Kno for iPad, and e-textbooks – the future of studying?
Posted by Matt Wall
OK, I know I ragged on the iPad (and tablets in general) somewhat in this post, but there’s just been a very interesting announcement from a company called Kno, and what can I say, I’m capricious. This company had previously put out a massive piece of hardware, which consisted of two 14.1 inch tablets stuck together – they were marketing this as a digital textbook. The device was generally poorly reviewed, and it looks like they’ve come up with a different strategy – licensing their software for the iPad. You can download the Kno app, and then have access to a store which will sell you e-textbooks for (they claim) 30-50% off the list price. A quick perusal of their store reveals many common undergraduate psychology titles (although quite a lot are labelled as ‘coming soon’). This has to be better (and cheaper) than carrying around a load of massive textbooks, right? Their software looks pretty good – you can make annotations, share stuff through the normal social-network channels, zoom-in on illustrations etc.
I’m unsure if this is available to iPad owners outside the US right now – I’m guessing possibly not, but I can’t imagine that situation will persist for long. If I were an iPad-owning student I would definitely investigate this as an alternative to buying physical textbooks. No idea if Kno are considering making their software available to Android tablet OS’s, but I can imagine they must be at least strongly considering it.
There’s little doubt that e-textbooks are going to be ‘the future’. Publishers love e-books because they’re much cheaper to produce (i.e. essentially zero production cost) than paper books, but they still get to charge almost the same price for them. The problem with e-textbooks is that most dedicated e-readers (like the Amazon Kindle) use an e-ink screen, which can only render text and images in grayscale, and most textbooks rely heavily on full-colour layouts and illustrations. The conventional wisdom is that high-contrast e-ink screens are much better for reading than colour LCD screens, such as on the iPad. Personally I do most of my reading on LCD screens (i.e. computer monitors) and don’t see any problem with it, and many people like to read on their iPads or other LCD tablets like the Samsung Galaxy Tab. The market has yet to decide whether grayscale e-ink has a future, although personally having to own two tablet-type devices (one for reading and the other for everything else) seems an unsatisfactory solution. Some progress has been made recently with colour e-ink screens, but the technology is not all that impressive at the moment.
I’m basically with the author of this Wired article, in thinking that e-books aren’t quite there yet – I still do almost all my reading-for-pleasure the old-fashioned way, however, there’s no denying the potential that e-books have to change the way we interact with the written word. For e-textbooks, the announcement of the Kno software coming to the iPad is a significant step forward for those students who might be longing for the day that they can ditch their heavy book-bag and go paperless.