Sony Reader for sale, and thoughts on e-books was Re: [FoRK] Gibson's Spook Country

Ken Meltsner <meltsner at alum.mit.edu> on Fri Aug 31 10:06:59 PDT 2007

On 8/31/07, Luis Villa <luis at tieguy.org> wrote:
...
> Most of the time I am carrying not just a device that reads only
> books, but a device that reads only one book. We call it a 'book'. :)
> So a device that reads multiple books is an upgrade, assuming it reads
> an interesting number of books :)

Yes, the Sony Reader (and its ilk) are good for the reading-addicted
among us -- my wife always has a magazine in her purse, and my work
bag is usually filled with disposable trade magazines.

I've been thinking about the interface, and if I could design the
perfect reader, I'd like to see a unit which was optimized for, well,
reading.  Right now, it's quite clunky, with two sets of forward/back
controls, a "five-way" joystick (four directions and a select) with an
outer ring to trigger the menu, and ten buttons in a row on the bottom
for selecting menu items or jumping to rough targets within the book.
There's also a "size" button to change the font size (if the doc
format permits this -- Reader's PDF software is pretty brain-dead),
which, when held down, switches between portrait and landscape mode.

It's pretty clear that no one put this device through serious
usability and design trials.  If they did, no one listened to the test
results.  Aside from obvious oddities, such as having two f/b controls
(my guess is that the f/b disk confused people, so they added f/b
buttons as well), they needed to label some of the more obscure
controls to make the interface clear.  I realize no interface is truly
intuitive, but it's a bad sign when you have to put a little "menu"
label near the menu ring-shaped button.  (And a worse sign when it
takes me several tries to figure it out -- I thought the ring was
decorative, and the menu was reached with the joystick.)

My issues with the current device include:

*  too easy to push a navigation button accidentally if you're reading
with one hand

*  too many ways to navigate, some of which are only useful in limited
circumstances

The first has to do with a desire to read one-handed*, which is hard
with many real books as well.  If you hold the unit on the left side,
you can reach the forward/back buttons, but it's hard to do it
accurately without dropping it.  There's also a Fitts' law issue here
-- the f/b buttons and the redundant f/b disk are small, so you either
have to keep a finger near them or spend a second or so looking for
the right thing to push.

I'm not sure how to fix the one-handed hold/read -- real books don't
help as a model here.  If you can assume the use of two hands (or a
desk/lap), the Fitts law/accidental push problem could be solved by a
different f/b design.  My thought is that a touch strip on the sides
(or top/bottom) might be used as a 1-D gesture interface.  You could
stroke from top to bottom (or right to left) to turn pages forward,
with an extra tap at the bottom/left for each additional page (within
a few seconds of a stroke).  Not sure what gesture should be used for
flipping to a tabbed section; my preference would be for a slide-out
set of section tabs that would be selected with a double-click on the
touch bar.

A pair of perpendicular touch bars would be best so you'd get the same
behavior in portrait or landscape mode.

The second problem may be the product of shallow usability/design
work.  "The disk doesn't work for people?  Add buttons" may have been
the rationale.  "People need to jump around books -- add a set of
buttons for that."  Etc.

Ken

* No, not that kind of one-handed reading, although I suppose that's a
valid use case as well.

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