030106 P1030108 enchantmoon-tablet-front-970x646-c[1]

The post EnchantMoon Handwriting Tablet to Ship in US This Fall appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Should public libraries give away ebook-friendly tablets to poor people? $38 tablet hints of possibilities

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 11:59 AM PST

nextbook[1]Young people love suitable paper books, ideally new, that they can own.

Could the same idea work for econo-tablets that public libraries gave away to low-income families—with a big, fat, e-book-related icon smack in the middle of the home screens? Yes!

Don't just hand out gizmos, though.

Let the tablets come with old-fashioned encouragement from public and school librarians. Technology is no panacea. Kids should be able to own paper books, too, in fact, not just gadgets.

But e-book-capable tablets, especially with national digital library systems in place, could multiply the number of books matching students' precise needs.

Paper books could serve as gateways to E, and then children and parents could digitally follow their passions to the max, whether for spaceships, basketball, or knitting. A "quiet" feature could turn off Facebook-style distractions when tablet users wanted to focus on books. Protective rubber cases could guard against drops.

Just loaners for newbies

The tablets might be just loaners at first. You'd own one for real only after you had benefited meaningfully from an online or offline book club, or had watched and absorbed educational videos, as determined by librarians or teachers. Also, you would have to show knowledge of the the basics of the machine, especially for e-booking and finding useful information on the Web, not just entertainment sites.

Yes, the tablets should be for e-books as much as possible, rather than just YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, and, ideally in time, a library social network called UsBook. But parents and children could also improve themselves through the just-mentioned educational videos. The videos could reinforce teachers and librarians' in-person tips on such topics as the best way to teach reading to a child. Librarians and public broadcasters in Colorado have already created literacy-related videos for the Web. Here's an outstanding example. "Five Plump Peas" not only teaches words but also helps parents develop children's motor skills and others.

Colorado uses videos to help teach parents to teach kids.Likewise, the videos could feature writers dear to young readers and help the children and their parents learn to use the tablets properly. Hate to read e-books on a black-on-white LCD screen? Find the background glow irritating? Well, the best e-book software lets you see white letters against a dark background if you want. Alas, typical e-book readers probably aren't aware of such a "switch," and instructional videos could make its existence known from the start.

E-book tips via videos from your friendly local public library

If nothing else, the videos could encourage parents and children to use the "quiet" feature when reading, and to change type sizes and styles to suit individual tastes. The videos also could help people cope with software crashes, inevitable with the current crop of low-cost machines. Crashes are not that big a deal if you know what to do. In addition, patrons could learn how to hook a low-cost keyboard up to their tablets for word-processing for school or work. Upscale Macs with silk-smooth responses for your fingers? Of course not. But an econo-tablet and cheapie keyboard would beat no tablet at all when an English or history paper was due, and videos could help students and other patrons master these basics.

Also, the tablets' video capabilities could enable low-income patrons to link up online with local social service agencies and health clinics, not just local public libraries—one more way to cost-justify the giveaways. They might even display full-motion pictures of agency staffers aiding the patrons, just as Amazon's May Day shows customer support people helping them. The video chats could be two-way when patrons wanted this. On top of everything else, low-income people could use the tablets for job applications and even remote interviews, as well as viewing job training videos.

In the past, tablet giveaways would not have been cost-effective, even with the various multiple uses of tablets and even with careful screening of recipients. But now $38 computers with seven-inch screens are on the way to the U.S. from Datawind, which anticipates a $20 price in two years. I've just ordered a UbiSlate 7Ci (the $38 does not include the $10 shipping), raved about by an existing user, and will write more later. I'll keep my expectations low for the display, with a resolution of 800 by 480.

Editor’s Note: I have ordered one as well. -Nate

Meanwhile I've tested a dual-core Nextbook from eBook Fun with 1024×768-resolution on an eight-inch screen—picked up at Walmart for $100 (sometimes prices are higher), a fraction of the cost of a new iPad, even the earlier Mini models. The resolution is about the same as on an iPad One, which appeared with a 9.7-incher. The Nextbook's ballyhoo on the Walmart site includes the video shown at the start of this post, with a different opening screen shot. Here are additional details on the Nextbook and the general concept of libraries giving away tablets.

