When interface guru Jakob Nieslen reported on the Kindle 2 usability last March, he pointed out it was great for books, but not much other content. Why is this significant? Two recent reports suggest that the eBook Reader could move beyond a simple device for reading books, and could become so much more.
In one instance, Apple has released a multimedia "eBook" into the iTunes store. In the other, news reports on Friday suggested that Time, Inc could be working a new Reader for the purpose of distributing their magazines. Suddenly, this market is looking even more interesting.
Time Keeps On Slipping Into The Future
A report on NBCBayArea.com on Friday, quoting an internal Time, Inc. presentation, suggested that the company is hard at work on an eBook Reader that could be available by the end of the year. This means that a high-profile publisher is attempting to get in on the ground floor of a developing market, rather than waiting to react to it, as the publishing industry has done for the last 15 years.
One key element of the memo as I saw it, was this sentence: "Whoever defines the interface wins." This is consistent with Nielsen's work, who believes that interface design and usability is the key to success for any device. The question remains whether the fact they understand this can translate into a device with high usability.
Another interesting nugget in the report was word that Time is not keeping this to themselves, but are in talks with other publishers. This suggests that Time would like to build a device that would be *the* Reader for magazine subscribers. It's an idea, if true, that has a lot of potential and could help revive a sagging publishing market.
Apple Introduces Multimedia eBooks
Meanwhile, ReadWriteWeb reports that Apple has released a comic book and song in a Deluxe package similar to the ones I reported on last week in Apple Brings the Digital Album to iTunes. This particular package combines a comic book along with a song and, according to the RWW report, includes lots of extra goodies like alternative album art, a video on how the package was made and much more. It weighs in at an impressive 400 MB.
Could this type of packaging be the future of eBooks? Rather than simply transferring the paper book to the Reader, could it include much more ancillary materials including author interviews, alternative endings and so forth? This is a much more intriguing possibility than simply giving customers something they can buy on paper in a new format.
This approach could also bode well for another eBook Reader sweet spot, text books. Today's students want the book along with PowerPoints, related PDFs and other materials. Imagine a multimedia text book package available on a Reader device like the Kindle. That could transform the market because it would provide all of the course content in one convenient device, and possibly mean lower-costs for text books.
For now, these approaches appear to be nothing more than speculation, but if they come to pass it could take the eBook Reader device to another level, and that could also make it more attractive to buyers looking for an experience they can't get on paper.