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Devices To Take Textbooks Beyond Text 115

Posted by timothy
from the swipe-credit-card-to-continue-reading dept.
An anonymous reader writes with a New York Times piece about the tumultuous transition to electronic devices, instead of printed materials, for text. "Newspapers and novels are moving briskly from paper to pixels, but textbooks have yet to find the perfect electronic home. They are readable on laptops and smartphones, but the displays can be eye-taxing. Even dedicated e-readers with their crisp printlike displays can’t handle textbook staples like color illustrations or the videos and Web-linked supplements publishers increasingly supply. Now there is a new approach that may adapt well to textbook pages: two-screen e-book readers with a traditional e-paper display on one screen and a liquid-crystal display on the other to render graphics like science animations in color."
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Devices To Take Textbooks Beyond Text

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  • by Joe The Dragon (967727) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:42PM (#30345682)

    Why not have a pc / netbook that can do more for about the same cost?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by alen (225700)

      because the next cool and hip thing is a dumbed down, overpriced but cool looking tablet that limit your ability to do whatever you want on a computer.

      • by ShooterNeo (555040) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:29PM (#30345990)

        Yes, but the idea of a tablet is that it should be much lighter and smaller than a full computer. You'd be able to cart it around like a clipboard and use it in all sorts of industries. Ideally, the tablet would be about the size and weight of the screen on your laptop. It would be running a very low power usage CPU, and would have a power efficient display. Due to the slow CPU, it wouldn't be useful for a lot of things you can do with a laptop, but would be designed for working with lots of 2d documents.

        • Combine that with Pixel Qi [youtube.com] multi-touch displays and you've got a rock'in platform. This display does color video with the backlight on, but with it off it does E-Ink-like low-power black and white as good as any e-book reader. Power it with an Nvidia Tegra processor [nvidia.com], and run Ubuntu Netbook Remix, and you've got one freaking awesome Internet tablet, with e-book reader being the killer app. Add a dynamically warping virtual multi-touch keyboard [billrocks.org], and you've got a killer device. I think I'll need one of the

        • by hedwards (940851)
          Umm, my Eee PC is clocked at 900mhz and is pretty tiny. I can assure you that I can do pretty much all the things that one would normally like to do with it. Including watching movies, granted I have to rip them to a SD card because the unit doesn't fit a CDROM, but the playback is quite good. It can definitely handle Ebooks, spreadsheets and word processing with very, very little trouble and cost me something like a hundred dollars less than the Kindle.

          I must be missing something since that seems to be
          • It has a tiny screen though. A tablet would be one huge screen and as thin and light as possible. Think giant iphone.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by nomadic (141991)
      Why not have a pc / netbook that can do more for about the same cost?

      Because PCs/netbooks don't have e-ink screens.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by masshuu (1260516)
        make removable displays in netbooks then. Push in a couple thing and it pops out. You could then stick a new display(say old one was damaged for some reason, or new one has higher res and higher dpi), or pop in a high contrast, black and white e-ink screen
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by mark-t (151149)
          An e-ink reader has less to do with being more compact than a netbook and more to do with being high contrast, and not requiring any power to sustain a static image, which is ideal for something like reading.
          • by Mprx (82435)

            E-ink displays have very bad contrast ratio. Typically about 10:1, compared to 1000:1 or more for an LCD. The only visual advantage of e-ink is higher DPI, which is a marketing based rather than technical benefit because there's no reason LCDs can't have just as high DPI (see the OLPC XO1's display, which is also reflective so it's usable in sunlight).

            E-ink is a dead-end technology. Bistable LCDs will exceed it in ever aspect. Ferro Liquid Display technology looks promising.

            • not requiring any power to sustain a static image

              Bistable LCDs will exceed it in ever aspect

              You can argue that LCDs will be more functional than e-ink displays, but there is no way that you can argue that there will be no niche that a no-power static display could fill better than an LCD.

            • by mark-t (151149)
              The thing with e-ink displays though, is that _perceived_ contrast improves as ambient illumination gets increases, which is exactly the opposite with any display that emits its own light. When reading anything else, such as paper, contrast also improves as ambient illumination increases, so electronic displays that exhibit this characteristic feel easier on the eyes and are usually less tiring to look at for prolonged periods, as long as sufficient light exists to comfortably read them in the first place
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by mark-t (151149)
      Try reading a pc or netbook screen in direct sunlight. Able to do more doesn't mean diddly when you want contrast, which is what is really required for general reading.
      • Who are these people who read textbooks in direct sunlight?