Rated an average of four stars by Walmart shoppers online, the Nextbook runs Kindle software and the included Nook app well enough for most people, and to my surprise, I can even read from images of the paper editions of Google Play e-books and move around without much delay while using the slider. Moon+ Pro Reader runs well; at least no surprises so far. Both it and Google Play Books also work with text to speech—I'd installed the Acapela speech engine and the British-accented "Peter" voice. OverDrive library software at times can be sluggish; pages don't always show up instantly on the screen. But it is still acceptable, and OverDrive's alternative cloud service works better.

No iPad but surprisingly good for the price

Granted, the Nextbook is definitely not the equivalent of a recent iPad, even by the usual standards for machines with the Android operating system. Memory is only 8GB; RAM, just 1GB; and the processor chip is a now-mediocre 1.5GB. Battery life for e-book-reading is probably only a few hours, based on others' impressions. The Nextbook runs Android 4.1, not the latest, 4.4.2, and the video camera's quality is as lousy as you'd expect. But the Nextbook does come with 802.11b/g/n WiF. Netflix and YouTube at least were very playable on the Nextbook, suggesting that, yes, this can be useful for instructional videos as long as the volume on the videos is adequate. Via the included Boat browser and Google's Chromecast (available for around $30 if you look around), I could even send an HDTV signal to a flat-screen TV. That sounds like overkill for the cash-strapped. But consider the possibility of instructional videos on large and increasingly affordable TV screens, more than a few owned  by low-income people before they became poor. I didn't test the Nextbook's HDMI plug—my adapter isn't handy at the moment—but that option is presumably usable even now.

Significantly, better and faster models of econo-tablets of various makes will be on the way, and libraries should be looking ahead and experimenting on a small scale (please don't buy thousands of Nextbooks or others, and please take it for granted that lots of lemons will be among them and arrangements with vendors should allow for this!). Walmart is selling other tablets  for as little as $50 for a four-inch model (three stars) and $58 for a seven-incher (four stars). Of course, this isn't an ad or any kind of endorsement for Walmart in any respect.  The tablet from Walmart is a major example here because the stores are so ubiquitous in the States and are in many other countries.

Let's also envision some libraries and schools buying up scads and scads of refurbished iPads. They shouldn't let vendors dictate their technological strategies and should avid chasing after the latest, greatest and most expensive technology, particularly for mass purchases. Instead our public agencies should strive to offer the most value for the tax dollar, and I see the ownership strategy as one way to do this. The creation of national digital libraries, with a wide range of e-books, apps and other items useful even to people with older machines, would help. Let patrons focus more on books, other  content and basic concepts and worry just a little less about the latest hardware. Buy recent machines for in-library use and as nonownable loaners in the beginning (later the new will turn old—right for borrowing). However, for home use, concentrate more on getting patrons excited about what they can do with tablets and other devices of any age. They themselves can buy newer hardware when they're able to afford it for themselves. An older machine is still a good, dramatic change from nothing at all.

What's more, in the end, even newer machines, better than today's, will sell for a pittance, so old vs. new won't quite matter as much in the end. One more caveat. Don't buy old for the sake of old if support costs will be too high. If schools and libraries bought older iPads on a large enough scale, perhaps they could work with Apple and other companies to keep support infrastructure intact and security measures up to date.

Yet another possibility would be to give away inexpensive E Ink readers, which I suspect will go for well under $30 or $40 new in the next few years. In fact, libraries ideally could let patrons choose between tablets and E Ink readers.

Gadgets as promoters of the book culture

Some snobs undoubtedly will be aghast at the prospect of plebes enjoying e-books, especially on less-than-the-most-modern machines made for Walmart shoppers. So be it. The idea here is to encourage young people and their role models, their parents, to read and learn and otherwise improve their lives (even if the hardware isn't in the luxury class). This thinking almost surely is in line with the opinions of a prominent U.K. research who recommends e-books as as one way to spur children to read and thus boost their academic achievement in general.

