Kindle and Nook: eBook Readers in eLearning

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More companies are looking to challenge Amazon Kindle’s hegemony in the eBook market. Sony has been in the fray for quite some time. Barnes and Noble made it clear several months ago that it too had designs on this market. Yesterday it released its dedicated eBook reader called the ‘Nook’ in New York city. The device has many features that distinguish it from the Kindle, including a color touch screen for control, and the use of the Google Android operating system.

First impressions suggest that it does sort of look like the Kindle with the curved edge plastic case. Check out this Engadget video that shows it being used.

The similarity begins and ends with the plastic case, while the Kindle uses a physical keyboard, the Sony reader uses one that’s virtual software-based, the Nook uses a color touch screen for navigation. It comes with 3G and even includes support for WiFi, a feature the Kindle lacks. Overall, this looks like a device to beat Kindle, given its features and price point. I’m sure we are going to see many more such readers out in the market soon.

At this point, some of you are wondering why I’m going on about eBook readers when I typically write about instructional technology and elearning. If it isn’t obvious already, I’m a big fan of such readers and I think they’re going to have a substantial place in academic and workplace learning because of these four factors:

  1. Displays – eBook reader displays tend to use eInk technologies and these are much more soothing on the eyes and users can spend very long periods of time working with such displays without eye strain. With a display format that’s typical of a book such readers can be used irrespective of location.
  2. Operating System – While Kindle came with its own proprietary operating system, the Nook comes with Android. Just having an operating system on the device opens it up to a wide range of applications that would typically have been considered suitable for a personal computer. I’d think it’s only a matter of time before some enterprising individuals or group of individuals hack the Nook to make it capable of being more than just a eBook reader.
  3. Capable of Interaction – A great display and an operating system do not a capable device make. The ability to interact with the device is critical if it’s to be effective in learning applications. I think the Nook is going to set of a trend that will lead to eBook readers being transformed from page turning static content to dynamic interactive content.
  4. Connectivity – eBook readers seem to come with increasing numbers of connectivity options. While the Kindle came with 3G, the Nook goes a step further and includes WiFi. Couple this with increased 3G and WiFi coverage across the globe, and the eBook Reader goes beyond just page flipping into a connected device that can be used to surf the web, summon content, and a host of other connected activities.

In the learning development world, we should be preparing for this wave of devices. Books were great information stores and learning tools, eBook readers shouldn’t be any different. However, unlike a book, the reader has many other capable features, and eLearning developers should look to target this platform next.

On another note, I wonder if the advent of cheap and capable eBook readers will finally result in the end of civilization’s environment unfriendly obsession with paper.

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