Five Features I Want in My Next eBook Reader

I bought the Kindle 1. Then earlier this year I bought the Kindle 2. I was enthusiastic about both devices. But after nearly two years of using them on a regular basis, I have to admit, I still prefer bound books.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/luismmolina, Image #11148981

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/luismmolina

I know, many people will say “I told you so.”

However, my preference is not because I am opposed to technology. Far from it. I believe traditional books will eventually be replaced by some sort of device. I just don’t think we are there yet, despite the fact that eBook readers are continuing to gain momentum. In fact, at last count, there were some 20–30 different models on the market.

I keep watching each new eBook announcement with interest. I am especially excited to see what Apple brings to the table when—and if—the company ever releases its iTablet device. At Thomas Nelson, we have digitized most of our content, so we are ready regardless of what happens.

However, for me personally, I am not going to buy another eBook reader until it offers the following features:

  1. I want more than a dedicated reader. Right now, I carry an iPhone, a Moleskine notebook, a Kindle 2, and a MacBook Pro laptop in my briefcase. I would love an electronic device the size of the Moleskine notebook that would replace my cellphone, Kindle, and maybe even my laptop. It doesn’t have to fit in my pocket. I don’t mind carrying it.
  2. I want a color, touch screen. Whenever I hand my Kindle to a newbie, their first instinct is to touch the screen to make something happen. Apparently, the iPhone has changed everyone’s expectations when it comes to the user interface. I also want color. I don’t care about eInk technology. Frankly, I think it is over-rated. I don’t need to be able to read in direct sunlight.
  3. I want an easier way to highlight and annotate. Yes, you can do this on the Kindle now, but it is really clunky. It takes several clicks of the pointer to make it happen. This is where a pen or stylus interface—or perhaps even my finger—would be so much easier. Also, adding annotations (i.e., notes) is especially cumbersome. I have given up even trying. I am not sure what the right interface should be, but the Kindle keyboard isn’t it.
  4. I want a transferable library. Initially, I wasn’t too worried about the fact that books I bought for the Kindle could only be read on the Kindle. As far as I was concerned, it was the only game in town. But when Barnes & Noble announced the their Nook eReader, I suddenly realized that my digital library was being held hostage by Amazon. I couldn’t port it over to the Nook—or any other reader for that matter.
  5. I want a way to share what I am reading. It would be great if I could highlight a passage and share it via Twitter or Facebook with a reference to the source. If the passage were too long, it would be especially cool if the post included a link to the full citation (up to a maximum length). As a publisher, I think this would be a great way to create interest in books. The Nook has the ability to “lend” books to your friends, which I think is also very clever.

In the meantime, I am content to stick with the Kindle 2 or read traditional books. Nothing I have seen so far has enticed me to switch.

Question: What about you? What would it take to get you to buy a new eBook reader?
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  • http://www.aspire-cs.com Mary Jo Asmus

    Hi Michael,

    You caught my interest since I've had a Kindle for about a year. I pretty much love it, but would agree with your list. I find highlighting awkward, and really, really want to be able to share books or parts of books with clients and friends.

    Also, the ability to see a book in it's original format (including color) as you've mentioned would be fabulous. Think of beautifully laid out books with color photos such as "Presentation Zen" on a Kindle! Every time I buy a book now, I have to make a decision whether I'd like it in digital format for my Kindle or hard copy. It would be wonderful to have everything on the Kindle (to much to ask, I know).

    My favorite parts about the Kindle:

    1. I happen to like the ink technology – its very easy on my eyes. I don't especially like to read from a computer.
    2. The ability to send a pdf to the Kindle and read it there (as opposed to printing it off or reading it on my laptop) is great.
    3. The portability is wonderful when you travel (previously I was toting at least two books with me, usually more).

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

    I love the traveling aspect of the Kindle, too. I am never just reading one book. Thanks.

  • Andy

    Great post, Mike. Amazon has a new Kindle-for-PC app that is currently in beta. It doesn't solve the problems you highlighted, but it is one other option. Walt Shiel reviewed it on his blog:

    http://waltshiel.com/2009/11/10/kindle-for-pc-app

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It kind of reminds me of the PC wars that occurred in the early 1980s. IBM won that (in a defacto way) sheerly because of its size and reputation. In the e-book reader world, Amazon is the current 800-pound gorilla. But times have changed and the reader that can supply the features people want will eventually win.

