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Opera for iOS v10.2.0 Adds Night Reading Mode, Blue Light Filter

before after opera miniA new version of Opera Mini for iPad and iPhone has hit iTunes today, bringing with it a new solution to your late night porn watching problems.

Opera for iOS v10.2.0 doesn’t have a very long changelog, but the relatively minor changes are going to be appreciated. The new version of the browser has a couple new settings. There’s an optional night reading mode which will let you dim your device’s backlight from inside the app, and there’s a new optional "bedtime" mode.

The bedtime mode is more or less the blue light filter I was writing about in my last post. This filter is intended to minimize the sleep disruptions caused by late night web browsing by reducing the amount of blue light emitted from your screen. (There’s research to back it up.)

Here’s what the Opera app looks like with the "bedtime" mode disabled and then enabled. The screen brightness is set to full, so all you’re seeing here is the impact of the filter.

You can find the new viewing modes in the settings menu which can be found by first pressing the Opera logo in the upper right corner.

Opera Mini is free in iTunes. And if Opera isn’t your thing, there are several other web browsers and an ebook app (Oyster) which also offer a blue light filter.

How to Read at Night on Your Tablet, iPad, Kindle Fire, or Smartphone

Researchers have been saying for years and years that reading an on LCD screen late at night will disrupt your sleep, and techies have been working nearly as long to come up with fixes for that problem.

There are two general solutions to the problem (three, if you count not using your device within two hours of going to bed). One is called a night reading mode, and the other is using the software settings to apply a blue light filter to the screen.

One common solution offered by many reading apps is to invert the colors so that the text is white on a black background. It’s called a night reading mode, and you can find it in most reading apps such as Kindle, iBooks, Aldiko, Kobo, etc, and looks something like this:

night_theme

The night reading mode is not unpopular with ebookophiles, but I’m not sure that it really counts as a solution to the sleep problem.

Anecdotal reports suggest that it might help (some users swear by it) but the only true solution would be to use a blue light filter.

Study after study has shown that the blue light emitted from a screen can impact your sleeping patterns. Why blue and not any other color? I don’t know the answer to that, but I can say that it’s what everyone is saying and it is where all the app developers are turning their attention.

Windows

If you like to read or work on your PC late at night then you should look at an app called f.lux. It adjusts the color settings on your monitor based on the local time for your location.

And most importantly, it changes the color settings on a system level. So if you install F.lux, it will affect all the apps you use and make them look different.

The F.lux app for Windows comes so highly recommended that I’ve not heard of an alternative. But I can’t make the same remark about Android.

Kindle Fire Tablets

In December 2015 Amazon released an update to Fire OS Bellini which added a blue light filter called Blue Shade.

Update April 2019: That feature is still included on all current models, and you can see screenshots here.

Kobo

In the four years since I first published this post Kobo has  made blue-light filters a standard feature on all their ereader models, including the Kobo Forma. Turn the feature on, and the white frontlight on a Kobo will slowly shift to orange and then a reddish tint as your evening progresses.

You can also set the Kobo’s blue-light filter manually, but I do think it’s worth mentioning that no testing has been done on the frontlight of an ereader to see whether said frontlight has the same negative impact as an LCD screen.

Kindle

Nope, the Kindle does not have this feature, and Amazon has shown no interest in adding it.

I am expecting a new premium Kindle model in 2019, however, and that would be a good time to add it.

Android

A quick search of Google Play reveals that there are countless free apps which claim to offer a blue light filter, but I’m not so sure how true that is. I’ve checked a half-dozen, and many simply turn down the backlight and apply a grey, and not blue, filter. There are a few apps which do apply a color filter, and some even offer alternate color options for the filter (here’s one).

One app in particular, Twilight, has been recommended several times in the comment section of this post. I’d try that first. Also, Google added a blue light filter to Google Play Books in late December 2015.

iOS

When I first wrote this post in 2015, we had far fewer options for late night reading on your iPad or iPhone.  Google updated the Google Play Books iOS app, and Opera, for example, updated their browser with a night reading mode and a blue light filter, but there’s no general solution. There’s also night reading mode in ebook apps, I only found a few options for iOS.

But then Apple added this as a core feature for iOS, which means you have the option with all iOS apps. See the "Night Shift" menu under "Display and Brightness" on your iDevice’s Settings menu for more info.

Other Platforms

Not having other devices to check, I can’t tell you whether you can find blue light filters on other platforms.

If you use one, let us know in the comments. I’m sure I won’t be the only one who is interested.

How to Get Night Mode (White Text & Black Background) on Kobo eReaders

Kobo gives readers a nearly infinite number of different ways to tweak their reading experience so it’s perfect. We can change the margins to either leave a pleasant amount of whitespace or to save as much screen real estate as possible, we can adjust line heights to the optimum setting for our reading comfort, and we can even install the font of our choosing.

Just about the only option Kobo does not give readers is a night reading mode. This is the name given to when you display white text on a black background so that when you read in the dark, it feels like there’s less light shining in your face (this could be readers tricking themselves, but that is how it feels).