Despite all the laments on the decline of the book culture—and, yes, I agree with the warnings despite many encouraging new developments, such as the creation of some very smart book blogs, some written by professional reviewers—it is not too late for libraries to play a prominent role in restoration of the culture to full strength. Experiments with giveaway e-book devices should be on the laundry list of corrective steps. Just make certain that the devices come with access to the right content and with an abundance technical support from librarians or, on technical matters, vendors or nonprofits. And if arrangements can be made with cable companies or other Internet providers for connectivity at home, not just the library, then so much the better. Unlike so many of the well-off literati, low-income people lack time to visit libraries constantly in person, especially if they are juggling multiple jobs or are just too plain fatigued from work, as is so often the case. In particular, the sick and disabled—two categories overlapping often with "poor"—suffer when libraries neglect patrons beyond their walls.

Perhaps groups such as Reading is Fundamental could participate with libraries in the borrow-and-own programs for the tablets. Donations from multiple companies—let's not turn this into simply a promotion program for one vendor like Amazon, despite all the potential positives—might also be useful as a start. Furthermore, if the cable companies take an interest and provide tablets as part of their connectivity programs while addressing the programs' current shortcomings, I am fine with the PR benefits they'll reap. But kids and families first! Societal benefits ahead of promo, please.

reposted under a CC license from Library City

The post Should public libraries give away ebook-friendly tablets to poor people? $38 tablet hints of possibilities appeared first on The Digital Reader.

AAP Reports eBook Market Up in October 2013

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 10:08 AM PST

The AAP aapreleased a new report today on the US ebook market, and depending on your viewpoint it has either good news or bad news.  According to the sales data reported by 1200 odd publishers, the US ebook market in October was up several percent at a time when the overall US book market was down.

AAP’s share of the overall US book market reached $724.1 million in October 2013, down from $735.6 million in October 2012 (largely due to a drop in the Adult segment). Sales for the 10 month period ending in October 2013 totaled $5716.2 million, down from $5893.2 million. This amounts to a 3% drop, and while all 3 segments (adult, YA, and religious) were down the decrease can mostly be attributed to the Hunger Games (and to a lesser degree 50 Shades) sales spikes reported last year.

Neilsen Bookscan independently confirms that at least one segment of the US book market declined; earlier this week they reported that print book sales had dropped 2.5% in 2013 as compared to 2012. Clearly this is a sign that paper books are on the decline and that we will soon see a revival of the market for scrolls.

On a related note, 2013 might be a down market but the AAP press release also points out that the difference between 2012 and 2013 has shrunk as 2013 progressed. The first 7 months of 2013 was 4.8% down from the same period in 2012, but by October the difference had decreased to only 3%.

The digital content market, unfortunately, is still down  from its peak in 2012 but there are signs that it is beginning to rally. eBook and downloadable audiobook sales for the 10 month period were down 2.4% (from $1.42 billion to $1.38 billion), largely due to the release of the Hunger Games movie last year (and the sales spike it caused).

And even though digital sales were down for the 10 month period, they still represent a larger share of the overall market. Based on the data I have in hand, digital content made up 24.2% of the overall US book market in the first 10 months of 2013, up from 24% in the same period in 2012.

The reported digital sales were up 5.6% for October 2013. They totaled $137 million, up from $130 million. All the reported segments (downloadable audiobook, adult ebooks, YA ebooks, and religious ebooks) showed an increase in sales.

I don’t know about you but that comes as no surprise to me. I reported last month that indies were facing more price competition in the ebook market from major publishers than they had in 2012 or even earlier in 2013, so it was safe to assume that we might see a bump in the AAP sales figures. That increased competition has resulted in driving the average price of best-sellers down, thus deflating the ebook market, but it has also boosted sales.

Also, October is in the middle of the traditional Fall release season for legacy publishers so the increase in ebook sales is doubly explained.