        And if you're such an advocate of sunlight, what are you doing posting on Slashdot?

      • by hedwards (940851)
        Try reading E-ink in the dark. I don't think you can do that conveniently. Technology always has its draw backs I find it less likely that somebody's going to be studying outside in bright sun, than indoors where there's fewer distractions. Plus, there's any number of sun screens out there, they've been making them for years for graphics professionals.
        • by mark-t (151149)
          Well, I don't normally read *books* in the dark either, so I don't give up anything by not being able to read an epaper display in the dark either. I can always use a lamp if I need to read something in a place where it's dark. Still, no display that emits light can produce decent contrast in sufficient ambient light.
        • by umghhh (965931)
          That is funny. I just got a new office with view on a lake recently and I must say I enjoy the view. I do not enjoy reading documents on my displays especially when there are no sun obscuring clouds on the sky. This proves that albeit we both indulge in similar activities professionally (wasting time on /. ) we have totally different perspectives: yours is from the windowless cellar mine from sun light filled room. What this means is that I do not expect too much of a benefit from having those tables etc I
    • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:05PM (#30345842)

      Cause an E-Reader uses E-Ink, which only uses electricity when the text changes. It doesn't take any power to show static text, just change it. (unless, of course, you use the low power backlight)

      Nobody wants to charge their textbook a couple of times a day.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Kratisto (1080113)
        It's okay, we can have students carry around multiple car batteries. It will end up weighing about the same, anyway.
      • Re: (Score:1, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Agreed. But they will be willing to charge their textbook reader once per day (at night) especially if the reader (+ content): 1) costs less then the physical textbooks, 2) has school intranet access + internet access), 3) does a better job of explaining the subject material than the physical textbook and 4) organizes your notes into a study guide on the fly.

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by reub2000 (705806)
      Why even get that when I can take a book out of the library for a lot less?
      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by rcolbert (1631881)

        Why even get that when I can take a book out of the library for a lot less?

        Because students tend to not check textbooks out of libraries. They buy them for the semester at considerable expense, and then have to lug them around all day. Or did you miss the use-case that this article is about?

        • by reub2000 (705806)

          First of all, textbooks in an electronic format still cost a considerable amount. And any savings quickly evaporates once you factor in the cost of an e-reader. Yes most students do have laptops, however those have problems that have been explained elsewhere in this thread.

          Also, who lugs their books to class? I certainly don't. Most of the time I just leave them at home.

          • by rcolbert (1631881)

            I think we're losing sight of the bigger picture here. What we're talking about is the possibility to make a significant change in the delivery of classroom text, and unbelievably the arguments against the *potential* for doing so are sounding much like the argument in favor of postal mail versus email. What about the tons of paper saved every year? The reduced barrier to publishing material? The ability to update inaccurate information mid-semester? I'm just a little speechless that people are readily

            • by reub2000 (705806)

              But would you agree that it's just not feasible with current technology to replace the textbook? I mean e-ink displays with color can't be that far off.

              • by rcolbert (1631881)

                But would you agree that it's just not feasible with current technology to replace the textbook? I mean e-ink displays with color can't be that far off.

                Yes and no. I think you make a valid point, and yet the hybrid technology proposed in the article is an important step in the right direction. What I'm resistant to is the argument against moving in the direction of digital textbooks altogether in the absence of a perfect product. Color e-ink certainly sounds like a nice future, but in the meantime I think we need to get products in people's hands that start to turn the battleship. There will be a lot of infrastructure and process required to convert th

      • As soon as they have books that I can check out of the library, where I can read it easily AND watch a video relevant to the content, I'm right there with you.

        I know...I know...I could have my laptop/netbook AND the book beside me, but I'm lazy like that.

        Oh, and also, the librarian at my university always got mad when I took notes in the margins of her books. She also made me pay for the damn book if I kept it forever.

        • Oh, and also, the librarian at my university always got mad when I took notes in the margins of her books.

          What? No way!

    • by kellymar (1682030)

      Why not have a pc / netbook that can do more for about the same cost?