Fortunately, there is a way to enable night mode on Kobo ereaders, including the Aura H2O and the Aura One, but there is a catch: You have to change a system setting for your ereader to make it switch to white text on a black screen. There’s no easy way to toggle it on and off, which means you have to be willing to use night mode all the time.

If you want to do that, you’ll need a USB cable, your Kobo ereader, and a PC.

How to Invert the Background and Font Color on Kobo eReaders

  1. The first thing you need to do is connect your ereader to your PC with the USB cable, and then open the file manager on your computer.
  2. Find the ".kobo" folder, open it, and then open the "kobo" folder found inside it.
  3. Select the "Kobo eReader.conf" file, right-click it, and choose the option to edit the file. (Notepad on Windows is a good option, although I usually use an app called Textpad).
  4. After you have the file open, you will need to scroll down and add a couple lines of text to the end of the file. Make sure it is written exactly like this on two lines:
    [FeatureSettings] InvertScreen=true
  5. Once you have added the lines of text, save the file, eject your Kobo ereader, and reboot the ereader (hold down the power button until it turns off, and then press it again to restart it).

After your ereader boots, you should be able to see that the night mode setting has taken effect. If you don’t see it, reboot the ereader, and then repeat the above steps.

Datalogics Launches Bookvia Reading App

Earlier this year I reported that Datalogics was one of two companies which were using Sony’s new DADC ebook DRM. Bluefire was using the DRM in its new cloud library app, and Datalogics was offering the DRM as an option in its whitelabel textbook platform.

Now Datalogics has launched a new app, Bookvia, which uses the DADC DRM.

“We are very pleased to announce the launch of the Bookvia app,” said Ching Yue, Product Manager for eBook technologies at Datalogics. “This year has been dedicated to developing new and innovative solutions for our eBook customers. Being able to offer Bookvia, with the Sony DADC URMS integration, is a significant step forward in providing a complete solution to customers who want to adopt the URMS ecosystem for their eBook distribution channel.”

There isn’t much reason for consumers to download this app; the DRM is not used by any retailer. But according to Datalogics, the benefits include:

  • EPUB 3 support for URMS content
  • enabling users to consolidate their electronic publications in one app
  • Branding options
  • a powerful and engaging reading experience
  • Night reading mode
  • streamlined content delivery to the reader through a common bookshelf
  • Highlighting and page scrolling
  • In-app Dictionary

The app can be found in iTunes; an Android app is planned for next year.

Datalogics

Hands On With Kobo Aura One Night Mode (video)

P1040404When Kobo announced the Aura One ereader this morning, one question was at the top of everyone’s mind:

How the heck did Kobo add a night-reading mode with a red-orange filter?

Night-reading modes were a hot topic in the ebook world last year. Amazon, Google, and even Apple released updates for Android, iOS, and Fire tablets which added optional bluelight filters.

The thinking behind these filters is that they are better for you to use at night because the blue end of the light spectrum is most likely to keep you up, which is why there are apps for iOS and Android that can do this.

However, the apps use a trick which won’t work for E-ink screens; they variously disable the blue light coming out of the RGB pixels on a mobile device’s screen (some apps like do a lot more).

The best ereaders on the market have a grayscale screen and a white frontlight, so you would think it would be impossible to add a frontlight which could shift colors.

But Kobo found a solution – one so obvious that I have to wonder why no one else has used it in the seven years since Sony debuted a frontlight on the PRS-700.

A frontlight on an ereader is lit by tiny LEDs around the frame, and the ereader might have any where between 4 to 10 of them. Amazon made a big deal over the Kindle Oasis having ten LEDs (more than any other device) but Kobo found a better use for LEDs.

Kobo added an extra LED which provides a red-orange tint, and then changed the software so that users could adjust the brightness and the tint independently.

Correction: The Aura One has "9 white LEDs and 8 RGB LEDs (with 3 lights in each)".

I shot a couple videos to show it off. The first was in a room lit by sunlight, so it’s hard to see the night-reading mode.

The second video was shot in a fairly dim room so that you can see just how strong the red-orange color can get.

I don’t know if you can see it in the video, but the red-orange LED appears to be located along the bottom edge of the screen. From what I can tell there is only one, and as a result I can see a noticeable color gradient between the bottom and the top of the screen.

Edit: No, that is just a quirk of the light interactig with the film over the screen.

Then again, I am looking at this screen with a critical eye which is trying to find fault. A regular user might not notice, or care.

What do you think of the night-reading mode?

I’m e-Reading on Wider Screens Now – How About You?

IMG_20160728_141603.jpgNate asked me to write a short piece on what devices I’m currently using for e-reading. As it happens, there is one I’ve been using a lot lately, and what that device is—and why—might surprise you.

