If a color Kindle is years away, where does that leave e-textbooks?

An old mentor of mine used to lecture to his classes and peers using 35mm slides. He created them in WordPerfect (this was along about 1996) and they consisted of black text on a white background.

An old mentor of mine used to lecture to his classes and peers using 35mm slides. He created them in WordPerfect (this was along about 1996) and they consisted of black text on a white background. The didn't need images, color, or fancy transitions. He was a statistician and the data and his conclusions mattered far more than the presentation.

Even when he finally broke down and traded in the 35mm slides for an LCD projector, his presentations were no-frills, monochrome text. He just couldn't get slide projectors at conferences anymore, so he had to upgrade. It wasn't long, though, before the power of this new medium became evident and he realized that color could make data far easier to present in a graphical format.

If you were very reading-oriented as he was (I actually edited the first edition of his Clinical Trials Dictionary: talk about "reading-oriented"), then text based slides filled with data tables were fine. Reading-oriented statisticians are easy to find. Many of the doctors, epidemiologists, and research nurses with whom he worked were much more visual and really benefited from this (to him, at least) newfangled way of looking at data.

Why the long story? Because Jeff Bezos announced yesterday that a color Kindle was still years away. According to ChannelWeb,

Direct from the Kindle King's mouth: there'll be no public Kindle sales data to chew on, and a color Kindle is years away...a color version of the Kindle e-reader is still definitely in the development phase.

So where does this leave educators, looking to the Kindle and other e-readers as solutions for lowering the cost of textbooks and making it easier for students to have their books accessible anytime, anywhere? If you're the average statistician reading the average statistics text, then it leaves you right at home.

However, it leave the average student looking for another solution. Although most readers will know that I'm quite the netbook evangelist (for a variety of uses, including electronic textbook formats), I'm not convinced there isn't a place for a Kindle-ish device if the DRM, cost, and, most importantly, color issues can be resolved. Keep in mind that color e-ink exists: the press release linked here is from 2005.

I'm hoping that the surge of Kindle competitors will drive a shift in the publishing market, as will the increasing availability of 1:1 netbook solutions. If that happens, we may just see color e-readers follow, making electronic textbooks useful to people who don't miss WordPerfect 5.1.