Go to your bookshelf, pick out any book, find your favorite chair, and begin reading.
Now, go to your smartphone or PDA, power it on, unlock the screen, scroll and open the ebook reader, click open, choose book, click bookmarks, then find your favorite chair, and begin reading.
Reading shouldn’t require a complicated user interface.
A Glimpse of the Past
Just before writing this, I sat my Nokia N95 down on top of my opened Bible. It reminded me of those times when I was much younger and my nanny would go into a drawer and pull out her magnifying glass in order for her to read the newspaper.
She would then spread out the entire newspaper on the kitchen table — effectively stopping any game that I was playing there — and begin reading a few lines at a time. And while she was dedicated to getting the news, the fact that her magnifying glass required so much attention be paid to setting up her environment took away from her love of reading.
Again, reading shouldn’t require a complicated user interface.
Things Haven’t Changed That Much
When I look at my smartphone sitting on top of my Bible, I see the same analogy in reading and browsing on mobile devices. With a book there is no need to set up an environment and navigate a user interface, there’s only content and the context: find a book, find your place, and go read. Mobile devices miss that. And I’m not sure that enough people have paid attention to this in order to change it.
Sure, we have various ebook devices, ebook reader software, ways to link and share, and many, many reading options once we get into the application. The first reaction to all of that is that “context is king” — all that matters is the content. Reading can be separate from the content. But in truth, it cannot be. Reading is just as much a part of the moment as it is the content that is being read, and mobile devices do too good of a job of divorcing those two.
The Better Example
Until some months ago, web browsing on a mobile was just as much a chore as ebook reading. Then I met a program called Opera Mini.
This web browser, as well as Safari Mobile and Nokia’s S60 browser, employ a feature called a mini-map. If you will, it is a view of the entire web page that you could then zoom into and the text would size itself just right for reading.
Opera Mini even has this cool effect where it slid from one screen to another. It is simple, but it makes browsing a lot like reading a book… peaceful.
Reading Is Universal
I look at what mobile devices are able to do and think of reading. I enjoy reading because it’s something that is very essential to both my career and leisure times. However, the way that reading software is designed makes it more of a chore it should be.
Like what Opera Mini did with web browsing, there should be a sense of flow and ease to reading to ebooks.
And I shouldn’t have to set up a myriad of options in order to get that perfect reading posture — the reader is like a book, it should respond to my context as I need it and work with me.
My Ideal Ebook Reader
It would be nice if mobile devices could understand the context of an activity, like a dedicated reading time, and then orient itself to that moment. Sensing that I am in the corner of my home where I normally read, the device will begin streaming classical music, open the reader application to where I was last reading, and only give notifications in the corner of the screen to things like email, new books to download, and the change of song.
Instead of having to fiddle with getting the text sized right, the mobile device should use its camera during setup to gather the font size that’s already pleasant for reading from a book that I already own.
It should then offer me various layout choices like a mini-map or continuous page mode.
There should either be an auto-scrolling feature or the use of the device’s accelerometer to scroll and move forward/back pages.
I’ll go so far as to say that hitting the camera button should bookmark a section on the screen with a date and time stamp, and in another window give me the options to share it with a friend, blog/SMS it, or simply keep it as a starting point for next time.
The only time I should see anything looking like a normal application dialog box would be when I am installing or un-installing the application. Otherwise, it would just be in the background and all I would have is reading.
My quiet place in the corner of my house, on the subway, or in the park — and my reading; interfacing with only my imagination and letting the device and the content be content and not a part of the equation.