Thursday, June 04, 2009

A Year is a Long Time in Today’s Technology World

We now see the inevitable division of content delivery focus, with Google going for the online reading route, others sticking to the offline reading route and Amazon probably trying to cover every conceivable option.

We are already in the device battles with eInk versus the rest. Mobiles versus ereaders and ereaders versus netbooks, laptops etc. We are just starting to see the app battles with Apple versus Andriod, versus Blackberry, versus Symbian versus Microsoft. What is certain is that whatever device you use today it will not be the device you will use, or want to use, in a couple of years.

So where would we place our bets today?

Will the ereaders survive as a one dimensional product, or will we look back fondly at them in a few years time as some quaint Delorean car, a great looking prototype that had to evolve. We hear lots about colour eInk but the demand is today not necessarily tomorrow. What is clear, is that we will see many more eink ‘lookie likies’ some merely rebadged, some exclusive, some heavily financed and some not. The price today is too high, the technology to restrictive and the concept of carrying a library around with you at all time ludicrous in the extreme. Only when we view this technology as throwaway and transient commodity will it change its appeal. This can happen as a result of adoption by a WalMart, Tesco etc or like MP3 it just becomes cheap commodity.

We also still have formats to sort out. Many may man the barricades and demand an epub world as others before them demanded an SGML or an OEB world. The truth is today the best format for most will remain the PDF in the Adobe eBook form, which contrary to popular urban myth works perfectly well on devices such as the Sony Reader. Many feared that reflow was essential and that epub gave us the answer, that the reality is now different. Don’t get us wrong we welcome epub, but it no longer is this issue as times move on.

Will DRM (Digital Rights Management) still be with us in say three years time and if so how will it work is another interesting challenge? We have seen only one aggregator switch to-date, but it gave us an insight to a potential risk. Technology may be replicable moving forward but the encrypted licences needed may be dependant on the original server or service being in place or under contract. Adobe have started to minimise this exposure but it still exists for many who have not opted for a neutral licence service. Watermarking has still to make its mark, but will it coexist with DRM, replace it, or be a nice to have?

We believe the biggest technology choice remains online versus offline. Google have clearly placed their bets online while may others scramble around trying to develop to perfect offline experience. There is no reason why eink should work with online. The issue is the mindset that says we have to own a library and we need to carry it around with us just in case we want to read another book! Is the book market the only one facing this question? We only need to look at Spotify and music, TV and the iPlayer and Hulu, games and even news and magazines. What and how we consume on the move is different to what and how we consume when not on the move. We access and use media and information differently according to the role we are playing at the time and what we want from it and yet we appear to be wanting to shoehorn a one size fits all technology approach into the market.

The one thing that is certain about tomorrow is that it will be different to today.

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