Digital books offer a number of advantages over paper books. You can carry around hundreds of books in your pocket. eReaders tend to be thinner and lighter than a hardcover book. And you can search for text, share passages, or jump to any page in an eBook.
But there are still a few things that I find tough to do with an eReader or eBook app on a tablet or smartphone. For instance, when I’m reading a paper book before bed, I can always scroll through the next few pages to see if I’m near the end of a chapter before deciding to whether it’s really time to put down the book or not. Most eReaders don’t offer an easy way to do that.
Enter the Smart eBook interface prototype from KAIST Institute of Information Technology Convergence.
The team behind the prototype created an iPad app that makes reading an eBook more like reading a paper book. For instance, you can bookmark or hold a page with your thumb while flipping through following pages with another finger. In other words you can see how close you are to the end of a chapter without losing your place in a book.
The prototype also supports gestures that let you flip through multiple pages quickly by moving your finger over the edge of the screen and then holding it as pages fly past. Or you can use multi-finger gestures to turn two pages at once… or four pages or more.
Honestly, I don’t see how most of the gestures are very useful — but I do really like the idea of being able to peek ahead just a few pages at a time.
Actually, having had a Kindle for a couple of months, I can appreciate the need for a more “natural” book reading interface with features like those shown in the video. As long as you’re reading a novel–or other type of book–from start to finish, then what the Kindle, Nook, and other touch screen eBook readers do is mostly fine, but even then, there are times when it’s much more of a pain than when reading a physical book.
Things like, flipping ahead to see how much is left of the current chapter or section; folding the book almost closed or bending the edge of the book back to get an instant feel for how much of the book is left to read; quickly referencing contents/images/maps/appendixes at the start/end of the book too look up stuff then jumping right back in where you left off; skipping back a couple of pages to re-read something you didn’t quite follow, or glossed over the first time.
I just finished reading the books in the Game of Thrones series, and wanted to do all those things at one time or another. It’s possible to do most of that with the Kindle Touch, using the info at the bottom of the screen, and bookmarks, etc. but it’s fiddly and involves remembering numbers and subtraction — i.e. it’s less natural than reading an ordinary book.
Now, when you consider the type of reading you do when looking up text books and manuals, where you are just dipping in at various places, or skipping around as you look for the information you need, then something like the current Kindle Touch interface is wholly inadequate, and that’s where a more sophisticated, real-world book-like interface can come into its own.
The tricky thing is to create an interface with that many features and still allowing the user to get the right action first time (almost) every time. It’s already annoying enough when a simple touch of the screen doesn’t turn the page when it should, or turns two pages. So the software needs to be able to figure out what the user wants from the gestures to a very accurate degree. That needs a combination of good UI design and good programming.
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