      I've often thought the same thing myself, especially since downloading Kindle for PC.

    • by lamapper (1343009)

      Why not have a pc / netbook that can do more for about the same cost?

      Not sure what the same cost refers to. But we have sub $300 netbooks that can read many data formats, especially open data formats. I have no patience and refuse to purchase content in a proprietary format...waste of money.

      We also have the new Nokia N900, although it is pricer than most would want to spend, but it gives you a Linux computer in the palm of your hand. So as long as there is an application that can read the content in Linux, you can get it to work on the Nokia Nxxx.

      For those looking to

    • Plenty of reasons:

      #1 e-Ink saves power over the Netbook LCD screen.
      #2 eBook reader is easier to use and has twin screens to simulate a book which usually has two pages open at once. Netbooks only have one LCD screen.
      #3 Not everyone wants to learn how to use a Netbook computer with Windows, Linux, etc in order to read books. Last thing someone wants is a Windows BSOD while reading an eBook, or have the screen saver come up due to inactivity.
      #4 Eventually when mass produced the eBook readers will come down in

      • by lamapper (1343009)

        Plenty of reasons:
        #1 e-Ink saves power over the Netbook LCD screen.
        #2 eBook reader is easier to use and has twin screens to simulate a book which usually has two pages open at once. Netbooks only have one LCD screen.
        #3 Not everyone wants to learn how to use a Netbook computer with Windows, Linux, etc in order to read books. Last thing someone wants is a Windows BSOD while reading an eBook, or have the screen saver come up due to inactivity.
        #4 Eventually when mass produced the eBook readers will come down in price as technology advances and becomes cheaper due to spreading out the cost from thousands to millions of unit sales.
        #5 eBook sellers want the DRM features to control how their book is accessed and used.
        #6 The eBook reader is more compatible with the library system of checking out books. I expect libraries to carry eBooks and either one checks out an eBook via the library's web site or visits the library and checks out the eBook from their wireless network.
        #7 The eBook reader is platform agnostic and should work with any operating system it hooks up to and accesses to convert eBooks over to it.
        #8 Just like the iPod made music and videos sales over the Internet popular and profitable, so too will the eBook reader make eBooks over the Internet popular and profitable. The company that can do with eBooks what Apple did with music and video media should be the winner in this category. No iPods and iPhones are not as suitable as eBook readers with e-Ink, but yes Apple should strive to develop their own e-Ink based eBook reader.

        I think the big problem is this, as read from another website post about the Hanlin eReader [mobileread.com], "In China, we don't want V2 to affect the sales of V8 in our local market, because in China nobody would like to pay more 50 dollars to buy a product only for supporting PDF and DOC formats"

        This is very logical and very difficult to argue with. Why would I purchase a device, an eReader, costing greater than $50 per unit, just to read books? Especially when the books could be read on my PC, laptop, net book, Linu

    • by timothy (36799) Works for Slashdot

      Preface: I don't have any such device (yet), but I'm becoming slightly tempted.

      I was quite *uninterested* in these things, for three basic reasons:

      1) the one you name; it's a computer, underneath, but can't be used for most of the things I use a computer for (can't reply to comments on Slashdot, for instance ;))

      2) Turned off by all devices with proprietary or expensive batteries (this does include laptops, but since I've already committed to a small stable of laptops despite this, I can overlook it as neede

  • by Nefarious Wheel (628136) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:44PM (#30345696) Journal
    There will be a need to offer complete downloads when a word changes, so that professors may be reimbursed for a new book each term. Either that or the books will arrive as DRM locked on disposable tablets. Or will erase themselves after the term is over. Can't have people re-using books, now...
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by BKX (5066)

      This semester's accounting book was like that already for me. The book itself came unbound (just a pile of sheets with holes for a three-ring binder), and had a two-semester subscription to the online version of the textbook. The problem is that the subscription by itself was only $20 less than the book and you had to have it to do the homework. After the next semester, I'll be stuck with a worthless pile of paper (not even as good as a worthless textbook.)

    • by CXI (46706)
      My first thought was along a similar line. Who is going to pay $123 for an ebook!? Especially if you can't sell it back for beer money when you realize you're failing the class.
  • ... with their crisp printlike displays can’t handle textbook staples"

    I for one welcome crisp printlike displays that can handle textbook staples.
    Resolving this "bug" would seem to be a task of utmost urgency.
  • The e-reader will probably cost in the $500 range to cover cost. Each "book" will still cost $200 and will have to be bought again the next semester. Bookstores themselves most likely will not carry these unless they get a percentage of each reader and "book" sold because they will lose out on the used book sales.

