It’s a pleasure to see – at risk of sounding like a Key Stage One Literacy Coordinator – that reading is hot right now.
- Amazon is starting to ship the Kindle DX worldwide
- Apple is apparently about to launch some kind of new device
- eReaders are predicted to be the hottest category at CES this week
Into this maelstrom come the Mag+ concepts from BERG for Bonnier. If you haven’t seen the video you should watch it now. Beyond the thoughtful work on the interaction within the user interface, I like the thinking about “how the device might occupy the world.”
And separately, Christian Lindholm has some interesting ideas about linearity as a low-involvement user experience, perfectly suited to mobile.
Everyone’s talking about how it feels to be the reader – how he or she will be empowered to enjoy the best aspects of printed and digital media rolled into one wafer-thin device. It’s all very user-centred.
But I think to succeed eReaders must not only meet the needs of the direct user, but also of those around them, the friends and family who may not welcome their loved one’s absorption in this exciting new media. They are the “next largest context” within which the new device must win acceptance.
BERG’s video hints at this with that “how the device might occupy the world” line. Rather than zooming in on the lovely concept UI, I wanted the camera to pan out, or swing round to observe fellow travellers on a crowded train, or a significant other snuggled up on the sofa. I’m not so interested in their initial reactions – the inevitable lookit-new-shiny glances – but more in how reader devices settle into the ebb and flow of everyday sociability.
I mean, as I type this…
My wife is sitting across the room, reading a book.
“What are you reading?” I ask.
She tells me. I glance at the cover for instant visual reinforcement of what my ears just heard, because books are open on the outsides as well as the insides.
“Is it a good book?” I ask.
She answers. We briefly discuss the content.
She goes on reading. There is a stillness. Even the page turns are almost imperceptible.
I watch her face for a faint smile.
Now rerun the scene with a digital device.
The first question is no longer “what are you reading?” It’s “what are you doing?” – a question that somehow already carries a hint of reproach.
Whatever the answer, the hard, blank underside of the device affords no confirmation.
Then, momentarily floored by the multiple possibilities of multimedia, there’s a pause while we establish that a book is being read, and mentally summon the terms in which we discuss books.
And here comes the toughest part, to engender stillness. Where once there was just the flicker of an eye, now there is the jabbing of a finger to exactly where on the page the reader is interacting.
The device may be rejected because it is closed to casual inspection. The lack of a cover to indicate the content makes it an occult thing, excluding observers as printed texts exclude the illiterate.
Yet at the same time, the device may be too distractingly revealing – of exactly where the reader is pointing her attention. An unwelcome disruption of the stillness of being with someone who is reading.
These are the subtleties that make this a more wicked problem than it may first appear to technologists or to publishers. I trust they will be solved, but only by considering all the people who are touched by books, not just the ones who happen to be reading them.