ckd: (cpu)
John Siracusa's recent Ars Technica article on e-books gives me a convenient jumping-off point for some of my own experiences with (and random thoughts about) e-books.

I bought my first book from Peanut Press, as it then was, just over nine years ago. (2000-01-30, according to the bookshelf.) I bought my most recent ones from Fictionwise (who now own eReader, formerly Palm Digital Media, formerly Peanut Press) just a few minutes ago. I've generally stuck with the Peanut/Palm/eReader format, mostly because I like their reader software's better than other options (Mobipocket Reader on Palm OS or Stanza on the iPod). I've read them on everything from a Palm V (with a whole 2MB of memory and a zippy 16MHz processor) to an iPod touch, and even my oldest book is still usable on the newest hardware without needing anything more than a copy of the eReader software and the name/credit card used to lock the file. (Mobipocket's DRM requires you to reauthorize each file for each new device. Lame.)

Why do I read e-books on such a small screen? (The Palm V: 160x160 grayscale. The TX and iPod: 320x480 color.) Simply put, because it's always there. (I was amused by Siracusa's description of how he realized he'd switched, since the first advantage he lists is "I was more likely to have my Palm with me than a book. When I had an opportunity to read during the day, my Palm was there, and a paper book, had I been in the middle of one, would not have been." Yeah, that.) Sure, the Kindle has a bigger screen. Sure, a physical book never needs recharging. Neither of them is small enough to hang off of my belt, and the paper book is not guaranteed to be the one I've just decided I want to re-read; in fact, it's almost certainly not going to be.

I tend to read e-books as a supplement to (rather than a substitute for) paper books. (I own several books in mass-market and e-book, or even the three-fer of hardcover, mass-market, and e-book.) Because it's always handy, I can easily read a few pages while waiting for (or riding on) a bus or train, or in line at a store; I can read longer stretches over a meal or while relaxing on the futon. Because of the often interrupted nature of the read, this is particularly suited for re-reading certain types of books: episodic novels, short story or essay collections, or books I've previously read are all easier to "keep state" for in my head between times. Even so, I can and have read full novels first as e-books before even touching paper editions; I've also sometimes alternated between the two. (I read Victory Conditions, the final book in Elizabeth Moon's "Vatta's War" series, partially from the library hardcover and partially from the e-book; I'd usually read up to a chapter break to make the switch easier, but not always.)

One issue with different reader programs on the iPod is the scroll/page dilemma. eReader is very much a page-flip oriented program, and that's the paradigm I'm used to. (I also use the -c option to less.) Other programs like Stanza or Bookshelf can scroll in page increments, but it's still scrolling, and for memory management both of them need to "chunk" the book leading to either delays at chapter breaks (Stanza) or ugly seams at semi-random intervals (Bookshelf). Because eReader's doing the chunking by page, it's never an issue except for the first time I open a book (or change the font size/layout/etc) which will force the program to repaginate. Since it can do that faster than I can read, if I'm at the beginning of the book it's mostly unnoticeable; if I'm farther in, I just have to wait a bit for it to catch up. This was also the case on the Palm, but the faster processor on the iPod seems to help shorten the time. (I haven't done a side-by-side comparison or anything.)

I still need to get back to work on the toolchain I started work on that would convert non-DRMed Baen e-books from HTML to "PML" (originally Peanut Markup Language) and then stuff them into an eReader format PDB file.

Some wishlist items for the iPhone/iPod touch version of eReader:

More font choices. I bought both of the font packs for the Palm version, and I'd love to be able to use something other than Georgia (reasonable), Helvetica (not bad), or Marker Felt (WTF?) and have more size choices as well. Some of my gripe is with Apple; why didn't they put Gill Sans on there? Even so, having Verdana (which is on the iPod) as an additional option would be nice.

Smarter download behavior. Why doesn't it say "hey, you have a book by this title already, do you really want to download it again?" Even being smart enough to say "this seems to be a duplicate, keep or delete?" after the download would be useful, and easier to implement.

Metadata editing. The oldest e-books don't have the proper metadata fields, so they don't show the author's name; other books have mistakes (like "Evans, Lawrence Watt" instead of "Watt-Evans, Lawrence"). I might be able to fix the files if they're not DRMed, but many of them are. The app should at least let me override the file's own data.

Bigger targets for small links. Hitting the hotlink for one of Pratchett's footnotes is a frustrating exercise in fingerpoking. The Palm's stylus worked much better for this sort of thing. The app could have a minimum target area, or even just add a "follow link" button to the pop-up for "find in dictionary" etc if there's a hotlink within the selection.
ckd: (cpu)
Over the past few months, I've been using an iPod touch (2nd gen) as a replacement for my previous PDA, a Palm TX. It has been a generally positive transition, though there are things the TX can do that the iPod can't or that worked better on the TX.

I've been using it both long enough and intensely enough to get past the initial adjustment period; I've stopped trying to hit buttons that don't exist, and operations like "turning it on" (which is really just unlocking the screen) are now second nature.

I'd been using some kind of Palm OS PDA since the 1999-vintage Palm V (which replaced an HP 200LX). I ran through a series of Palm OS units until the TX, which is the last Palm OS PDA (and most likely the last PDA of any sort) that Palm will make. I never went for a Palm OS phone, because I don't like having everything tied in to one device (and often one network); the same thing has kept me away from the iPhone. (If they start selling unlocked ones in the US, I'll reconsider. No, third party unlocks don't count.)

A comparison of various aspects of the TX and the iPod touch )
Conclusion: All in all, the iPod touch is a respectable PDA replacement for the Palm TX. There are still areas that could stand improvement (Calendar, and to a lesser extent Mail, are the big culprits) and the major missing feature of Bluetooth support, but those are outweighed by all kinds of other advantages. It also lets me leave the iPod classic at home (except for long trips), since I can use the iPod touch for day-to-day listening.

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