    Andy

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I wasn't aware of this. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • http://emuelle1.typepad.com Eric S. Mueller

    I've been reading Kindle books on my iPhone as I don't have a physical Kindle. I'm happy to continue doing that. The annotation isn't THAT difficult on the iPhone, and hopefully it will show up in Kindle for PC soon.

    I agree that I wish I could port my library. If for whatever reason Amazon decides to discontinue the Kindle platform, my library is gone. That's a barrier to me buying more books for it.

    The Nook seems comparable to the Kindle and allows sharing of books for up to 14 days.

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I love technology but have chosen to not be an early adopter of any ebook reader. One reason is because I assumed it would be a hot item with technology advancing so fast that new versions would be released frequently making older versions almost obsolete pretty quick (making me frustrated about money I spent). I think you are dead on about the smaller, multifunctional device that can be an all-in-one type solution. I’m sure that is coming. All this to say… I am intrigued by the technology and “cool” factor but I still really like physical books. Why? Primarily because I am tied to technology throughout most of my day and I like the break a physical book provides. It’s a like a mini escape from the digital leash. Sitting in a quiet place with no cords, batteries, etc. The turning of the pages, the notes hand written in the margins, the mental journey that a good book takes me on… I just prefer it to be a non-digital experience… at least for now.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Yea, it's tough to beat the simplicity of a traditional book. I also like how quickly I can find previous passages I have read. I seem to remember about where in the book it was and even which side of the page!

  • http://twitter.com/johnwaldo @johnwaldo

    Sounds like a new business venture opportunity for Thomas Nelson to explore, or partner with someone. Perhaps TN could create the solution.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/MikeHolmes MikeHolmes

      John,

      You took the words out of my mouth:)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I don't think so. We are content providers. We don't know anything about building hardware.

  • http://rosacola.blogspot.com Rocco

    "I suddenly realized that my digital library was being held hostage by Amazon."

    Digital Rights Management.

    Leaves a bad taste in your mouth doesn't it?

    I like that you are a CEO of a major Publisher and you are feeling the sting of how DRM strips the rights away from the user/consumer. Something you paid money for and 'own' yet are limited in how you can enjoy your purchase. (Granted there is an app for the iPhone, PC, and soon to be Mac, so you can view your books on your computer.)

    I love how you have combated this with the NelsonFree products. In my opinion, that is a revolutionary idea! I'll pay full price for a book if I can get an audio and digital copy of it. That makes it exponentially more convenient for me to 'read' it.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I love the Nelson Free program, too. I like to consume books in multiple formats.

  • http://www.preacherspen.org Chris Gallagher

    Excellent thoughts and I agree totally. Severl of the reasons you mentioned is the excat reasons I do not own a, eBook Reader right now! I would liek to have one, but there is still something, as of now, to holding a paper book.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/chrishuff chrishuff

    [back after a bout with food poisoning]
    The more I think about what it would take for me to buy a digital reader, the more I realize that a digital reader can never give me a few things I love…
    1. the ability to look over my bookshelf for a reference book which I can loan to a friend in need.
    2. leaf through a used copy of a P.G. Wodehouse early printing and wonder whose fingers first touched the pages.
    3. the ability to read hand-written notes in the margins of the pages by those that came before.
    4. the feeling of anxiety as I can't wait to turn the page of a great mystery.
    5. the ability to find an old book deep in a closet, dust it off, and read it with the same enthusiasm as the first time.

    The morning, as I was walking the streets of downtown Indianapolis on my way to work, I was reading "De-railed." A time or two, I flipped back a page or a chapter to re-read something. There is just something about the feeling of a book in my hand that an electronic device could never replace.

    WAIT, there is one think a book reader could have – a space for a coffee warmer.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/cjsuper cjsuper

    I guess I am an old softee. I love the feel and smell of books. Especially antique books. The Kindle and other electronic book readers just seem so cold and unfriendly. Give me feet pajamas, a blanket and a good paperback or hardback anytime! (I guess it doesn't hurt that I am a newly published author and can't wait to see my name in a Border's store;) !

  • http://forrest-long.blogspot.com Forrest Long

    Remember back when personal computers first came out? They've come a long way since then. And electronic readers will do the same. It's just that today with all our electronic advances we get impatient. I just published my first book for Kindle and I'll be interested to see how it sells. Thanks for your post- it raised some important points about electronic readers.

  • http://www.tabithas-team.com Kelly Harbaugh

    I am a non-fiction reader, and the main reason I have not looked into an electronic reader is that I heavily mark up my books with notes, highlights, etc. Last week, I read about the annotations feature on Kindle and started to consider it. After reading your post, I am not so sure.

