eTextbooks & ‘The Kno’

The war rages for market control of ebooks between tech giants like Amazon and Apple, and the publishers their success threatens (at least the biggies like Random House, Penguin and Harper Collins, most others have to sit on the sidelines and wonder who it is, exactly, they want to win). They’re all fighting for the financial and electronic rights to the soul of the book.

But what about all those books out there that don’t have souls? The second class citizens of the book world: textbooks.

That may be a trifle unfair, many textbooks are wonderous repositories of valuable knowledge which are deeply enthralling. They’re just outweighed (often physically) by such tomes as ‘Spreadsheet Tools for Engineers Using Excel’ which, sadly enough, is in the third edition and, with 512 joyous pages, rings up at $94.00. I think I’d rather be mugged for those $94 dollars.

Regardless, textbooks are a proscribed part of any university education, holding all sorts of information one simply cannot do without, and, because of their commercial nature, are outside the current e-warzone.

The problem is one of size. Textbooks are too big and illustrated to view efficiently on eReaders whose screens average about 10 inches – too much scrolling and limitations on graphs, pictures and indexes, etc. So Osman Rashid has developed ‘The Kno’, an eReader specifically for textbooks. It has two 14 inch screens that fold together like a giant mobile phone. The Kno allows the full display capabilities of a textbook with all sorts of neat added features like web browsing, instant indexing, the ability to make notes directly in the text, etc, etc.

But man, is it big. And heavy, 2.5kg! Admittedly textbooks are heavy, and many textbooks are ridiculously heavy, but al least it doesn’t matter if you drop them. At least it’s cheap… oh, hang on, it’s not. The company is hoping to retail it under $1000 (US dollars).

So, big, heavy and expensive. But it works really well. At least they think it will when they iron the bugs out of it. They’re releasing it later this year in the American market with great hopes of success, but this is the same market that consigned previous eTextbooks like the JooJoo and the Entourage eDGe (their spelling), justly, to the grave. We’ll see how this one goes.

Anyway, I fully expect Steve Jobs to wander by and suggest that the iPad would kick The Kno’s arse in a fight. Which it might, but it would have to be careful The Kno didn’t fall on top, unconscious, and get an accidental pin.

They do have the big educational publishers on board, Pearson, Wiley, Cengage and McGraw-Hill, so there must be hope in some circles that this is the way forward (or possibly desperation). I suspect it won’t be the one, but it is a significant step. A well designed device for textbooks would be massively useful to students and teachers, offering an integrated educational experience that would broaden so quickly that it’s difficult to imagine what steps 4 and 5 would be (and who cares, steps 1 to 3 would be interesting enough).

This isn’t the revolution. But it is the murmurings of it, the rumble in the distance. The revolution may not be televised, but you might get a multi-format email from your lecturer that links you to the revolution’s website.


One thought on “eTextbooks & ‘The Kno’

  1. button says:

    Jeepers. What’s the point? If you’re reading a weighty text book about Excel or the like (snore) wouldn’t you most probably be sitting at a desk anyway? A desk where your laptop or PC could sit?

    I had a thought about the ipad and book trailers before. I wonder if eventually it will become normal to watch a preview of your book before you read it on your ipad (or the like)?

    Call me a ludite but I’ll stick to getting a sore back from lugging books everywhere. Mmm the smell of real life paper…


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