Screw Kindle...just give me a decent app for textbooks

Screw Kindle...just give me a decent app for textbooks

Summary: When I first held a Kindle (the first generation), I was instantly enamored. I was also in public education, so I couldn't afford one.

TOPICS: Hardware, Mobility

When I first held a Kindle (the first generation), I was instantly enamored. I was also in public education, so I couldn't afford one. However, there are few things on this planet that I like more than reading, so a little device that could hold a bunch of books and slip into my cargo pants seemed like a grand idea.

Then the educator in me started thinking of all the applications to Ed Tech and the modifications that would be needed to make this thing work in high school and college settings (namely for textbooks). Now the blogosphere is buzzing over a larger Kindle designed to take on newspapers, magazines, and, as ZDNet blogger/editor Larry Dignan points out, textbooks.

And guess what? I just don't care anymore. I always have a laptop with me. So does every college student on the planet. Worst case, I have a BlackBerry or iPod Touch. Netbooks are now making laptop computing available to public schools in huge numbers at nominal prices. Can anyone find a way to justify adding another device to students' backpacks? I don't care how big the screen is or how slick the e-ink makes the text appear on the page. I don't care if they've added color or the ability to annotate effectively.

Give me my textbooks (or whatever books) in some standardized format (PDF is fine, but I'm sure the industry could come up with some open, slick XML-based format) and display them on my netbook. Let me make annotations or interact with the touch screen on a tablet (or Apple's upcoming tablet-ish giant iPhone if the rumors are to be believed). One device, textbooks, note-taking, web browsing, productivity software, and access to the cloud. It's called a netbook, folks.

If the textbook industry cares to avoid going the way of newspapers in the next 5-10 years, it will simply need to start producing the content in an electronic format. Then all it takes is a basic app (or web browser, more likely) to access them. No Kindle, no extra devices, no extra money. Keep them in the cloud and charge a subscription fee with some sort of DRM even, if you want to protect industry profits. Suddenly, students can access their textbooks and notes anytime, anywhere, no expensive Kindle required.

Despite my initial gadget lust, the Kindle just doesn't make sense in a world where we all have netbooks tucked into our eVests and broadband is largely ubiquitous. It matters not how big the screen is.

Topics: Hardware, Mobility

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • I agree

    I have to agree with you there. The Kindle is a nice gadget, but completely superfluous. Heck between MobiReader Pocket and the Gutenberg Project, I can read the classics on my BlackBerry (one of my personal projects. I grew up watching the movies, now I'm finding out what the real story is).

    I wanna get a netbook at some point and run KUbuntu on it ('cause I prefer KDE to GNOME). And use it for digital reading and art (I do digital drawings with GIMP).
    • I teach . . .

      eighth grade math, and the text I use [b]is[/b] available in PDF format. For copyright reasons, we have a printed copy for each student, but half leave them at school. I copy it onto a usb drive for anyone who brings one in.
  • RE: Screw Kindle...just give me a decent app for textbooks

    Actually, not every college student has a laptop; I learned this when I used an e-text (Mark Bishop's <a href="">Introduction to Chemistry</a>) this past year. I did a survey, and most of the respondents said they would prefer a paper text.

    Furthermore, while there's some call for subscription textbooks, <strong>IF</strong> they're offered at a reduced price, majors will want to keep their textbooks for future reference; some of the higher-level textbooks never completely lose their utility.
    IT kibitzer
  • What ebooks lack thus far and Kindle has..

    Is a sufficiently connected company to put together a palatable software/hardware with distribution system combination that authors/publishers trust and consumers find sufficiently useful. Basically Amazon is doing to books what Apple did to music and hopefully once proven DRM will fall by the wayside when the technology is ubiquitous. DRM isn't going away soon, it took years to get it off music and that was only after the tech had completely proven itself. Apple could probably pull that together on the PC and Mac if they wanted to. IMHO ebooks aren't going to get there without a big sponsor like Apple or Amazon.
    • Why Not Both?

      I have a Kindle 2 and love its ease of use and the ability to purchase directly from the device but I do occasionally miss the ability to access my content from my PC. Both the hardware and software ebook models have their place. It should be an easy thing for Amazon to virtualize the Kindle platform for hardware-- if fact, their margins might even be better for those who opt for a vKindle only. They wouldn't have to change a thing about the content delivery system.
      • Lackluster performance

        People keep commenting that they want the Kindle to do this and that and have network connectivity and guess what? There already is an ebook reader that most folks have both in desktop and laptop formats. It's a Mac or PC. Has that done well? Folks keep saying "Well I'd prefer to read books on my laptop or cell phone" but the bottom line is books are available right now for these machines and people don't use it to any significant extent (at least not enough to get the publishers biting at releasing new books to them). Why should Amazon chase that market with it's failed track record?
    • Amazon is to books ...

      ... what Apple is to music. Amazon started out as a book-seller but books take up a lot of space to store and cost a lot of money to ship. Electronic delivery is the wave of the future for books as it has been for music.
      M Wagner
  • College texts

    As a college senior who is in his last 11 days before graduation, I wonder about e-text. What advantages do they have besides a few dollars savings and being considered a ?green? alternative? I personally could not have made it to graduation if it were not for tangible texts which allowed me to write in the margins, highlight important phrases, and dog ear pages. As of right now I would gladly opt for the hard text every time so I can mark it up and use in any way I want. I am interested in hearing if one can manipulate an e-text in similar ways to a physical text. That of course begs the next question: If you can manipulate the text, is it an easy to accomplish, somewhat natural process? If it is awkward to accomplish it will be difficult to convince people to adopt the new technology. Given, some people will train themselves to conquer the challenges of the new media, but others will be complacent and stick with the ?tried and true? methods. I am interested in hearing your responses.
    • Then you're in luck

      You can do ALL of those things -- mark-up, bookmarks (dog-ears), highlighting -- with e-text formats such as PDF.