The thing is, I haven’t been doing a whole lot of reading lately. Much of my reading has been concerned with going through RSS feeds looking for articles on subjects that interest me, or that I might cover for TeleRead. And while I’ve been able to do that on my Nexus 6 smartphone on account of having it in my pocket most places, lately I haven’t been out to that many places on account of keeping expenses down while I look for a new job. And I find it’s simplest to do a lot of that reading in bed.

So my choice for bedtime RSS reading has been—the Teclast Kindow hybrid Android/Windows tablet I reviewed for TeleRead a few weeks back. I honestly didn’t expect that—it runs an older version of Android, after all, and its battery life is crazy short. But the Android RSS app I use, Press, runs just fine on it, and I only need it for short periods at a time—the rest of the time I can plug it back in and let it charge up for the next time.

I think the main reason I prefer to use it for bedtime reading tasks rather than my Nexus 7 or Fire tablet comes down to the screen shape. Most small name-brand Android tablets and phones these days are optimized for viewing video media, which generally means 1.78:1 widescreen. Hence, when reading in portrait mode, the screen is downright skinny. Not that this hampers legibility—we’ve been reading narrow columns in magazines for decades, after all—but I think that when you’re used to a wider page shape, the narrower one just has a feeling of wrongness on a subconscious level.

Of course, for wider screen shape, I could go with my iPad Mini 2 instead—it’s got almost exactly the same size and shape as the Kindow, better battery life, and a higher-resolution Retina Display to boot. But the Kindow’s screen looks good enough to me, and the iPad doesn’t have the Android apps I prefer to use; even the new iteration of Reeder, the RSS reader I used to use back in my iPod Touch days, feels awkward and unwieldy after having gotten used to Press on Android. And if I should decide I want to check my email or dash off a quick message to someone in Hangouts while I’m reading, the differences in how the apps work and the problems I have with Apple’s on-screen keyboards make that annoying. (I wonder what it would be like using a Pixel C in bed, though?) Another important factor for reading in bed is that Android devices run the blue-light-reducing app Twilight, which is a lot more adjustable than iOS’s “Night Shift” mode.

IMG_20160728_141002.jpgBut what about reading e-books? Off and on, I’ve been trying to work my way through a Kindle e-book about the history of the Internet, and have largely been doing that on my Kindle Paperwhite because it has a great screen for reading and fewer distractions.

But I could see using either the Kindow or the iPad for reading on a larger display, with a wide-page form factor. I’ve never had the sort of eyestrain troubles with LCD some readers find, and the Kindle e-reading app is available to sync my reading location across all three. And for reading generic EPUB, they’ve all got good enough displays and good enough e-reading applications that I could be comfortable on any of them—Marvin for iOS, Freda for the Kindow’s seldom-used Windows 10 partition, and Google Play Books, eReader Prestigio, or a whole host of others for Android.

Before using the Kindow and iPad, I honestly wouldn’t have expected my e-reader preference would come down to screen size and shape. If you’d asked me, I would have pooh-poohed the idea that a phone or tablet with the narrow-portrait form factor might not be as good an e-reader. Words wrap, don’t they?

My Nexus 6 has the highest-resolution screen of any device, mobile or desktop, that I own, so you’d think it would be my best overall choice. But resolution isn’t everything. After using these wider tablets for a while, I’m simply struck by how much more natural it feels to read a page in this shape—whether that’s of an RSS feed and news articles, or an e-book.

What about you? If given the choice between different devices, would screen form factor be a major issue in your decision? And have you had experience reading from those different form factors to help you make up your mind?

Amazon Fire Tablets Updated With a “Blue Shade” Light Filter For Better Night-Time Reading

Amazon is about to give you another excuse to continue reading late into the night long after you should have gone to sleep.

The retailer is rolling out an update for the Fire tablets which add a new reading feature as well as improved parental controls and a kid-friendly web browser. The update will be coming to all tablets running Fire OS Bellini (only this year’s tablets ATM, but eventually also last year’s models).

Since this is an ebook blog, let’s cover the most important one first. Blue Shade is Amazon’s solution to the night reading problem.

blue shade

We’ve known for years and years that the light from an LCD shining in your face can disrupt your sleep patterns. It’s a known problem with a dozen solutions ranging from apps that change the color tone late at night to yellow sunglasses, and there are even a dozen different apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad that will tint your screen to reduce the blue light being emitted (this tends to make screens look more yellow or red).

  • Want to read that last chapter from the comfort of your bed? Simply turn on Blue Shade, an exclusive new Amazon feature that works behind the scenes to adjust and optimize the display on Fire tablets for a more comfortable nighttime reading experience. Blue Shade uses specialized filters to limit exposure to blue light. It also offers warm color filters and the ability to lower the display brightness to an ultra-low level for comfortable nighttime reading—even in a dark room.

That’s nice, but don’t forget that the best solution is to put down the damned gadget.

Other new features in the update include:

Activity Center

  • For parents with kids who have outgrown Amazon FreeTime but are not yet ready to be without parental controls, Activity Center provides an easy way for parents to see how their kids are spending time on their tablet.

