November 20, 2007

E-books and enterprise architecture

Does anyone really think you want to read a book on a computer screen?

Well, vendors like Sony with their "Reader" and Amazon with their new "Kindle" think you will.

However, while 110 million iPods have been sold, only 100,000 e-book readers have sold in North America. (The Wall Street Journal, 20 November 2007)

A Kindle costs $399 and downloading a best-seller is $9.99, while classics cost as little as $1.99. You can also get newspaper subscriptions online for a monthly subscription fee.

While Amazon has a wonderful vision "to have every book that has ever been in print available in less than 60 seconds," the core hurdle from a User-centric EA perspective needs to be addressed:

Users can and like to read size manageable documents online (like this blog, maybe), but a book on a screen does still not 'feel' natural and is tiring on users physically, mentally, and emotionally. The core requirement is for ergonomic reading and it's just not there!

While the current technology enables e-book reading without a backlight and "provides an experience that is akin to reading on paper, and users can even change the font size to make print larger and easier to read, the technology is not still user-friendly. Can you easily jump back and reread something? Can you easily highlight or underline? Can you annotate in the margins? Can you flip over the corner of the page to mark it as important? And with all these, can you do it in a way that is appealing to the various human sensation in a holistic way? Finally, can you easily experience (not just with a page number) your progress as you read through the book, so you can feel good about it?

As the article states: "he likes the physicality of a book and the sense of making progress as he reads." There is definitely a very human pleasure aspect missing in reading a book online and until vendors figures out the missing architectural components that links the user and the technology with an interface that is user-centric, the e-readers will continue to flounder.

The WSJ concludes that "even some dedicated fans of digital technology say they have their doubts about reading books in an electronic format," and for now so do I.

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