As always, the data I got from the AAP is embedded below. Enjoy.

aap 10 month 2013 aap october 2013

The post AAP Reports eBook Market Up in October 2013 appeared first on The Digital Reader.

TV Android Tablet Combos Are Now a Thing

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 07:09 AM PST

Of the rca-port-tv-tablet-2-img_2157-large-100020741-large[1]many sights I expected to see at CES 2014, android tablets which can pick up over-the-air TV signals was not one of them.

A number of companies ranging from a Chinese OEM to Wiltronic to RCA showed off Android tablets that doubled as portable tvs. They have retractable antennas, apps which work with the integrated tv tuners, and (in a couple cases) kickstands to prop up the tablet.

Some of the models looked to have decent specs, but not all. For example, the 8″ RCA tv\tablet (which was launched at CES 2013) runs Android 4.0 Jelly Bean on a single-core 1GHz CPU. It has a decent screen resolutions (1024 x 768), 2 cameras, Wifi, and Google Play, but I’m not sure that the specs for this tablet justify the $199 price tag (Amazon).

This tablet was just one of several tv tablets that RCA had in display; all could function as Android tablets and only doubled as tvs when you ran the Dyle app or engage the tv tuner app.

I don’t see what market these tablets would have, but I could be wrong; The Chinese OEM I spoke to indicated that they were building tv tablets for the Brazilian market, not the US, and that suggests that someone is buying them.

And I would hope that there is a market, because otherwise I don’t see an explanation for so many companies building so many models (each company had 3 or 4 different models on display). But to be perfectly honest I think this idea is going to be about as popular as 4G tablets – which are a minority of the tablets sold in the US.

But even though tv\Android is a niche market, I’m beginning to realize that lots of companies are dabbling in it. Even Samsung, for example, released a smartphone in 2012 that offered free digital TV.

RCA Wiltronic Hank (Chinese OEM)

The post TV Android Tablet Combos Are Now a Thing appeared first on The Digital Reader.

Hands on With the Pocketbook CoverReader (video)

Posted: 10 Jan 2014 03:54 AM PST

The Ukrainian gadget _pocketbook_cover_reader_frontmaker Pocketbook sent 2 gadgets to CES 2014, and one worked a lot better than the other.

I spent some time today with the CoverReader, Pocketbook’s entry into the smartphone case market, and I’m not terribly impressed with the idea. Sure, the demo unit worked okay, but I’ve begun to realize that I think there’s a better option than adding an E-ink screen to a smartphone case.

The CoverReader is designed to work with one of the Samsung Galaxy smartphones. It is an integrated cover which draws power from the smartphone to supply the 4.3″ E-ink screen (800 x 480 resolution).  It was initially announced in September 2013 with a release date in October 2013 and a retail of 99 euros, but so far as I can tell it’s not available yet.

As you can see in the video above, the CoverReader works well for a prototype. It was more than capable of displaying ebooks, though of course it required Pocketbook’s reading app to be running on the smartphone. I was also able to use the companion app to transfer photos to the CoverReader, but this feature wasn’t quite working correctly.

When the CoverReader was initially announced in September 2013 as a smartphone case I was thrilled at the idea. It seemed like an excellent addition to a smartphone which complimented the LCD screen.

pocketbook coverreaderBut now it’s several months later and I don’t like the idea so much. Now that I have seen the Alcatel MagicFlip, and now that I have seen Gajah’s new 3.5″ ereader accessory, I think they are the better option. They will work with more smartphones and not be limited to single specific models.

Adding a secondary E-ink screen to a smartphone is going to be a niche market at best, so I think it’s best to go for the largest niche possible. This means either releasing a case for the iPhone or a product that can work with all Android smartphones and not just a single model.

So long as those accessory devices can display more than just ebooks (like a shopping list email or a barcode from a loyalty card) I think they would be the more useful option. Sure, these gadgets might not serve everyone’s needs but they will attract more users than the CoverReader, which can only support the users of a particular smartphone model.

The post Hands on With the Pocketbook CoverReader (video) appeared first on The Digital Reader.

No comments:

Post a Comment