Kid-Friendly Web Browser

  • Amazon FreeTime, the innovative parental controls that encourage learning before play and that help manage kids’ screen time, is now even better with a kid-friendly web browser that provides kids with controlled access to more than 40,000 hand-curated, age-appropriate YouTube videos and websites. Once parents turn this feature on, kids can dive into the content immediately with no additional set up or extra costs.

 

 

Glose Update v1.5 Adds Speed-Reading on the Apple Watch

glose apple watch 2Over 3,000 apps have been released for the Apple Watch (there’s even a web browser) and countless apps have been updated to support  the smartwatch. That includes Glose, which just released an update today.

The update adds a cluster of new features. Glose says they added a new night-reading mode, better formatting, and new Tinder-inspired gestures for adding books to your reading list, but the big news today is the new support for the Apple Watch.

Apple Watch owners can now catch up on what their friends are reading in Glose, nd receive notifications as soon as someone they know starts reading a new ebook. They’re also going to receive free book quotes and "be inspired at every important moment of the day".

And last but not least, Glose also added a speed reading option. The changelog says that you can speed your books word by word on Apple Watch,. That sounds like Glose implemented some kind of RSVP technique (Spritz uses similar tech), but I’m waiting for an Apple Watch owner to test it for me and confirm.

Speaking of speed reading, Instapaper recently added the option. I don’t think they offer it on the Apple Watch, though, just their apps for iPhone and iPad. Instead, Instapaper added a TTS option which worked through the iWatch.

Glose is free in iTunes.

On Tablets, Summer Reading, and Parental Role Models for Young Readers

alexandriatest2It’s summer. Is your child reading—one way to guard against a seasonal slump? Oh, and here’s a very much related question. Are you reading?

“You are a role model for your children,” writes Dr. Judy Willis, M.D., a board-certified neurologist as well as a former middle school teacher. “When they see you reading books, not just for specific reasons but also for enjoyment, their regard for books can change. It is just as important for them to see you being challenged when reading, such as by more technical books. This increases their comfort about difficulties they have reading complex books.”

But what about families where the parents don’t read, including immigrant ones?

Could school-supplied tablets, along with cell phone book clubs, already explained at length, get them excited about both e-books and the paper kind during the summer and at other times? Research in the U.K. shows that recreational reading can significantly boost academic achievement.

In my Washington suburb and countless other places, U.S. schools are buying tablets for students, and each city could potentially be a test bed for the ideas in this commentary.

We’re talking about a partial solution to a national reading divide; well-off kids actually can make gains over the summer.

Regardless of family income, however, more reading is likely to help. All the more reason to increase coordination between schools and public libraries to exploit e-book-related technology to the max!

Cell phones as a tablet substitute, so everyone can read at once if they want

salonCellPhoneBut why the mention of cell phones along with the tablets? We go back to Dr. Willis and other K-12 gurus’ appreciation of parental role models.

Suppose parents could use the tablets—to read books they loved—when the kids were not.

And what if the clubs provided inspiration and tips on reading off cell phones and other devices, so that the tablets weren’t  the only e-book-useful devices in the house? That way, a mother or father or younger sister or brother could keep reading even when Jose or Jenifer had a reading assignment or other homework to do.

Not everyone will want to read on cell phones, one reason for the appeal of tablets and the continued usefulness of paper books. But the screens on the phones are getting bigger and sharper; the six-inch screen on my newest phone displays as many words as a Kindle Paperwhite does. Prices are plummeting.

And—here’s the real kicker—cell phone users carry their devices with them almost always. Furthermore, most teenagers in the U.S.own smartphones or will in the near future.

With the right encouragement from parents, teachers and librarians, they could enjoy books while waiting for the bus or while in line at the grocery store.

And with the right business arrangements in place someday, they could even start a library book on paper, get caught up in the plot and continue reading the book on a cell phone when they didn’t have it with them.

They could also use text to speech technology (TTS) to be able to hear books when they were jogging or working out at the gym. TTS, in fact, is already possible for many library books with the right software in use.

More and more of the literati are turning into enthusiastic readers of e-books on cell phones, even on little iPhone screens. A cell phone won’t necessarily turn your 16-year-old into a Tolstoy fan. But if talked up as a reading device, especially if you’re reading on your own phone to set a good example, it just might increase your teenager’s chances of enjoying a young adult novel or a sports biography or how-to.

In line with Americans’ desire for school-library cooperation and more library e-books

pewchartSuch an e-savvy approach could help connect the dots between schools and libraries. It would jibe well with related finding from the Pew Research Internet Project.

Eighty-five percent of Americans surveyed said libraries should definitely“coordinate more with local schools”—even greater than the percentage calling for free literacy programs, 82 percent. Only a minority disagreed that libraries should “definitely” (53 percent) or “maybe” (30 percent) offer a “broader selection of e-books.”