    Do any of the other readers have a better feature for highlighting and making notes?

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/blogan Brent Logan

    Electronic book readers are too expensive if that's the only function they perform. A small tablet computer priced like a netbook, the size of a hardback book, that's dockable for easy use at my desk, but usable as a tablet elsewhere, with eBook functionality would be ideal.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I'd like to see them use the razor/razor blade model, where the eReaders are free or really inexpensive and you pay for the books.

      • http://intensedebate.com/people/blogan Brent Logan

        That's okay, but I'd prefer the eReader to have more functionality than reading books. That way I don't have to carry so many devices.

  • Mark

    Is there a way to combine the technologies? If I am paying say $20 for a book – I would be willing to pay an additional $5 to be able to download an "e-copy" where I could go online and type in a code off of my receipt and read the book on my mac or iphone. Maybe even audio as well. You might not want it on all books, but it would be nice for the top sellers. Is that a publishing issue or an storefront issue?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      This is similar to our Nelson Free program. You buy the physical book and get immediate access to the Kindle version (mobi-pocket), PDF, and audio. Unfortunately, we don't have it for too many titles yet. We are still testing, but so far it looks good.

  • Jason E

    I'm also waiting to see what Apple comes out with before I buy an e-reader. Unlike some e-readers, it will have to connect directly to the internet. No clumsy connections to a desk- or laptop. Also, it should have a folding leg on the rear so it can sit upright on your desk, like a picture frame, and should come with a camera installed. That way it will truly replace your cell phone and you can use it to Skype. The trade off between function and price will be worth it.

  • Randy Bosch

    I'm waiting for the version that incorporates everything from the above comments(!), plus lays flat but rolls up like a scroll for easy carrying and packing (Hmmm…). Big illuminated calligraphic letters starting each chapter's text would be cool too!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Or how about a chip that is implanted in your brain? ;-)

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  • http://ronlane.wordpress.com Ron L

    Michael, Your blog review of the Kindle got me to start looking at eReaders earlier this year. I was just about to ask for the Kindle for Christmas when the announcement of the Nook came out. I did some research and consideration as to which eReader that I wanted.

    I choose the Nook based on the size, touch screen and sharing ability. My Nook is set to ship in 16 days and I should have it up and running by Christmas day.

    I plan on doing a blog review of the Nook after the first of the year, once I have had time to use it some and see what it can do.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      The Nook has some really nice features. I was impressed with the video on the Nook.com web site. It's worth a look.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/Daniel_Tardy Daniel Tardy

      Hey Ron,

      I'm looking forward to reading your review. I know a year from now it probably won't matter since they'll both likely be obsolete but I'm really torn right now between the Nook and the Kindle…There obviously isn't much info out yet on the Nook from users.
      My recent post What if you’re not Tiger Woods?

  • http://www.rickwomack.com Rick Womack

    Great post Michael – a lot of your concerns are mine as well.

    The one thing that has proven to be a major plus for me is the ability to preach/teach from it. I'm not a very "stationary" presenter, and the portability of it has helped tremendously – in fact, I use it more for that than as a book reader.

  • http://www.th-inkingoutloud.blogspot.com/ Russell Kilbane

    Michael,

    I agree with your point on highlighting and annotations. For me I don't feel like I "own" a book simply because it sits on my shelf or on my hard drive. Highlighting, bookmarking, and annotations all help me to interact with the text so I really understand what the author is communicating.

    So far I've been old school on ebooks using MS Reader and Mobipocket on my table and pocket PC. Works great so far. Only problem is availablity of ebooks. Perhaps the Kindle PC will help out in that department.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/stephenbateman stephenbateman

    off topic, but scrolling through comments your name looks somehow similar to "Rick Warren." I really thought he just commented haha.
    oook

  • http://www.kaylafinley.com Kayla

    I love reading your views on this. I can't afford a Kindle right now, but I really want some device like it. I'm thinking of going to law school in the near future, and there is no way I'll be able to take my library with me. I'm sure that an Apple tablet would be the best way to go, but when (or even if) they do come out with one, I'm sure it's going to be ridiculously expensive. "Mom, I know you got me a laptop as a graduation present but now I need…" umm yeah, not gonna work. CEOs? Not so much of a problem in that area, but students want gadgets too. I realize it's all about business and profit, but I'd be more inclined to buy a digital book than go to a movie. It's just the hundreds of dollars for a device that's not AMAZING that gets me.

