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On the face of it, you would think eBook Readers would be perfect for an academic setting, but according to a post on Engadget this week, Princeton students participating in a pilot program were unhappy with the Kindle DX's feature set, particularly ones essential to students such as annotation and highlighting. Given that eBook Readers at some point will be relegated to niche devices (if they aren't already), you have to think that the academic setting would be *the* perfect niche, and that means that one of the eBook manufacturers is going to have to step up and develop a product specifically geared to the needs of this market.

Why Academics?

Let's face it, text books are heavy, expensive and they use a lot of trees. They are also require frequent updating, forcing reprints and quickly making the paper versions obsolete. If a student could carry one light-weight device with all of the texts, hand-outs and homework, it would be make life so much simpler for them. Of course, there would need to be some cloud-based updating and backup because you know that some students would inevitably lose the device. The feature set should also include solid annotation and note-taking tools, the ability to highlight text and access related materials in online libraries and on the web. None of this is beyond the reach of the current state of technology, so it begs the question: Why hasn't someone created a device like this?

What do Students Want?

IREX, which just last week introduced a new eBook reader to the market, has been studying the academic market, and IREX’s North American CEO, Kevin Hamilton says, they have learned that students have very specific requirements including:

  • Students strongly preferred a larger screen that more closely resembles the size of a textbook.
  • Students said that the readability, weight and size of eReaders are strong, but that battery life and the speed of turning pages need improvement.
  • Students strongly preferred reading on an eReader rather than a laptop / netbook.

Who's Going to Meet Demand?

Hamilton understands that the lack of note-taking ability is a problem, one they plan to address in the their latest offering in the first quarter next year. "The IREX DR800SG will have note taking capabilities available via an easy firmware upgrade in Q1 2010 and our other eReaders have had this feature available for years." He adds, "Our business eReaders are very popular among attorneys, academics, etc. because they allow a user to make annotations while reading. This will surely spill over to the U.S. market as we implement the note-taking capabilities on the IREX DR800SG."

The long-rumored Apple Tablet is also set to take the market by storm at some point and you have to believe that that it will come equipped with all of the features that students and business people alike would want. One thing Apple usually gets cold is usability, and I can't imagine they aren't watching and making adjustments to market needs. Meanwhile, you have to wonder why Sony and Amazon aren't taking this part of the market more seriously and giving students what they want out of the gate.

These devices will only carry so far as pure book readers. They have to do more and the academic market is one that is ripe for the picking. At some point, one of these players (or perhaps one we haven't seen yet) needs take advantage of this market because I think it's going to be substantial.

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Last Post by Callum_62
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Two things:

First, readers and students have vastly different methods of accessing content. Readers chew through it from upper left to lower right, rarely back-tracking or caring where are within the structure of the book. It's all about the story. News readers are even less focused: they're all about the article. Students, however, range all over a book. They start a section, flip over to the index to find another reference to a term they are unfamiliar with, mark a sentence, go back to cross reference with a previous highlight, skip ahead because of the lecture order their professor has chosen - in short, they rarely, if ever, attack a book from upper left to lower right, line by line the way a mere reader does. That is why the Kindle fails them.

Second, Students don't want another device. They want something that works with the two devices they already carry: their laptop and their phone. They want the most powerful yet smallest device that will let them surf, Facebook, email, Twitter, shop, check horoscopes, and listen to music, and watch video without thinking about the technology. To anyone over 35, this is a nerd. To folks under 25, this is just using the stuff you're used to using. Sure, some of them will pick up a Kindle, and the really voracious readers in the demographic will like it and maybe but it, but the majority will see the $300+ price tag and say "No, thank you." (Actually, it will be much more off-color, but allow me the license.)

The company I used to work for makes a reader that meets all the qualifications you mentioned and more (creates highlights and notes, saves them in the cloud, download books, online access, range of subjects, works with PC and Mac, allows for searching through one, some, many, or all books at once, etc.) It's backed by a name that libraries, booksellers, and computer-savvy folks know well. It's been in use for over a decade. There have been more than a billion individual books sold in the format, yet few people know about it.

VitalSource Bookshelf. Www.vitalsource.com/betterbooks

It's a division of Ingram Industries. Yes, same family as Ingram Book company, and Ingram Micro. They know distribution, and they are here to stay.

Go download Bookshelf (free) and grab a few free books to try, then see what other books you can add to your library. It's pretty good tech, based around what students want and need, not what readers of newspapers and fiction want. You'll never (well, probably never) carry your laptop out to the beach, or curl up by the fire for a nice long reading session on your phone, but if you want to take your 15 textbooks and ancillary materials to Grandma's for Thanksgiving, having it all on your laptop is pretty sweet.

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As a senior in High School who has organization problems I would love to have one small machine that I could use for all my books. My backpack weighs more than I do (exaggeration ;)) . I would worry about losing it (again, organization problems), and it would be perfect if you could connect to a laptop and pinpoint where it is at through some sort of a location tracker built in to the reader.

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Well, I'm hoping the devices get cheap enough that replacing them isn't a huge issue and that it includes automatic backup in the cloud, so you can access your content anywhere such as a home computer. I think the issue about carrying heavy back packs is a serious one. I have two teens and I can't believe what they carry around. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Ron

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@tsmyther

You miss the point entirely here. If students were willing to consume textbooks on laptops, there would be no need for the e-reader. The problem with the laptop, and presumably with the upcoming Apple tablet will be the screen. It is simply not comfortable to read for long periods of time on a backlit screen. This is why we need a dedicated e-ink (or similar technology) device to come forward and offer a good textbook format coupled with interactive content.

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