School e-tablets and cell phone book clubs, thus, could fit in well with popular sentiment. While libraries could organize the clubs and reach many patrons besides students and parents, educators ideally would be interested in participating as well.

If nothing else, libraries could work closely with schools so the latter had an ample supply of youth-appropriate and school-related books as well as those of interest to adults at all socioeconomic levels. No need to worry about a conflict with school libraries. The need exists for everyone to pitch in. Here’s to cooperation, especially since school libraries focus on the young rather than adults!

This strategy would tie in well with the belief of Dr. Willis and other experts in the importance of parental role models. No guarantee that all children will become gung-ho readers. But this would be one way to encourage them while making the parents more stimulating as conversationalists—something especially helpful to younger children. The bigger vocabulary a parent uses, the better for her offspring. What to do about poor people with grade-school educations? Or immigrant families with limited English? Cell phone book clubs and an accompanying focus on parental role models—as well as English-language tutoring and instruction in the best ways to introduce younger kids to reading—could narrow the gap.

Significantly, too, many low-income parents must work long hours, often at more than one job, and they cannot always make it to the library in person. E-books and cell phone book clubs could help libraries reach out to them and increase their chances of in-library visits. Also keep in mind that many parents in close-knit immigrant families do not want their children, particularly their daughters, out at night. Cell phone book clubs could help bring the library to homes and housing complexes.

DIY cell phone book clubs

Interested community members could even start cell phone book clubs on their own—neighborhood- or interest-based or built around jobs, religious affiliations or others.

Then they could rely on libraries and schools for various forms of assistance, such as making arrangements with OverDrive and other library vendors for sufficient numbers of relevant titles to be available for the club members.

Laudably some libraries already offer “kits” of paper books to help patrons start their own book clubs, and the same concept would apply.

The library in my own hometown of Alexandria, Virginia, commendably distributes book club kits. Time for cell phone book club kits—brief written instructions for getting the clubs up and running? Maybe augmented soon with videos, some produced by the kids themselves? And accompanying Web sites?

School librarians, too, not just public librarians, could help start and promote the clubs. And so could recreation center workers.

Here’s yet another reason for mention of Alexandria. Our city’s library spending on books and other collection items is far below the national average despite Amazon’s bizarre depiction of us as America’s “most well-read city.” If budget-minded city council members want to squeeze as much value as possible from the library’s book purchases—thus increasing the possibility of their reversing past budget cuts—this could be one way to do it. The club concept and a well-coordinated multigenerational tablet-based strategy to encourage reading could help both schools and libraries fulfill their literacy goals.

ln the wake of a 400-student pilot project earlier this year at T.C. Williams High School (first photo), all 3,300 of the kids next month will be using Intel-based Android tablets from Amplify. So will the 300 teachers. In the above video, Chief Technology Officer Elizabeth Hoover shows off some of the features of the tablets, which come with extra-rugged glass screens to reduce breakage.

The school system was spending close to $2 million a year to lease laptops for T.C. Williams. Now the costs will shrink to $800,000 a year, and chores such as software maintenance will no longer be the same hassle—since T.C. can almost instantly “push” out new apps to the tablets. Among other things, Dr. Hoover says the reduced downtime should it easier for schools to let students and parents to enjoy use of the tablets over the summer.

Helpfully the Alexandria tablets will come with library-related software, including an application for OverDrive, which offers a variety of popular-level books. OverDrive even has an eReading Room for Kids or Teens. I hardly regard vendors like OverDrive as a full-strength solution—a national digital library endowment could vastly expand the number of  books and maybe even buy OverDrive itself, at a fair price—but it’s one available now. So are public domain titles and Creative Commons works online for noncommercial uses for free.

Other book-related apps on the tablets

The T.C. Williams tablets also will include:

Bookmyne, a way for students to keep up with their library accounts and local library activities.

–Reader software presumably able to access Google’s public domain collection. This apparently is a specialized version of thestandard reader for Google Play Books.

Amazon’s Kindle app as well as one from Barnes & Noble (standard Android app?). Students and parents will be able to use book-store-related  accounts to buy books if they want, and purchased items can then be displayed on cell phones and other devices. Same with the OverDrive books.

Unless the schools expressly block software apps, students and parents can download whatever software they want—opening up the possibilities for other book apps such as Kobo’s.

In other words, in one swoop, at least in regard to book reading by T.C. students, Alexandria is addressing one of the great digital divide issues—giving kids and their families easy access to the related hardware and software.

Another digital divide issue: training

By way of the cell phone book club concept, Alexandria could boost the amount of training and other guidance that families received.

T.C. Williams, of course, will be teaching students how to use the tablets, and it is offering summer training for interested teachers to give them a head start, and mothers and fathers may get help during parents’ nights. Cell phone book clubs, however, could greatly increase the training for parents and kids alike—not just in the technology but in how to use it for reading and for information-gathering.

Dr. Hoover correctly observes: “People say, ‘Oh, my kids are tech savvy.’ That means they’re comfortable picking up the device or playing games or watching videos. But do they really know how to use technology to access information and negotiate information?”