    • by hedwards (940851)
      Not necessarily, the reader might be expensive, but I know that open source text books are starting to catch on. Proffessors are starting to get tired of having to make students shell out hundreds for books that are really only worth $50 tops.
  • garbage (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @04:59PM (#30345794) Homepage Journal

    Even dedicated e-readers with their crisp printlike displays can't handle textbook staples like color illustrations or the videos and Web-linked supplements publishers increasingly supply.

    Last time I looked, dead trees don't handle videos and Web-linked[sic] supplements either.

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Here, let me translate that for you:
      Even dedicated e-readers with their crisp printlike displays can't handle (textbook staples like color illustrations) or (the videos and Web-linked supplements publishers increasingly supply).
      Reading comprehension fail?

  • by RudeIota (1131331) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:04PM (#30345822) Homepage
    I think this is one of those ideas that *sound* better than it actually is. In short, adding graphics and video to electronic book readers are the first couple of steps into losing what a 'book reader' should be.

    Many argue that eReaders "just aren't the same" as a real, 3 dimensional book. I agree... both literally and figuratively, I suppose. However, educational text books are perfect for eReaders. They are often enormous, have to be frequently carried around in conjunction with others book and I'm pretty sure most people don't care about how a text book 'feels'. So moving eReaders to book = good idea.

    However, with an LCD screen, this changes things a bit. First, I feel this is losing the focus of what an 'eReader' is. It hasn't lost it yet -- but it is getting there. It blurs the line between an eReader and a Tablet... which could be a little blurry with a laptop already.

    Another drawback over eReaders as we know them is we're going to see a pretty intensive increase in power usage. This is now going to be a device that needs to be charged hourly, depending on the battery size and how much multimedia they plan on packing into this thing. Books don't have videos and while it is neat, again, it is losing focus of being an electronic book and falling into the realm of tablet.

    Take it a couple of more steps with web browsing, a keyboard etc... It's not longer an eReader. Personally, I'd rather have a 'dual screen' laptop that I could types notes on and read at the same time, since I'm going to spend a lot of my time looking in the general direction of an LCD already.
  • The problem with textbooks are twofold, either A) You have to buy the textbooks themselves, and they are worthless after you stop taking that class (I mean, does anyone re-read old textbooks?) or B) Are given to you buy your education institution. Used electronic junk is usually pretty worthless and sometimes nasty (anyone want to get a pre-used keyboard?) and what is the use of a dedicated e-reader that will be used only for a semester?
    • by mark-t (151149)
      Yes, I do reread old textbooks, or utilize them for reference quite a bit. The textbooks I don't intend to keep I sell back for about half of what I paid to the bookstore at the end of the semester so that they can be resold the following semester as a used book, as long as it is still in good condition, thus lowering the cost for future students.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by QuantumG (50515) *

        You probably care about the subjects you're taking, unlike 90% of students who are just there to jump through the necessary hoops to get the necessary qualifications so they can be mediocre workers.

        • unlike 90% of students who are just there to jump through the necessary hoops to get the necessary qualifications so they can be mediocre workers.

          The hoops mean more than the specifics of the degree itself. That's why employers usually ask for a degree or equivalent experience. People with degrees in liberal arts and foreign languages frequently become programmers.

          Others have to work and/or raise kids while going to school. What did you study? Can you tell us with a straight face that you fully appreci

          • by QuantumG (50515) *

            I went to a university that only forced me to do 2 classes that I didn't choose myself: calculus, and technical writing. After completing those two classes I understood why they forced me to do them.

          • Irrelevant, everything you learn in college is stored in your subconscious mind even if you cannot recall it. Eventually it will come back to you and the Engineer will remember how to do differential equations after reading a book on it to refresh his/her memory, and every other class as well.