      AND it's cheaper, AND it's greener, AND it can be updated as information changes. All of the tried and true methods can be applied to electronic media.
  • It's time for publishers to move into the 21st century

    Even if the Kindle isn't the ideal way to go,
    textbooks had better soon be on their way out.

    What I'D like to see is a website/service that
    provides digital textbooks for computers.

    Here's a list of what I'd like to see these textbooks

    a) a way to search them -- perhaps with the option to
    search all of them at once instead of just searching
    one particular textbook

    b) a way to add notes -- I have a tablet PC myself, so
    to be able to make use of its functionality would be
    amazing. Maybe something laid out that MS OneNote that
    could be associated with each page/section/chapter?

    c) a way to bookmark pages -- maybe even purposely imitating the coloured tabs that most students use
    today; certainly the ability to associate a name or
    title with each colour, and maybe the ability to flip
    through all pages with that colour attached to it?

    d) the ability to move through the textbook quickly,
    according to section -- I'd love to just click on a
    link and find the physics questions assigned this
    week, instead of having to flip all over the place in
    a physical textbook trying to find the right page.

    e) a record of which textbooks I own -- there's no way
    I'd use a service like this if I could lose all of my
    textbooks via a hard drive failure. There is no good
    reason why records shouldn't be kept of which
    textbooks I own (or music or other books, either for
    that matter... that's right, I'm looking at you, Apple
    and Amazon).

    It won't work to just have digital textbooks which act
    as repositories of huge amounts of impossible-to-sort-
    through information. I know, because I have a huge
    number of textbooks on my computer, but I rarely use
    them because I'm not familiar enough with most of them
    to be able to find what I need faster than I could on
    the internet. I also happen to have digital copies of
    the core DnD rulebooks which are organized
    extraordinarily well and I find myself often wishing
    that my textbooks were that easy to navigate.

    I'd also like to see what kind of cost decrease
    digital textbooks could get us. Students often have to
    count their pennies, so every little bit counts.
    • Sounds like you want a Database...

      A database would be the only thing that would do everything you want. Heck, We have DBs full of helpdesk docs, FAQs, Knoledge Bases, Etc. There is no reason we couldn't do the same with books. Then you would be able to search or pull reports on any criteria you can think of.. provided you have the foresight to add the right tags to the data.
    • There have always been two types ...

      ... of text books. Those that make good reference boos and those that read front-to-back. A good electonic tool would make any eTextbook easier to search and mark-up. PDF is a great format on that but today the tools needed are not free - thanks in large part to the proprietary PDF format for which Adobe collects a pretty penny.
      M Wagner
  • Smartphones

    Doesn't matter if it's a Blackberry or an iPhone (or even a G1) as soon as smartphones take off they may be a good way to read.
    • Where have you been?

      Smartphones have already taken off!

      That said, I would never want to compromise my smartphone's battery life to read an eBook.

      That's why I prefer my music and my reading to be on dedicated devices - so that if the battery runs dry at an inopportune moment, I am not out of contact with the world.
      M Wagner
  • study vs relaxation

    Kindle and other devices are fine for relaxation reading (ie one book at a time) but for study, I have more than one reference open at the same time while typing up my notes. Just bought a wide screen display so I can have 2 PDFs open as well as the word processor.
    Oh, by the way, I like to relax read in the bath - and have lost a few texts underwater - smile.
  • Google another factor

    Just finished reading another zdnet article on what google is doing with scanning. Of course they've got some legal issues but at the point when it's possible to be competive with others there will open up more possibilities. Who knows the fact that Google is attempting to circumvent some of the copyrite aspects of books may pressure textbook companies into getting print books online. I wonder how many lost authors there are with old doctoral thesis that are out of print. It is said knowledge is power.
  • These Apps have been available for years

    I have been using my Netbook, PDS, Blackberry, and desktop to read eBooks for years (since I first found Project Gutenberg and more recently Google Books). I routinely carry around 80 or so books on my laptop.

    Besides PDF, there are a number of apps and formats for e-text available - which used to be a problem. The newer readers (like Stanza) read a variety of formats.

    The new 'standard' is Open Source XML and can be read about - simply Google "Open E-book wiki
  • Try CourseSmart on a Netbook

    It seems like CourseSmart has most textbooks in an online book format. They are easy to use on an HP Mini so I assume any Netbook or laptop.
  • RE: Screw Kindle...just give me a decent app for textbooks

    "some of the higher-level textbooks never completely
    lose their utility." That"some" is a mighty small
    percent when it comes to science and IT texts -
    usually the most expensive of them all.
    Check out the growing trend of publishers to offer
    ecopies of paper texts for rent rather than purchase,
    and customizable by chapters.
    I prefer reading paper too, but paper textbooks are
    pricing themselves out of business.
  • Deciding to buy

    I think a major point of the Kindle is that it is not only a technical device, but a marketplace. I.e., the store is built it. This brings in buy-in by the publishers, which I don't think you get with standardization around the electronic format.

    Meanwhile, if you are still on the fence about actually buying one and you have an Amazon wishlist, check out - it will take your wishlist and will compute the savings you'd accrue by switching from paper to electronic format.