Ideally the above will mean instruction in e-book literacy, so that, for example, students know how to read on a tablet or cell phone, vs. a paper book. The techniques are not the same. With paper books, you don’t have to know various ways of displaying text in a way that’s best for you—whether that means a different font or something else.

Some students might actually do better with white letters against a dark background (one way to reduce eyestrain) or with margins wider or narrower than normal.

There are also navigational issues as well as a host of others such as the best way to handle annotations. Within an e-book you can’t gauge your progress by way of the thickness of read and unread pages. On the other hand, you can learn to do this with a a scrollbar. What’s more, the best e-book software lets you use a search feature not just to see keywords but also a few words surrounding them.

In the training and promotion area, I’d add a somewhat related thought: We need to try harder to associate gadgets with traditional literacy. Children ideally can see parents themselves using tablets and cell phones and other gadgets for reading, too, not just movies or games.

Once again let’s keep in mind the importance of parental role models.

While I’m discussing these matters in a digital divide context, even upper-middle-class children and parents could benefit from the greater understanding of the technology that the cell phone book clubs could bring about.

Summer reading and the glories of the Alexandria approach

One way to encourage recreational reading on tablets would be the use of optimal hardware. In general, the T.C. William tablets seem well suited. The 10.1-inch screens are bigger than many would prefer for book reading, but a good size for taking in illustrated e-textbooks. Besides, the Kindle app and many other e-book ones can go into two-column modes  or let you adjust the width of the text.

Another issue is screen resolution. The Amplify tablets offer 1,280 by 800 pixel per inch. That’s sufficient, but ideally the company will substitute tablets with higher-resolution screens in the future. I would have aimed for higher numbers.

Still, I love the Alexandria tablet strategy for the most part. Dr. Hoover she says has implemented it in close consultation with students, faculty and school librarians. Los Angeles made a major mistake in imposing iPads on its schools without considering their individual needs, and apparently L.A. is now reverting to laptops. By contrast, Dr. Hoover let the students pass judgment in tablet-related matters such as accessory keyboards so they ended up with a more or less full-sized model that would make them far more productive than if T.C. had stuck to the smaller ones from Amplify.

Amplify’s digital curriculum and the accompanying claims have been controversial, but the Alexandria schools aren’t relying on these offerings. Rather they chose Amplify because of the hardware and the classroom management system (see Dr. Hoover’s video) and the ability to manage software from afar.

Because T.C. Williams’s techies can install and delete apps on thousands of machines at once, it will be  easier for the school in future years to let the kids use the tablets over the summer. Let’s hope it happens

The WiFi issue

Another issue is connectivity. Like me, Dr. Hoover feels that WiFi ought to be like fluoride in the water, universally available.

For now, Alexandria students from low-income families are making do with connections at fast-food establishments and recreation centers, although the ones at the latter can be dodgy.

Meanwhile some students have acquired the savvy to let their cell phones serve as WiFi hotspots. Alas, that violates the contracts of some major cell phone companies. Keep in mind, too, that not all broadband connections are equal in speed or reliability.

The good news is that the libraries are beefing up their WiFi networks. What’s more, a recent survey showed that 90 percent of Alexandria students enjoyed Net access at home. Granted, that figure might be high—the participation rate for the survey was only 30 percent. Still, it is an improvement over past years.

If nothing else, parents and kids without good connections can download  e-books at the public libraries where librarians say the WiFi is more robust than in previous years. I tested the WiFi recently at the Beatley Branch, the main one, and found it considerably improved.

Looking beyond T.C. Williams

Now if only the T.C. tablet project can spread to other schools! Dr. Hoover, in fact, hopes to use 400 tablets bought for the pilot project to do just that. This, in turn, would spread around tablets fit for e-book reading and cell phone book club use.

Asked about the cell phone book club concept, Dr. Hoover is upbeat: “The more we can bring literacy into our homes or for access outside our homes in our mobile world, the better that is. And I think collaboration and community is really important around books. Many adults enjoy their book clubs, and starting that at a young age and empowering students to be connected to literacy for different reasons throughout their days and throughout their world is really important.”

Details: I’m simply quoting Dr. Willis on the importance of parents as literacy role models for their children. I do not know how she would feel about cell phone book clubs. But encouragingly, she is a huge advocate of cooperative learning, which the clubs could facilitate. Dr. Hoover, as just made clear, already approves of the club idea. She is both a former classroom teacher and holder of a Ph.D. in instructional technology.

 reposted under a CC license from Library City

Kobo Launches New Reading App for Windows Phone

kobo windows phoneWhen Kobo relaunched their Windows 8 app earlier this year they also mentioned that a related app for Windows Phone was in the works. That app launched with little fanfare yesterday.

Windows Phone users now have a new option for reading in addition to the Kindle and Nook apps. The Kobo app is free to download from the Windows Phone Store, and it offers access to a catalog of some 4 million titles, including ebooks, comics, and children’s books.

