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.
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.