            Just that while some subjects such as math and English stay the same mostly, science, computer science, programming languages, CPUs, technology, and other things will continue to change and evolve and progress so that

      • Perhaps your major is different than mine, but in computer science unless you get a really good textbook (yeah, good luck with that) most everything is either A) irrelevant for what you do or B) is obsolete by the time you graduate. About the only textbooks I would even think of keeping is literature books, but most of it is public domain anyways and the stories long lost their charm after many essays...
        • by Nyeerrmm (940927)

          As a grad student in aerospace engineering (dynamics and controls), I actually have a number of textbooks that I use regularly after the class is done. Particularly my orbital mechanics, optimal control theory, estimation, and dynamics books have proven to be extremely useful outside of the classes they were originally purchased for, in later classes, research and "real-world" work.

          I suppose grad school is different -- its more focused and you know enough from undergrad to start learning more directly appl

        • by mark-t (151149)
          I graduated from a computer science program in 2003, and virtually all of my comp sci texts remain useful reference material today.
    • by wayland (165119)

      Great Books theory. In the Great Books theory of education, there are certain great books that continue to have relevance. An example from the field of Literature would be Shakespeare. Of my University textbooks, the only one I've looked at much is the Dragon Book by Aho, Sethi, and Ullman; the one about writing compilers. There was also a Networking book that I've opened occasionally. Imagine of you had the GoF book on Design Patterns as a textbook! But no, we get books like "Java for Dummies" (I exa

      • But computer programming is a practical, "doing" field, and things change. For example, 10 years ago if you were trying to optimize your code for general desktop use for use on multiple CPU or multi-core CPUs you would be laughed at. Today though, its important because nearly all CPUs are multi-core CPUs. The human mind, and human nature doesn't change much, that is why books written long ago still are relevant such as Shakespeare, the bible, Norse/Greek/Roman/Egyptian mythology, etc.
  • by grasshoppa (657393) <skennedyNO@SPAMtpno-co.org> on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:10PM (#30345862) Homepage

    Given the glaring errors I've seen in just about every school related text book I've ever owned, I'd prefer them work on accuracy before electronic.

    • by RyoShin (610051)

      The flip side is that, with electronic versions, patches can be applied to books as mistakes are found, saving a lot of money on versions and waste in textbooks.

      Well, that is, if the textbook industry wasn't super greedy and would want to charge as much for a patch as for the original textbook.

      • by CSMatt (1175471)

        Well, that is, if the textbook industry wasn't super greedy and would want to charge as much for a patch as for the original textbook.

        They already do this, only they call the patches "editions."

        • Yep. Time for a new patch, er edition. Make the graphs that were Red, Blue, and the graphs that were Blue, Red.

          Now, fix a few typos... good.

          Now, let's re-arrange the homework problems a bit to force the students to upgrade...

          Ah, that's right, change the edition number for the book cover.

          Great! All Done.


          That's basically the story behind Stewart's Calculus 5e -> 6. I happened to fall in the middle of it from one year to the next. Big freakin' ripoff.
      • Which would be just as flawed as the original, if previous practice is any indication.

  • I like the concept of having both e-Ink and LCD screens, each optimized for a different purpose. I think they could improve it further by adding a third screen that's plasma, in case you need some high-speed animation. And for ultimate readability, they could add a mini printer (perhaps two, one thermal, the other inkjet... oh and of course a third for laser, argh, forgot dye sublim as well). They could also have multiple input devices, to optimize for various users and needs. You could have touch pad, touc
  • XO (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gmuslera (3436) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:13PM (#30345882) Homepage Journal
    Here in Uruguay all school childrens have an XO, that have a decent screen for reading text, even under sunlight. If well don't have a dual screen like those, cost less than half of the ones in the article, and can do far more than just reading books. And doing more than just displaying books means that education don't need to be something as passive as reading/memorizing a textbook, and a lot of its activities are oriented to getting student to participate. And we are talking about a device that is around since several years by now.
    • XO uses predecessor of commercial Pixel Qi screens that are launching soon(tm).

      I wouldn't be surprised if we find them in e-book readers announced some time ago by few big motherboard/laptop manufacturers. Or in Apple tablet.

  • by line-bundle (235965) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:14PM (#30345888) Homepage Journal

    In my experience as a professor I found that there are two types of students. Those who get the material without much supporting information, and those who will never get it no matter how many different techniques you use. Bloating textbooks has just made it harder for those interested in the subject to wade through the crap.