I haven’t tried the app (no Windows Phone), but according to the listing the features include:

  • Pick up right where you left off. We’ll sync your bookmarks so you can keep reading across all your devices.
  • Customize your reading experience. Enjoy crisp, clear text, in the size and style you prefer or try Night Mode for easier nighttime reading.
  • Enjoy first chapter previews for thousands of select books and save them in your library.
  • Quick access to your recent reads within the app and from Live tiles.

Have you tried the app? What did you think?

Windows Phone Store

No, The Sony Kobo Deal is Not a Model for Barnes & Noble’s Nook

I’m NOOK sony kobo logosure you’ve read the news today about Sony and Kobo. The former is bailing on the US ebook market, and as one last kindness to their customers they’ve convinced Kobo to take them in, while the latter is going to gain a few thousand more customers.

This deal is generating a lot of debate and punditry, including a new article over on Forbes. Jeremy Greenfield thinks it would be a good idea for B&N to follow in Sony’s footsteps and simply walk away. While at first I thought it sounded like a horrible idea, it’s actually not all that implausible:

Sony and Kobo are both thought to be very minor players in the U.S. ebook market. I doubt the move will add too many readers to Kobo’s rolls. The company wouldn’t tell me how many accounts are being transferred but in its press release announcing the move, it claimed the same 18 million worldwide users as it has claimed in other recent announcements.

This could be a good model for Nook, which many in the publishing industry expect to be shuttered or sold before the end of 2014. Nook is Barnes & Noble’s device and ebook business and it has been faltering badly for nearly two years. While it still brings in over $100 million in revenue every quarter, it loses much more than that and revenues have been shrinking rather than growing.

That’s a terrible idea and it is also wildly improbable, but as much as I might hate it I am afraid it might actually happen.

And just to be clear, I’m not referring to the possibility that B&N might sell out (I wish); I want to examine the Forbes proposal that B&N might simply walk away.

The thing is, Sony didn’t sell out; they threw in the towel. They bailed on the US ebook market because the revenue probably didn’t meet their expectations, and on their way out the door they asked Kobo take in the soon to be orphan customers (Sony’s last friendly act of customer service).

The US Sony Reader Store isn’t going to be transferred to new ownership; it’s going to be dismantled. I’m sure no one thinks that would be a good solution for B&N’s problems with the Nook, but they could still do it.

All it would take would be for B&N to perform a cold cost benefit analysis and decide that the ongoing hemorrhage of money outweighed the negative publicity. I would have reached that conclusion months ago, so it’s not impossible for B&N to reach the same conclusion in the near future.

And here’s how the result of that analysis might play out.

B&N’s first step would be to fire nearly everyone working at Nook Media. Not counting the people who have left over the past 6 months, that’s somewhere around 600 people, most of whom work in either Palo Alto or NYC. This would take the development teams that B&N spent years and a ton of money putting together and cast them to the wind, completely throwing away all that work, but if B&N is walking away from ebooks I don’t think they would care.

Next, B&N would have to find another company to take over the customer accounts. (Actually, this would come first, but I wanted to be melodramatic about the firings.) This could be Kobo, but Apple and Amazon are out. The latter would never get regulatory approval, while the former wouldn’t deign to support customers that didn’t own Apple hardware. And I doubt Kobo would be able to take over the accounts; I think Amazon would do their best to block regulatory approval for a B&N-Kobo deal.

As a result, that leaves just one company as the most likely candidate to take over the charred remains of the Nook Store: Microsoft. Remember, MS already owns a chuck of Nook Media, and the international Nook Store appears to operate under Microsoft’s auspices (it’s Windows 8 only). And that makes MS the best candidate to keep the Nook customer accounts from going in the shredder.

Update: A reader has pointed out that MS can be multi-platform when it suits them; they already have iOS and Android apps for Xbox Music and other apps. Thanks, Commons!

MS would probably abandon the Android apps, the iPad and iPhone apps, the OSX app, and maybe even the Windows apps, but they would at least keep the Windows 8 app going. And MS would keep many readers from suffering the same fate as Fictionwise’s international customers (left in the cold when B&N shut Fictionwise down).

Sure, almost no one would be able to read their ebooks because they didn’t run Windows 8, but at least their investment wouldn’t be completely gone.

But I’m not sure that would matter much on the larger scheme of things, because if B&N simply abandoned their Nook customers to MS I think most of those customers would flee for a safer harbor.

They would go running to Amazon.

Sure, they would keep reading their existing ebooks (assuming they still had access), but future purchases would be made in the Kindle Store – where it’s safe to assume that the ebooks will not vanish in the night. After all, many people might hate Amazon but who would you trust more, Amazon or MS?

In short, if B&N followed in Sony’s footsteps Amazon would come out a huge winner. And for that reason alone we should all be hoping that B&N doesn’t simply throw in the towel.

What do you think?

LitRes Expands into Education Market with New Reading App

Russia’smzl.yxluafqa[1] leading ebookstore launched a new reading app earlier this month.

