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Monthly Archives: December 2010

It’s that time of year again.  Christmas!  What do I buy for whom?

Well, I’m still stumped by a few people on my list (I hope my wife isn’t reading this!) but I really thought I had a sure-fire winner when it came to my mom.

She is an avid reader, absolutely loves books, and lives in South Florida.  The latter is relevant because unlike where I live in Seattle, driving to a bookstore in the Sarasota area is a real commitment, and I would prefer that my mother do as little driving as possible on the region’s byways populated by rather unpredictable drivers.  OK, perhaps I will be 85 someday and drive 25 in a 45 while randomly braking for imaginary objects, but until then, I will be very afraid driving around in that area!

So what better for her than an e-reader!  No driving.  Instant downloads.  No accumulation of dead trees on shelves.  A happy mom.  Yay!

I had already pre-selected the device.  As much as I like to go with less conventional alternatives, I landed on the 3G Kindle.  Why?  First of all, content.  My wife still has a travel mug from back when Amazon was primarily an online book store, and with any device, content is critical.  I respect Sony’s and B&N’s efforts, but Amazon is Amazon, and is king of content.

Second, the e-reader had to be 3G-enabled.  My mom has no PC (imagine!), no internet, and no wifi. Amazon had 3G first, and they’ve had time to perfect their implementation.  Book purchases and downloads had to be super-easy and convenient.  Kindle got my vote.

Third, the device had to be the closest to what a real book was like.  That meant e-ink only needed to apply.

Yes, I know.  General-purpose always wins, and color displays that can render video and web pages and Facebook will ultimately prevail.  Blah, blah, blah.  Whatever.  We’re talking about my mom here.  She reads black-and-white books, and she’s clearly expressed her disinterest in reading on a computer screen.  That means no harsh backlit displays, flickering, outdoor readability issues (it’s Florida!), battery life problems, compromised viewing angle, and other subtle and no-to-subtle annoyances of LCD (and to some extent OLED) display technology.

E-ink sucks in many ways (slow refresh rate, no high-quality color), but in terms of pure comfort for reading text, nothing comes close.  The insane battery life doesn’t hurt either.  Before I forget, props to Sony for being the first company to make an e-reader using a radical new display technology.  Their e-ink-based Japan-only Librie was a truly breakthrough product.  It’s popular in some circles to dump on Sony, but there aren’t too many companies left who actually innovate and take some risks.

Getting back to the story, I visited my mom recently, and asked my sister who lives in the area for her opinion.  Apparently, she had tried with an e-reader pitch before with no luck.

Well, surely I could work my tech-industry charms!  I could explain the benefits or paper-like displays, long battery life, and instant purchase from a vast assortment of books at lower prices.

OK, time for that needle-across-the-record sound.

My mom told me she just like books.  Real books.  She likes to be able to find her place in a book by skimming through it, or if using a bookmark, have a real feel for where she is in the book.

She didn’t want to lose was the full analog nature of the physical object.  OK, I get marks for trying with an e-ink based solution which as close to “analog” as we’ve gotten with commercial display technology.  Remember digital displays in cars in the 80’s?  They died a horrible death because they were to…digital.  What’s the difference between 55 and 95?  A single LED segment in on one of those seven-segment displays.  Telling how fast you were going was infuriatingly difficult.  Unless you were in a K-car, in which case every speed seemed to fast and unsafe.

So paper still won with my mom.  I haven’t given up though.  She still loves the electronic picture frame I gave her a few years ago, but then again, it’s filled with pictures of her grandkids, and there’s no book with that…