    Adding more to already bloated textbooks won't help. I should start a movement for smaller books.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by webdog314 (960286)
      My daughter recently brought home a Jr. High level biology textbook that was bigger than the ones I had in college as a microbiology major. It had a hard cover with an 8 in. hologram and foil-stamped embossing. Having worked in a high school library, I can understand the hard cover. Kids are hard on textbooks. However, when I was in school our teachers actually told us to take care of the damn things and that we would be held responsible for excessive damages. They gave us covers and encouraged us to use th
    • by martas (1439879)
      I agree completely. Having been educated in a post-soviet country until I came to the US for college, I remember fondly the days when I had textbooks that gave me pure, concentrated fact. The textbooks I have to use now, apart from being bloated, also seem to have been written with the intent of teaching a certain model of interpreting and reasoning about the facts. While it's understandable why authors feel the need to do this, I think a much better approach is to allow the students to develop this intuiti
      • The problem with interpretation vs pure fact is related to the lack of elitism in America and Britain. If you intend to pass every student, then you have to predigest everything for them so that even the dumbest can succeed. You were lucky to be exposed to a more elitist model early.
    • by bcrowell (177657)

      Bloating textbooks has just made it harder for those interested in the subject to wade through the crap. Adding more to already bloated textbooks won't help. I should start a movement for smaller books.

      I'm also a college professor, and I agree about textbook bloat. The problem is that the college textbook market is a very strange kind of market -- really, it should be referred to as a "market," with scare quotes. The people who pick the textbook are different from the people who buy the textbook, so you

    • As someone who has recently completed an undergraduate degree in engineering, I completely agree with your thoughts. I began my M.Sc. this year, which means I'm mired in lit review for my thesis project. I've been working my way through a few older textbooks, and am floored by the difference in quality in terms of presentation of material. These texts present matarial in a clear, concise, and robust manner. My undergraduate textbook in electromagnetics is embarrassingly hand-wavy in comparison to its equiv
  • Well (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ShooterNeo (555040) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:15PM (#30345904)

    Note : the e-paper screen on this device is 9.7" diagonal, which is the same size as the display on the kindle DX. Most likely it's the same part number.

    This device is approaching the functionality of a truly useful electronic book. That's enough screen area to make an electronic textbook practical and close to being equivalent to the paper version. The true value of course is that you should be able to fit dozens or hundreds of books onto the machine. Plus : searchability, updates, electronic highlighting, etc.

    Downside : publishers will try to destroy the used book market. They'll use DRM and various access controls to try to force every user to buy a separate copy.

    Upside : open textbooks directly published by professors, available free or for under $15, will be more practical.

    Obviously, the problem this device has is that at $490 it's far too expensive ($200-$300 would probably be a more practical price point). Android is still basically a beta product, and we don't know if the guts of this device are up to snuff. It needs to have a long battery life, a CPU that is beefy enough to not add long delays yet use very little power, and things like an SD card reader.

    • by macshit (157376)

      Obviously, the problem this device has is that at $490 it's far too expensive ($200-$300 would probably be a more practical price point). Android is still basically a beta product, and we don't know if the guts of this device are up to snuff. It needs to have a long battery life, a CPU that is beefy enough to not add long delays yet use very little power, and things like an SD card reader.

      Another huge problem is that the damn thing is twice as bulky and heavy as it could be, to support functionality that's mainly useful for fluffy demos, but not so much for actual reading or learning.

      To put it another way: it comes with a giant permanently attached sales brochure that doubles the weight of the product.

      Another sign that marketing is in charge of development I suppose...

      • How's that? Color pictures are useful in many forms of textbook. In some, like medical textbooks, they are essential. (you need to have a photograph of an example of what the text is discussing. )
    • Obviously, the problem this device has is that at $490 it's far too expensive ($200-$300 would probably be a more practical price point)

      You're joking, right? 400-500 is one semester's worth of books at my college.

      • Conversely at my university (UK) for Mathematics we have no set textbooks, a few textbooks are listed as possible reading material for each topic and these are available at the college library (there are about 30 colleges in the university) or the departmental library for unusual ones.

  • I think it is obvious that what we really need is good color, hi-res e-paper. But I also understand how difficult that might be to do right now.

    In the meantime, I will stick to reasonably-priced, general-purpose machines, rather than expensive single-purpose devices.

