Appropriate size? Tick. Flat-panel display? Done. Variety of brands from where to choose? Mais, bien sûr! Colour images like those found in LCD technology? Hmm... let me get back to you on that one.
Who would have guessed it? That at the eleventh hour and after Steve Jobbs's hagiographic treatment on the cover of The Economist recently, e-readers devotees would be so glib so as to quibble over colour preferences. Or lack of them thereof.
As users of modern reading gadgets such as Kindle and Nook have discovered, their new toys are far from the Avatar-like sophistication which trumpeted their arrival. I guess someone forgot to update the bugle's App. And if you note a dollop of Schadenfreude in my post today it's because I am still sceptical of the e-book phenomenon.
With a self-assurance more commonly found in cocky roosters, new reading devices arrived en masse almost at once. And straight after, police were called to the scene of the crime (or 'launch', as many still prefer to call it) to declare the traditional book dead. No autopsy, no second opinion. Dead. Asphyxiated by paper surplus. However, little did the experts know that some of us, real literature lovers - as in palpable, touchable literature -, were just getting ready for the long battle ahead. Oh, boy, and what a battle! Tony Blair and George W Bush still wonder where Saddam Hussein's WMDs are. They're under my bed! And they are already aiming at a few targets: Kindle, Sony e-reader and STAReBOOK to name but some.
And would you believe it? Before we've even shot the first salvo of this literary epic war, the e-book camp has had its first casualty: colour.
Unlike mobile phones and laptops where the latest LCD technology makes it easy for the reader to view content, e-books are dependent on E Ink displays. The biggest downside is (rubs hands in glee) slow updates as you turn the pages and colours; they are hard on the reader's eye. Well, change to LCD, I hear your beautiful chorus sing. Not so quick, my chiquilines. LCD gadgets are battery-hungry monsters that could harm your eyesight if you expose yourself to them for a long period. Other technologies are simply beyond financial reach.
According to Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading division, 'the ideal e-reader display would combine excellent battery life, a paper-like reading experience, full colour and a response-time fast enough to suppport video - while also being affordable' (The Economist, 12th December 2009). Wise words, but my response to his comment is: Paper-like reading experience? Whatever happened to real paper?
Luddite I'm not, just in case the image of a caveman struggling to make fire with two sticks flashes suddenly in your mind. My approach is more from the variety angle. I'm all for the e-book if it means wider choice, not if it comes bearing a hood and leading the traditional book by the elbow to the guillotine. And yet it's the latter example the one that'll become the likelier scenario. On the one hand, the e-book is easier to carry around (I bet you'll miss dog-eared novels and pages yellowed by the passage of time) and more financially viable in the long term, especially for students (Really? One word, well, two compound ones, second-hand bookshops). It is also a quicker and more approachable format for scholars to access content since it accommodates more text (that'll put antique furniture stores out of business. Plus IKEA. No more bookshelves). On the other hand the history of display technologies is not awash with successess. Only a handful of them have satisfied the market.
However, it seems that there's been a breakthrough. Mirasol is a new electronic display developed by Qualcomm, one of the leading companies in the mobile phone industry. It is similar to E Ink in reflecting ambient light but it uses two layers of mirrors instead.
Fine, I see you gathering your troops, e-reading gadgets. I, in the meantime, will sharpen my lance and sword, saddle up my old Rocinante and call upon my loyal Sancho Panza. Windmills, here we come!
Next Post: 'Living in a Bilingual World', to be published on Tuesday 2nd March at 11:59pm (GMT)