Saturday, May 28, 2016

The evolution of reading

 Disclaimer: All the information provided is to be consumed(if) with no reponsibility attributable to me. Reader discretion is adviced regarding all the issues mentioned in the post.

If there is one hobby which is universal across the world and the most followed hobby, it would be Reading. Now reading is a very broad word. It can mean reading a newspaper from the first word to the last word without much of internal processing. It can be reading a weekly, nonthly or yearly magazine with a little bit of processing. It could be reading a novel visualizing all the characters and the plot so as to stay in that realm for a finite time. It could be reading for gaining new knowledge, upgrading knowledge, assimilating knowledge and maybe for a few create fresh knowledge. The latter one takes the maximum amount of internal processing. Now all this is available to the common man after the gutenberg printing revolution. This revolution has created readers over the continium of minimum processing to max processing of the brain by the readers. Books were everywhere. All the knowledge accumulated till then in varied forms of storage reached the common man on paper. The most cost effective form of sharing and recieiving knowledge. Books had their own charm. The process of buying a book itself is one of the most satisfying excercise of human life. The collection of books in anybody's house speaks volumes about the individual. Again here individuality of hyman race stands out. There are no two similar individuals who read or write books. The fingerprints are vastly different when it comes to consumption and creation of books.

In the intial era of book printing, the contents were normally textual form, augmented by a very few illustrations, if and when requireed. Maybe an illustration for every chapter. This trend was later turned around with text taking the second precedence over the visual content. The creater wants to talk to the reader in a more visual realm and in exact terms of his vision. The textual realm allows for every reader to have his own visual realm, albeit with minor or major differences based on the invlolvement of the reader and the description of the writer. But with visuals taking precedence over text, the reader has to be in the realm of the writer. These books we now call them, comics, graphic novels. I dont find much difference between a comic and a graphic novel(Since this is a pure text post, the readers are welcome to choose their own visual realm for differences between the two).

With technology picking up great pace, computers taking over majority of the mundane human tasks, creating and reading content have also changed over the decade. The big change for content consumption have been mobiles, tablets and most importantly e-readers. Here, when i say e-readers I am talking about devices which work on reflected light. The other classes of devices work on backlight. The human eye is trained for reflected light. It is not designed for long hours staring of light originating. The eyes adore the beauty of te moon than the sun which the former just reflects. We see things through reflected light. We differentiate objects based the amount of light that is reflected, its wavelenghts and intenskty. We tend to look away from direct sources of light. It is no secret that people found it tiring to read on LCD/LED screens powering the phones and tablets. The skim reading or just going through and article augured well for these devices. But continous reading possible with a physical book i impossible with these devices.

Enter the e-reader. The most important innovation in the present digital world for bookworms. The ereaders have all the technologies available on modern computer devices with a reflective display. The human eyes love reflective displays. If you want to read a physical book you need to have a light source somewhere in the room. If your are reading in broad daylight, the physical book is much more easy to read. The same tech is used in an ereader. If your are in the dark, you cannot read from the ereader. Yes, there have been work arounds by putting LED's on the edges of the ereader screen to assist in reading at night but, there is still a certain amount of direct light which hits your eye with thes devices but, it is a good start. I stil love reading with a bed lamp than an ereader weith LEDs on the side.

Now let us see what these ereaders can do

1. They can hold enormous amounts of books
2. Bookmarking is as easy as exiting the book and chosing a new one to read
3. Add annotations
4. Check for meaning of word which the author has intentionally used to more understand his point of view
5. Battery life of nearly a month on one single charge
6. Buying books on your couch, on your train or bus journey
7. and much more

Let us complete it with what an ereader cant do

1. Give u the arom of a new book or the bliss of opening an old book
2. The joy of reaching the right page where we left off and forgotten to bookmark it
3. The joy of hinting a friend writing on the specific page regarding some history or a deja-vu
4. No question of battery life
5. The joy and the fulfilness of buying a physical book after a tiring journey of the bookstore just to realize that the first book you saw while entering was the book you want to buy
6. The vanishing individual's book shelf
7. The infinite sharing of books

The most hated aspect of all ereaders is the incorporation of DRM, wherein the books are tied to you and you are in no way entitled to share it with your friends and family, mitigating free will. One more thing i hated was their size. You are not able to read a magazine or a graphic novel or a comic in its true size. The most bacic problem is they dont display pdfs in their full glory. If the ereader does support pdfs, the problem is that the format doesnt flow and adjust to the screen like epups format. Normally all pdfs are genereated based on an 4 size sheet which is what printed magazines come out in. Trying to read it on a regular ereader would involve pinching and zooming complicated by thre refresh rates of the e-ink reflective tech screens.

Since the advent of ereaders I always wanted a device capable of dishing out pdfs and graphic intensive books. This prompted me to consider a 10" tablet. But, the issue here is that they are backlit. Yes, the colors are beautiful, but, your eyes get tire very easily. In the beginning of the year there was a lot of interest for producing ereaders with larger screens prompted by the company supplying majority of hte e-ink type of devices. Their 13.3" e-ink display prompted all this sudden interest. Sony came out with a device with an exhorbitant cost and capable of reading only pdfs. This was clearly aimed at the enterprise market and I believe it was(is ?) mostly made to order.

A chinese complany showed interest in making one with the same screen. They have already shipped the first batch of their devices and it is called the Boox Max. This is one company which is serious in their e-reader offerings, They have all kind of sizes with the latest being 13.3". They have an all metal eraeder, a 9.5", 6" and I think many more. The 13.3" got my fancy and I followed it up since their announcment. There is a german website which is taking pre-orders for the second batch of Boox Max if your are interested. The tech spec is on their website. I would just like to add that on the software side there are some glitches. There are occasional freezes. The company has promised updates to the android version as well as its bundled applications.  But, reading on it is a breeze. it has re-kindled the reading in me. The greyscale display puts me right back to the gutenberg era. Reading comics and graphic novels is an experience. Reading an epub format file with plenty of books available on the guternberg project, it is perfect. The text is crisp, the display size is perfect. The battery life for such a huge device is definitely good. Did I forget to tell it has the Android play store, wifi, bluetooth, audio jack. Another downer is that you have to interact with the device only with the stylus provided. There are buttons for page turns, but the interaction with the device is only throught the stylus provided. That is ok since you will not be pinching and zooming at all. Once u open a book it is only with the next page and the previous page.

The product page : Boox Max
User discussion forum: Mobilleread
Pre-order Boox Max:  Ereader-store
Wiki: Boox wiki 

Happy reading.

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