    In general I tend to agree with the professor, however some subjects like higher math, physics, etc. simply cannot get by without some good graphs and diagrams.
  • Battery life? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pancakegeels (673199) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @05:21PM (#30345940)
    I would like a *cheap* usb ebook screen so I can reduce the eye-strain when reading text at work/home etc. Why doesn't that exist?
    • by martas (1439879)
      you mean e-ink? if so, then my guess would be that such a thing doesn't exist yet mostly because the technology is still pretty new, and available through only a few (young) manufacturers, who don't have the necessary weight behind them to release a wide variety of products.
  • Isn't it odd how one of the easiest thing to convert to bits will be the last thing to be sold as bits? Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if books are still printed long after every human brain has been uploaded into the memory banks of Google's massive servers.

    Seriously though, electronic textbooks won't fly for a good long time to come. The people who select these books tend to be hardened and cynical after dealing with publishers for years. These people know that publishers are trying to turn their book

    • Indeed, it wouldn't surprise me if books are still printed long after every human brain has been uploaded into the memory banks of Google's massive servers.

      Will I still be able to play WoW? And if I do, will it hurt?

  • It would be a much more elegant solution to simply use one screen, which combines the abilities of both technologies. I think when e-ink displays are able to offer full-color and rapid-refresh rates as well as the current benefits of clarity and readability, they will replace LCDs altogether.
  • Its a silly argument that the article makes. E-Readers can display B&W pages, and gray shades. This is absolutely sufficient for displaying textbooks. There is a line of extremely bloated textbooks that takes liberties with layout and colour. I just wonder for what purpose colour is used in those books. In my opinion it does neither help understanding of diagrams and models, nor does it improve the information density. Perhaps a revisit of Tufte's rules for information design is in order for publi
    • by hazem (472289)

      Its a silly argument that the article makes. E-Readers can display B&W pages, and gray shades. This is absolutely sufficient for displaying textbooks.

      Not if the the book has a chapter on spectroscopy or titration (is the reaction pink or purple?), or shows maps (which shade of grey is water vs land?) or flags of the world. That's just 3 things found in textbooks I can think of that would not work well in grey-scale.

  • "Even dedicated e-readers ... can’t handle textbook staples like ... videos and Web-linked supplements"

    Pretty damn sure you are making an unfair comparison here. Unless textbooks in the author gets all his textbooks from Hogwarts.
  • dedicated e-readers with their crisp printlike displays

    Bullshit. There ARE no such e-readers, unless the only print you've ever seen is darkish grey text on lightish grey paper. E-reader displays are NOWHERE NEAR 'printlike' yet. Ugh.

    • by vlm (69642)

      Bullshit. There ARE no such e-readers, unless the only print you've ever seen is darkish grey text on lightish grey paper. E-reader displays are NOWHERE NEAR 'printlike' yet. Ugh.

      There are LCD screen book readers that are better than most non-artsy printed books, where the battery life is merely a week or so. Certainly higher contrast than an old yellowed paperback.

      Then there are e-Ink or e-Paper or whatever screen book readers, that have no redeeming characteristic at all, other than a battery life measured in page turns, which for a slow reader is possibly measured in months.

      The problem is the assumption that given that its technologically hard to make a high contrast display, th

  • There is no excuse for not totally changing our school system. First we should eliminate the grade system. People should have the option of trying to learn a subject until they give up. If someone is trying to learn something than the school system should not shut them off. Second is that we should redefine what teachers do for a living. Computer should be used to teach our children. Teachers should be called motivators. They would have a one on one discussion with each student every day. They would
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642)

      There is no excuse for not totally changing our school system.

      Could have just given a link to wikipedia

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Programmed_instruction [wikipedia.org]

      Assuming you're not just making this all up, I would guess you really enjoyed "the little schemer" LISP/Scheme textbook series?

