Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What problem does Blio solve?

There was a lot of buzz at CES last week about the new Blio eReading software backed in part by the name of Ray Kurzweil. This software-based reading solution is not a device but will run on most computers and many cell phones. Kurzweil believes that people don't want multiple devices and that eReaders like Kindle, Sony Reader, nook, et. al. limit the display of eBooks because of their black and white eInk screens.

It has been almost impossible to find a demo of the Blio software but there is a video of Kurzweil demoing the product at CES and answering a few questions with his typical "wave of the future" and "what people want" and how he anticipated all this in what he wrote a few years ago. Sometimes I wasn't sure if he was talking about the product or just about how clever he has been. You can see the CNBC demo here.

NPR had this article about the Blio.

But what is it? From all appearances, it is an enhanced UI for a PDF reader. Folks, we've been producing PDF books that retain all the typography, graphics, and layout of the original print book -- in color -- for 15 years. Adding page-turning graphics doesn't really seem like that big a step forward. Granted, Kurzweil has chops in text-to-speech, but it doesn't seem that advanced over any current screen reader. And about putting interactive graphics in your book? That seems to step away from the idea of preserving all the experience of the printed version -- not to mention that you still have to do all the video, flash, or other interactive media to add in.

The big thing that it appears Blio got right (and it is hard to say if this is a Blio feature or part of their partnership with Baker & Taylor) is the ability to keep a restorable copy of your entire library in the cloud that you can access from anywhere. As one journalist mentioned, I wish I could do that with my music.

Yes, the Blio (PDF) books are reflowable so they can be read on small devices like an iPhone. How? By flattening everything to a text file with no illustrations that can be flowed onto small screens. So, pretty much by turning the PDF layout into the kind of black and white, text-only eBook that Kurzweil complains about Kindle, Sony, Nook, etc. doing.

Blio (a free download) will be available in early February, and I will be among the first to install it. I have a lot of PDF books that I'm limited to viewing on my computer monitor anyway, so I might as well see if I can get a nicer interface for them.

Blio Reader Web site

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