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Sony eReader – another try at “Knowledge Navigator?” January 8, 2006

Posted by technobabylon in Kool Products.
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Sony eBook released. the “Sony Reader” – January 2006

Well, another eBook – (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/4586800.stm). Well, actually its another eBook attempt for Sony too. This is their second try at an eBook reader, a few years ago they tried one in Japan. It flopped.

Actually there are technical reasons why eBook readers never took off, sometimes the designers tried to put too much into them, sometimes they just didn’t have the right stuff – battery technology and display technology specifically. Then there’s storage – something we just didn’t have enough of, and I suppose we still don’t, although Quantum chips are coming (see http://atomchip.com/_wsn/page2.html). This new little reader does however, have the Sony Memory Stick and SD RAM slots. More than enough for even the longest of trilogies.

At times like this (eBook announcements) I always get a little misty eyed. Years ago as an Apple trained technician and Macintosh trainer in the early eighties I watched one of the most interesting videos ever produced by a computer company. From the moment I watched it over 20 years ago I still remember its impact on those technology zealots around me who knew what technology could do if designed and implemented properly.

In 1986/87 Apple (specifically, Bill Atkinson and John Sculley) made this speculative video about the “Knowledge Navigator,” a portable device with full motion color video, voice recognition, and wireless data connectivity. Sculley was dead on in some of his predictions for the evolution of technology. In (his 1987 book) Odyssey, he described an omnipresent device of the future that he called the Knowledge Navigator, which would let a person steer through the reams of data all over the world.

Two decades later, with the Internet’s World Wide Web continuing to explode, and companies like Google who are now scanning vast databases of text and video aimed at exactly this type of device. The Navigator promised It would transform the personal computer from a productivity tool into one focussed around the echange and transfer of information, exactly as Sculley had envisioned…”. This Knowledge Navigator vision was really the first one. It captured the imagination of the entire computer industry so that other companies imitated it – Including Sony by the look of it..

Today I tracked down a copy and watched it again. It stands the test of time rather well – certain elements of that vision are now routine — for example, a few minutes on Google with my Wifi enabled Powerbook found me the video with just a few clicks of the trackpad, – when equipped with its iSight camera, bears a family resemblance to the Dynabook-like talking computer featured in the video. Other aspects are still far out of reach though – especially the conversational interface based on deep understanding of natural language.

For those Interested, I found a longer version of the video here (http://www.bu.edu/jlengel/kn65kfs.mov), and two smaller clips of the more interesting pieces: (http://www.billzarchy.com/clips/clips_apple_nav_navigator.htm) and (http://www.billzarchy.com/clips/clips_apple_nav_rainforest.htm). I dug up a full size image of the visionary eReader from the Apple video too (http://common.ziffdavisinternet.com/util_get_image/1/0,1425,sz=1&i=11258,00.jpg). Hmmm some pretty neat stuff here for a 20 year video!

Sony has been chasing technology since its inception. With some successes in their computing industry with the Viao and in the music industry with the famed Walkman. Lately though, – actually for the past decade, Sony has not been a leader, but a follower in the technology field. Looks like the Apple video may have made an impression with the Sony engineers. I understand the eBooks will soon be even available online with a strangely familiar interface – check out Sony’s new http://connect.com site. iTunes comes to mind !! At launch, Sony expects about 10,000 titles to be available – a definite requirement to getting 10’s of thousands of these little babies into the mass market.

Not to slam Sony though, at least they’re trying. Apparently the new screen technology allows for significant battery life. Wireless connectivity and a bit of browsing capabilities would put this thing into the stratosphere. Hmm a little bluetooth or wifi would definitely be an improvement on this theme. The Reader displays electronic books (and other content, including PDF files, JPEG images, and RSS feeds) stored on either a Memory Stick or an SD Card (neither is included).

My thoughts for the week. Comments welcome.