      I'm related by marriage to two school teachers. This is a great plan for teaching math, like you mentioned, such as trigonometric identities. Not so good for creative writing. The other problem is, according to my relatives, and most things I've read online, "teachers" only really "teach"

    • by Brianwa (692565)
      I had a math teacher try something like this for a single chapter. The instruction was still textbook and lecture based, but there were daily assignments that were computer generated and would not let you move on until you had "mastered" the prescribed skillsets. Every assignment corresponded to specific pages of the textbook, so it was basically like what you described. I finished weeks late and very nearly failed that chapter. It was absolutely terrible and if entire classes had been designed like tha
    • You would basically need one teacher per child, and sorry, most kids aren't worth that economically. You can always homeschool if you don't like it.
    • You obviously don't know much about learning and teaching. Having a student reread pages until they pass the test is a waste of time. If you don't understand the material after reading (maybe twice), you need a different explanation of the material; something that any competent teacher will recognize.
  • Already does pretty much the same thing, why doesn't somebody come up with an add-on that will let you do all this stuff?

    • So does the iPhone, but they both are too small, require constant charging (as compared to a e-ink or a real book) and most importantly are WAY WAY too small.
  • by lamapper (1343009) on Sunday December 06, 2009 @09:32PM (#30348104) Homepage Journal

    There is something about a newspaper, magazine, book, flipping through it that I simply love. I find it relaxing and enjoyable to lazily leaf through a book, magazine or newspaper. Always will.

    I have to admit that if I were searching for a phrase or phrases I would prefer to have it on a computer. Just works better.

    What matters to me more is not the device (hand held, net book, tablet, laptop, PC, desktop, tower, etc...) but the data format.

    I want to purchase my content ONCE, maybe twice if I have too, but not repeatedly for the rest of my life, every three or four years. That it crazy. I was taught at a young age to try to avoid being penny-wise and dollar foolish. I like to purchase things that last. So if you put the content on cheap materials that will not last, your bad, you will lose my business. I would rather save more money, pay a little more and get the data on better materials that will last. Look at furniture, I will not buy cheap furniture that breaks in less than a year. I would rather pay more (its usually not that much more either) and have it last, it should still be in good shape so that I can give it to my grandchildren if I want too. Instead of something cheaply made that will not last till I see my own children. What a waste of money.

    To buy too cheap is penny wise and dollar foolish.

    I apply the same logic to computer hardware and software that is proprietary in nature. Having been burned not just once, not just twice, but many more times than three, I am simply tired of seeing my hard earned money being drained away by insane fees, charges and forced updates. I will pay for innovation, however I am hard pressed to see how spreadsheets, word-processors and database programs have really improved enough to be labeled "innovative" since Windows 95/98. Granted you might have a chance with databases of finding one or two obscure new features that might be a "must have". But not with Spreadsheets and Word-Processors.

    A friend of mine loved WordPerfect, the technical writers would keep finding new ways to apply WordPerfect to their craft, technical writing, literally every day, day in, day out for multiple years. It was not because the product had been improved, though it was, it was because the product was feature rich and would let a master at their craft (word processing, tech writing, etc..) really excel. Word Perfect was the best Word Processor ever. That was years before Word gained only because of Microsoft Office and Microsoft's control of the desktop. Even later when most had switched to Word after Microsoft corrupted their own file formats to force users to upgrade to the new Word, the experts, the technical writers who knew their craft preferred WordPerfect and other Desktop Publishing tools. It just made sense.

    Word did not take over through innovation, but it did take over none the less. We are all poorer for the lack of innovation.

    So the idea of forcing us to buy some proprietary e-reader hardware in order to read a proprietary data format that could just as easily be provided in an open data format is crazy. Quite frankly it is beyond offensive and hardly endears us to your brand.

    We were not born yesterday.

    Even those (probably because they are simply too inexperienced) that have not experienced this kind of FUD, still understand the concept.

    Buy me (book, music, content, etc...) on this device in that format (proprietary of course) and in a couple of years that device (proprietary) will be left without support (because we said so) and not only will you be forced to purchase the content again because of the proprietary data format; but they (proprietary company) will attempt to force me (and you dear reader if you mistakenly bought in the last time) to purchase yet more new hardware (proprietary of course) that offers yet again, no new innovative features.

  • Having two different display technologies in the same device is hell in terms of UI design and development. Those hassles mean that you're probably better off just using two LCDs instead of trying to combine e-ink and LCD technology into one gadget.

  • Well by the time this is implemented at all, I will be done with my schooling and get little use out of it. If I ever have children, hopefully by then this will be commonplace.
  • How about a two-screen laptop with a traditional LCD display on one screen and a textbook display on the other to render crisp printlike graphics?

We have a equal opportunity Calculus class -- it's fully integrated.

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