    • http://ronlane.wordpress.com Ron

      Kayla, I can understand your point of view to this. The all-in-one solution would be ideal for a student. I guess the only thing to do is see what the Apple Tablet will be and do. The use of the eReader would certainly be good, but being able to share with it and the laptop for research in Law School would be HUGH. The Nook has share capablities to a PC, so this may be something useful for your situation.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jbwagner Josh Wagner

    If I had the spare cash to buy a Nook, I would. I think that looks better than the Kindle right now.

    But to really get me in, I need first a lower price. I can't spend $250 on a device that can reasonably be replaced by an iPhone/iPod device that does many other things as well. Second, it needs to act like a book. By that, I mean the points you mentions about highlighting, writing notes, sharing, etc. A touch screen would make this great, and a stylus would be even better.

    You hit all of the points that I have thought about in book readers, and some I hadn't. I still cannot get rid of my physical books, and I imagine I never will. But the next generation may look at paper books like my generation looks at vinyl records.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/cjsuper cjsuper

    I guess I am an old softee. I love the feel and smell of books. Especially antique books. The Kindle and other electronic book readers just seem so cold and unfriendly. Give me feet pajamas, a blanket and a good paperback or hardback anytime! (I guess it doesn't hurt that I am a newly published author and can't wait to see my name in a Border's store;) !

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Peter_P Peter_P

    I'm with you. You have pretty much read my mind here.

    Hey… DID you read my mind? If so, I think I should at least get some credit :-)

    This is actually pretty much identical to the list I gave when talking to my wife about it last weekend!

  • http://twitter.com/mcblake @mcblake

    My biggest hang up about this or almost any other new concept is that I want it to be integrated with the devices I already have – namely the Apple devices. I've got a MacBook Pro, an iPhone, and an Apple TV.

    I don't want to add another device to my tech life without knowing that it can be seamlessly integrated into the infrastructure that I already have. Usually, for me, this will mean holding out and waiting for Apple to enter the market or to create something that satisfies the need.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      Me, too. I am 100% Apple and would love nothing more than a device that integrated with what I already have. Thanks.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/stephenbateman stephenbateman

    It's funny that 8-10 years ago, this same blog post could've been written about music.

    -Clunky interface
    -we want multiple functionality
    -we want it to be pretty
    -Transferrable content

    All characterize music circa 2001. That is to say we're early on the curve, and the future is bright for ereaders. I suppose you can look forward to writing an "I told ya so" blog post in 5-6 years :)

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  • http://www.johngallagherblog.com John Gallagher

    Mike,

    I think the list is spot on. I really don't see me investing in an e-reader until it is available on a platform that I can put on my laptop. At that point, I can truly read like I read my blogs, BUT…they need to figure out the annotating. I haven't really tried one out, but I would love an easy annotate feature with highlighting (or cut and paste) and ability to add notes and categorize. THEN, when I am working on a presentation, I want to be able to search by those categories through my entire eLibrary like I can search for key words now in files on Microsoft documents.

  • http://www.rlcopple.com R. L. Copple

    A lot of those reasons are why I opted for an IPod Touch when I wanted an ereader. The only problem is its on the small side. The benefit is its on the small side.

    The cool thing I like about it is I can clip it on my belt and carry around a whole library that I can access anytime I have a spare moment. I can't clip books on my belt, not very conveniently anyway. And I can hold it in one hand, and turn pages with one hand while I hold my coffee in the other. It's become my preferred way to read a book. I use Stanza and EReader, and I have the Kindle app too, but I've only used that for one book from a friend.

    For me, I never write in books, so highlighting and such isn't in my nature. But I can see for those who like to do that, how that would be an advantage. Now, when they make the tablet, that might be good for an ereader too. But I decided when I was looking for an ereader, that if I was going to spend around $200, I might as well get something that could do more than just read books. So far, I've not been sorry.

  • firsttimecommenter

    A book reader with all of those features sounds a lot like a tablet PC. Would a thin tablet PC work?

    Separately, an additional thing I would like to see out of ereaders is instantaneous page transition and navigation (for flipping between pages).

  • http://ericmg.com Eric

    Sounds like you want a Courier. I have precisely zero interest in ebooks and actually consider dedicated readers a mild fad and eventual commercial dead end, but some forms of content (comics, certain sorts of magazines, and even blogs) may find new life and expression on devices like this and the eventual Apple tablet.

