To no one’s surprise, one of the big stories out of the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show was the number of electronic book devices introduced. (The RIT Open Publishing Lab has a round-up of related announcements from CES about these devices.)
We seem to be in a very transitional stage with regard to these devices: while the black-and-white e-ink display of the Amazon Kindle is–by all reports–a very satisfying reading surface, other manufacturers are trying to edge into the market dominated by the Kindle through the introduction of other options such as dual displays of color LCD alongside black-and-white e-ink. These innovations are, frankly, more than a little awkward in some cases and don’t seem likely to change the playing field, but they are evidence that we’ve yet to arrive at a standard electronic form that everyone (consumers, publishers, programmers, hardware manufacturers) can agree on.
To complicate matters even more, Apple is expected to introduce a tablet next week, and this week (perhaps anticipating what said tablet is expected to be able to do) the news from Amazon is that the Kindle will be getting an app store (a concept first popularized by the Apple iPhone), allowing developers to create digital tools beyond those that facilitate reading on what is so far the most successful electronic book device.
Okay, fine. Clearly there’s a great deal of entrepreneurial innovation at work with regard to the devices with which (through which? on which?) we are reading. But what about content? Specifically, what about content for the higher ed classroom?
Here’s what I want to know: with all the devices that students already own, why aren’t there more good quality teaching materials available in an electronic format that will do the things we usually expect texts to do in a relatively standard way: consistent page numbering, highlighting, annotating, sharing/loaning/re-selling? And why don’t the electronic texts we do have access to allow us to do things like remix, create word clouds, print out our own copies, and search & sort? Granted, I have my own tentative answers to these questions, but I’m mostly interested in hearing from ProfHacker readers about their thoughts on these issues, as well as whether or not there’s perhaps a general consensus out there that digital textbooks (whether published in an open access format or as copyrighted content) are a desirable goal.
What do you think?