In my recent talks on gadgets Iâ€™ve been mentioning the Sony Librie, which is the latest incarnation of eBook readers. The Librie is interesting because it solves some of the problems that plagued previous eBook readers, but it ignores, to its detriment, other important issues.
The neat features of the device come from the electronic ink (developed by Sony and Phillips) it uses. The resolution is quite high because the display is 170 dpi vs the ~72 dpi weâ€™re used to on computer monitors. Supposedly, 200 dpi is indistinguishable from paper. Isnâ€™t it great that a $600 device canâ€™t match the quality of a less than $0.01 technology?
The other great thing about electronic/ink paper, is that the device doesnâ€™t use battery life to display the text. It only sucks up valuable battery juice when â€œpages are turned,â€ by pressing a button. The expected life of one set of batteries is 10,000 page turns.
While this is all peachy, the story of the content is more like sour grapes. The device was designed to use only Sonyâ€™s proprietary eBook format (BroadBand eBook). Strike one. There are only some 400 titles (Japanese language only, presently) available. Strike two. Once an eBook is purchased, it stays on the Librie for only 60 days. Strike three. The Digital Rights Management (DRM) on these books takes away one of the most useful (potential) things about eBook readers: storing thousands of eBooks on one small device to be recalled (and searched) at a momentâ€™s notice.
All of the above is a long winded intro to an article titled Sony Librie English GUI Firmware Patch which fulfills my prediction that someone would make it easy for people to hack the Librie for use with their own files. For now it is only TXT files, perhaps soon PDFs.
DRM: Turning people who have reasonable expectations from their devices/files into criminals.
DRM: Not really stopping the stubborn.
For more on the Sony Librie in relation to libraries, see the next Product Pipeline in Fall 2005 â€œLibrary Journal NetConnectâ€ where I write about it a bit more.