Saturday, March 21, 2015

EU Approach to eBooks Is Nonsense

This week four cultural ministers from four powerhouses; Italy, Poland, France and Germany jointly requested that the EU Commission should think again about the rate of tax for ebooks. This comes only weeks after the EU High Court ruled against France and Luxemburg and stated that ebooks are different from physical books. They want the same rate applied as physical books so countries such as the UK would have zero tax on both, as opposed to zero on physical and 20% on digital. 

We all recognise that Western Europe is a block of democratic free trading nations with significant economic and political clout. The challenge is often getting that balance between local national interest and collective European interest. If it veers too far to one side it becomes unable to change and what change takes place is often slow and bureaucratic. If it moves too far to the other side it loses its core strength of collective responsibility and benefit.

Taxation is a classic battleground where individual countries raise their own taxes and spend them locally contributing a hefty sum to the Union based on their often perceived ability to pay. So we have as many different rates of tax as there are countries and as many ways of allocating these as there are politicians and ideology. So what has this to do with Digital Media and technology?

Anyone looking at the different tax rates across Europe would think that someone has made trade less attractive not more attractive. Anyone looking at the tax difference between the digital and physical book would think that someone must have made a mistake and just forgotten to correct it.

One of the greatest challenges the European media industry faces is getting the unelected commission and courts to realise that the world has gone digital and that in doing so has created new opportunities not threats. This taxation rule is a daft as the current lack of real action to address the tax avoidance plays being made by multinationals. It is matched by the lack of a rights and IP database. The inability to resell digital goods because….

The balance between common sense and nonsense, micro control and macro control, controlled migration and mass migration are challenges the EU must rise to but repetitively fail to address.
But it would be good if we could just have the simple understanding that a book is a book is a book. The price may vary from one form to another but the way the governments view it and the tax they levy against it should be consistent across all formats.    

Related Material:

WJS:EU Court Rules E-Books AreServices, Not Goods

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Is FingerReader Positive Wearable Technology?

We talk of wearable technology and see a deluge of wantabees who all want to be seen in their ‘Emporer’s New Clothes.’ But it often is frustrating that we continue to leave many behind in our search for the next best gadget to be seen with. We were taken aback years ago when we saw the ‘sixth sense’ development of Pranev Mistryand today some of the most exciting technology still remains with the likes of MIT.
This week, we read of a MIT’s finger device, which is not an iRing or iWatch mini, but a remarkable device aimed at helping the visually Impaired read and engage with the written word. It is still surprising that some ten years since we wrote the ‘Brave New World’ report and we envisaged the era of the audio digital. However, its mass adoption remains untapped and communities, such as the visually impaired, are still being left behind. We obviously saw then that it was a simple transition from physical audiobook to digital audiobook and although much has happened, little mass adoption either upstream or downstream has occurred. At the time, many saw print on demand and the digitalised text as offering the solution to large print books and specialised monitors, but again much has happened, but mass adoption hasn’t.
So what have MIT delivered with their FingerReader?
FingerReader is a device which today looks clunky and very much a prototype, but through its camera is capable of character recognition and real time audio delivery. Assisting the visually impaired with effectively and efficiently, reading paper printed and ereader text must be a goal to strive for. FingerReader addresses the issues of misalignment, focus, character accuracy, mobility and efficiency, introduces a new method of scanning text of single lines, blocks of text or skimming the text for important sections on the go, whilst giving the reader instant audio and a tactile feedback.
So what you may ask and how does this help others?
Well today the initial focus is no the visually impaired and can enable the blind to read without the need for Braille, or the visually impaired to read without large print or blow up monitors. But the technology offers much more to all and takes us one step further towards the true wearable and tactical interfaces we lack today. Imagine just pointing you finger at text and hearing an instantaneous playback and also capturing the text at the same time. We would suggest that this is far more useful than creating a digital watch.
Imagine, joining the dots between speech recognition and controls, OCR, Audio and all in the pocket package of a smartphone.
Currently, FingerReader needs to be connected to a laptop, but the researchers are now developing an open-source version that will be able to use Android phones. Now that really opens up wider opportunities for all.

To read the MIT Paper; FingerReader: A Wearable Device to Support Text Reading on the Go 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Are You iWatching?

I have just bought a 1936 Imperial Companion 1 portable typewriter and it now sits proudly on my desk alongside today’s technology. Is it practical? Well not with my poor spelling and tendency to rework things. Does it work? Yes and has a black and red ribbon which will one day need replacing. Did I buy it to work? Well not really, I thought it of it as more of a fusion of art and technology and a statement. The typewriter played a major role in influencing where we are today. With my wife being granted a Royal Warrant for her bookselling, I also love the Royal Warrant stamp on the Typewriter dedicated to the late King George V.

So what has this to do with last week’s latest technology announcement of an iWatch from Apple?

Well no one will expect the iWatch to survive nearly eighty years and work. With our consumable technology today it’s hard to find one of those early brick mobile phones let alone some of the early portable PCs and the life expectancy of many is a mere few years. However, it is possible to see the iWatch as an evolutionary step to shrink technology, change app development and create a fashion icon to rival the Sinclair C5, Delorean car, Google’s Glass and others. But as an investment it is very high risk and not even a gamble.

Apple has with the iWatch put a placeholder on the market re wearable technology. The iWatch itself is not the first technology watch, remember those very first digital watches and more recently the eink ones and even more recently the competitors to the iWatch. Apple has the clout and the followers to sell enough to cover their stake, but is it a game changer? Do you want to buy the mark1 version knowing mark2 is probably in the labs today and it will only have a life expectancy of some 2 years?

I look at my analogue Longines watch, it is a designer statement, practical and been around for many years. Would I replace it with a clunky piece of technology that says ‘look at me iam a geek’?

Wearable technology will happen but exactly how and when is debatable and the challenge it has is that it now has to compete with smartphones that can do everything it can do and much, much more.

Eink technology was transient and could never be anything else than a monochrome offer in a Technicolor world, but they established ebooks. Tablets were always going to be caught between the home and the smartphone and when the smartphone fits into a pocket and laptops became lighter and thinner, there was only going to be one mobile winner. Print on demand would show the potential to do short runs but fail to deliver the ultimate ‘distribute and print’ model.

So as devices themselves become ‘smarter’ and connected does the smartphone become the communications hub as predicted by our friend and futurist Ray Hammond? As Bluetooth and WiFi expand does wearable technology move close to the sensor nodes and speech, gestures, image and smell recognition become the real wearable technology?

Jill O’Neill, Director Professional Development, NFAIS, raised a interesting comment ‘Why can't Apple design and build the Star Trek tricorder instead?’ Now we both would be very interested in one of them!