  • Joey

    Only 2 of the things you mention can be done with traditional books (annotation and transferability). Despite it's shortcomings as a technology device, I still prefer the K2 to a traditional book, unless I am reading content with lots of figures.

    Someday in the not distant future, there will be many devices that do what you describe. I just hope the publishing industry has caught up with the technology wrt DRM to unleash their full potential.

  • http://twitter.com/moofislovesyou @moofislovesyou

    Call me a traditionalist but I just can't ever see paper books being even mostly replaced by technology. There's so much more of an experience handling a book with a cover and actually turning the pages. Even if old, rare, and out of print books made it on to an ereader that had a friendly price tag, I couldn't see myself using one. The thing about digital technology is that it's digital, it can never reproduce true warmth, character, or charm. It's useful, but it can't replace everything. Besides, what would you read when the power is out?

  • http://www.theproductivestudent.com Arjun Muralidharan (TheProductiveStudent.com)

    Hi Michael,

    To your first point, to have a unified device: I find it interesting that your willing to use a phone that doesn’t fit in your pocket. I see that trend really feasable though, as a phone doesn’t have to be held to my ear anymore.

    It would be great if the device could place calls, manage my contacts and e-mails all on a resonable size screen, while the actually talking and hearing is done through an earpiece. This would let us have a CrunchPad-like device that replaces the phone, e-reader and note-taker, and in 75% of the time, the laptop as well.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/Cindy_Graves Cindy_Graves

    I received my Kindle as a Mother's Day gift this year. While I wouldn't say I love it I do really, really like it. I still gravitate to traditional books for the look of the covers and the feel (and smell) of the pages. I thought having an e-book reader would be easier and faster for research projects (like if I was writing study guide material I wouldn't have to lug around 10 large research books) and there's the added convenience of the instant download. But like you I want a color touch screen (spoiled by the iPhone) and easier highlight and note taking ability.
    Another suggestion that has to do with service, not the product itself, would be a type of "library membership" for those books that people don't necessarily want to buy but only need to access for a couple of weeks. An annual membership fee could cover the cost of that service. I'd do it!

  • Steptoe

    twaddle – new generations of media consumers don't want the boring stuff you want, they want convergent media on their mobile – see the Bunny Munroe app on iPhone and you'll understand just how "has been" your wish list is

  • http://twitter.com/secondchair @secondchair

    I own a Kindle2 and still prefer it over anything else I have seen. The Nook's sharing program does not deliver what most people think. You can share a book only once for two weeks and never again. And not all publishers are supporting this sharing option. On the Kindle you can permanently post books on up to five devices if they are on the same account (or to your laptop, etc.). My wife has a Kindle2 also so we can buy one book and deliver it to both Kindles. The Kindle also supports pdf files, Googles free ebooks, and other formats. It's still the most advanced ereader on the market and the best value. And sorry Ron L, after another delay the Nook won't ship before mid-January. I wouldn't order one before I could hold an actual working model and have some real reviews from those who have taken it for a test drive.
    My recent post An Amish Christmas – A Book Review

  • Jake

    Just suppose that the Ereaders had been invented first and nothing else was available. Then suddenly someone invented a book with pages you could hold in your hand and own forever and pass along to the next generation, and flip through pages, stopping to read at random. And think of the ceremony of turning the pages of a picture book with a child sitting at your side, studying the details of a well done illustration. Ahh! Now that is progress!

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  • Gordon

    I have had several people around read ebooks. For me, they need to fold in half and go into my pocket. That way I get two “sides” like a regular book as well as being able to collapse it for portability. Also, if you did something like allowed me to pick 10 books that came “free” with the reader, I would be far more likely to overlook the high entry price.

  • Amit

    Why dont you try using the iPhone with Stanza..?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tellmisty Misty Williams

    Surely there is a way to create a plug-in for WP to address point #5 …

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/ronlane Ron Lane

    Michael, I totally agree with numbers 2,3 and 5. It would be awesome to share selected portions of a book on Twitter. I would also like a color touch screen about the size of the nook or iPad, that would be really great. I can say however that I do like the eInk because to me, so far, it is easier on my eyes to read it than on a laptop screen.

    If you think that the highlighting and annotations are clunky on the Kindle, you would be shocked at the Nook. It is a good feature, but the section REALLY has to be meaningful for me to bother with it. I have resorted to carrying a moleskine notebook with my nook to be able to make notes for later. This is proving very helpful to me.

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