LitRes for Schools is a new app for iPad and iPhone. It was developed in accordance with Russian educational standards.  It’s focused on providing reading material for grades 5 to 11. According to LitRes CEO Sergei Anureva the app is "designed to simplify the selection and purchase of books for parents and students, especially during vacations and holidays".

It’s not clear from my source how this differs from the LitRes apps for iOS or Android, or the LitRes ebook reader, but I suspect that LitRes is filtering the selection for age-appropriate content.On the other hand, that might not be the case; Barnes & Noble released a similar app in 2010 (NookStudy) which did not restrict the content it could access. Of course, that was intended more for college students so it made sense to avoid restrictions.

LitRes for Schools has the same basic features as the other LitRes apps, including syncing bookmarks and reading location font size, line spacing, margins, and color options; and a night reading mode.

You can find the app in iTunes.

LitRes originally launched in 2006 to provide a legit alternative for pirated ebooks, and it is now reportedly the single largest ebookstore in Russia. This company recently completed a round of financing in which they raised $5 million. LitRes sells around 380,000 Russian language titles from over 100 publishers in print, digital, and audio. The ebooks and audiobooks can be read in LitRes' apps for Android, iPhone, and iPad as well as on LitRes’s own branded ebook reader. The LitRes Touch a 6″ ereader with a touchscreen, Wifi, 2GB of storage, and a retail price of 2999 rubles, or about $93.

The-eBook.org

Update on the Overdrive reading app

I stopped by the Overdrive booth at the National Book Festival yesterday and the Overdrive folks were kind enough to show me their new app. I couldn’t shoot a video, unfortunately, because the app is still in private beta. But they are still on schedule to be released this year, with Android coming first and iPhone, iPad coming later. And yes, the iPad will be getting its own app.

The new apps will support both ebooks and MP3 audiobooks checked out of your local library (they’re going to replace the existing Overdrive Media Console). I’m glad OMC is being replaced, actually; it was not a good experience.

They showed me the Android app (almost everyone in the booth had it on their Android smartphone).  It has a decent set of ebook options: 7 font sizes, several font types, brightness, and a night reading mode. There was also a CSS option that I didn’t quite understand. It looked like you could uncheck a box and ignore the CSS in the ebook.

That last one could be interesting; it’s one step away from letting the user control all formatting.

Bookari eBook App Adds Support for E-ink Screens

eReaders that run Android are still relatively rare, but now they’re supported by at least one commercial reading app.

Bookari, the new app from the developers of Montano, was updated last week. In addition to the usual bug fixes, the changelog mentions that the developers had:

  • Created "E-Paper mode" optimized for E-Ink devices (in Settings)

Previous updates added an improved night reading mode, better support for Epub3, integration with stores and sites that support OPDS catalogs, and more.

The new e-paper mode is available in both the Bookari Android and iOS apps (*).

O O O

So tell me, what do you think of this app?

It has been some time since I last used an Android ereader, but when I did I found that most reading apps worked well on E-ink. I am not sure that a specific E-ink mode is really necessary, but it can’t hurt.

Do you know of other reading apps with similar E-ink modes?

P.S. That was a joke.

image by pestoverde

These Screen Protectors Reduce the Bluelight Coming Out of Your Kindle’s Screen

The Kobo Aura One and many reading apps offer a night reading mode which help readers by reducing the amount of sleep-disturbing blue light emitted from the screen.

And now there’s a solution for your Kindle.

A discussion on MobileRead has tipped me to a new category of screen protectors which the manufacturers say are designed to filter UV and blue light on the Kindle.

From the product description:

  • This kit features 2x Blue Light screen protectors for Amazon Kindle Paperwhite (3G,2012,2013) along with a set of instructions, installation squeegee, microfiber cleaning cloth and the iLLumiShield lifetime warranty.
  • Designed with High Quality PET film imported from Japan that consists of multiple layers. Each layer provides specific functions that allow the Matte Anti-Glare line of Amazon Kindle Paperwhite screen protectors to outperform competitor products that use inferior materials and manufacturing processes.
  • Blue Light technology deflects harmful blue-violet light & UV away from your eyes while allowing beneficial light to pass through.

The screen protectors cost $11 on Amazon.com and 25 euros on Amazon.de (they’re from different companies).  That is a fair price to pay for a better night’s rest – if the screen protectors work as promised.

In the case of the screen protectors sold on Amazon.com, they might not. That listing has a bunch of reviews from dissatisfied customers who report that the screen protector merely made the Kindle’s screen shiny but did not block or reduce the blue light.

Of course, there were other reviews which said that it did work, so it is impossible to say whether the screen protector works. Really, the only way to know for sure is to buy one, apply it, and see if it changes the Kindle’s frontlight to a red-orange color (this is what is left after removing the blue frequencies from a while light).

If you get one, please let us know. We’d all like to know if this works.

Amazon.comAmazon.de via MobileRead