The thing that keeps me away from the current crop of eBook readers is not that I think they are inherently bad, but I just don’t think they are ready yet. It’s not that I’m in love with paper per se, it’s that I’m in love with the fact that a book is such a transparent vehicle for connecting author and reader. There are no switches to fiddle with or keys to clutter your visual field – just those lovely words and thoughts, thoughts to soak up and enjoy whether you are on the subway, at the beach, or curled up in bed.
I find the little keyboard along the bottom of the Kindle II to be visually jarring. I want my eBook to be like a paperback – small enough to slip in my pocket, unobtrusive, portable as hell. I’m put off by the idea that I’m supposed to carry around this unnecessarily large brick, to make room for all those weird little buttons and switches and a built-in keyboard at the bottom that isn’t even pleasant or comfortable to use.
Of course that keyboard is temporary – in the next few years eBook readers will go over entirely to using multitouch screens (and then, somewhat later, a complete wrap-around multitouch skin), and then questions of the proper interface for page-flipping and other navigation, typing in titles, author searches, etc., will all move entirely into software, where they belong. If you prefer a particular gesture or method to turn the page, thumb through the index, or find a particular article in last week’s Times, sooner or later somebody will implement just what you want.
Rather than think about how to fix the current crop of eBook readers, I prefer to ignore them, and focus on what I really want – the paperback book I want to take with me everywhere. Here is one of my all-time favorite paperbacks:
My techno-wish is that my eBook reader will be the exact size and shape as a paperback, with no buttons or knobs whatsoever, since all controls will be via intuitive multitouch gestures and soft keys on the front, sides or back of the book:
And when I finally get one of these, I’m going to back and reread Salinger.