Can you really read a book on the Apple Watch?

reading ebooks on apple watch?We have many options when it comes to ebook reading, and the Apple Watch might be the most surprising option of all — the 1.5 inch screen makes it quite a challenge, to say the least.

As the Digital Reader (“Glose Update v1.5 Adds Speed-Reading on the Apple Watch“) notes, apps such as Glose utilize RSVP (rapid serial visual presentation, a speed reading technique which involves flashing words on the screen in rapid succession) to make the most of some fairly limited design constraints when it comes to reading experience on the Apple Watch. To be fair — the Apple Watch is much more accurately thought of as a fashion accessory or complementary piece of technology, but we can’t help but at least entertain the thought of whether it could also function as a reading device.

Maybe more important of a question: would anyone really want to read anything longer than a text message or tweet on something attached to their wrist? Probably not. Teleread, in a post from a few years ago (“Is the Smartwatch Trend Heralding a New Type of E-Reader?” adds a few useful thoughts, noting that the smallest of book sizes were generally three by two inches, which is tiny. Would reading on a screen half of that size really be realistic?

9to5Mac (“eBook app for Apple Watch shows what not to do with watch apps“) is less enthusiastic about the usability of ebook reading on the Apple Watch, citing form factor, ebook formatting, and battery life as the primary concerns — and I’m inclined to agree.

apple watch ebook app

Which isn’t to say that things couldn’t change in the future. But for now, reading ebooks on an Apple Watch doesn’t really seem to be much of a thing — screen size and very limited navigation are the very real limitations for any kind of sustained reading experience. If you’re interested in checking out the speed reading approach to ebook reading on the Apple Watch, the Wear Reader app is worth a look.

On Reading Books in the Dark

I am an avid bedtime reader, for better or for worse. So this article from the Wall Street Journal, “Does reading in dim light hurt your eyes?” certainly piqued my curiosity. It’s worth a read, if for nothing else than the part about pirates and eye patches.


“Turns out, our parents were wrong. “There is no reason to believe nor evidence to support that any long-term damage to the eyes or change in the physiology to the eyes can be caused by reading in the dark,” Dr. Sheedy says.

… “The predominant determinant of myopia is genetics.” No link to long-term damage has ever been conclusively shown, says Dr. Sheedy. “It’s an old tale, a ploy used by moms to get kids to go to sleep when they wanted them to,” he says.

Reading on a tablet device won’t damage your eyes, Dr. Sheedy says. His team has studied various fonts, computer displays and pixel resolutions, and found the difference in effect on the eye between reading e-ink and the printed word to be negligible.”

Reading in the dark hurts your eyes: more myth than reality? While it likely varies on an individual basis, there might be some science to be said about backlit screens around bedtime, but I much prefer an E-Ink screen for reading in the dark.

And on a related note, check out this neat article from the San Francisco Chronicle: “Reading in the dark – with a headlamp

“Usually when reading, we may be concentrating on a line or a sentence, but somewhere in the back of our minds, we’re also seeing the larger context, the whole paragraph, the page, and even the next page. We notice whether the paragraphs to come are long, whether we’re at the end of a chapter; sometimes our eyes wander from the sentence to look ahead, reading a few words or a sentence, and then returning to where we were …

 The headlamp changed everything. There was nothing but that circle of light that didn’t even cover the whole page, just a small chunk of words. To see the next group of words, I had to move my head slightly or move the book. I was no longer reading in a context, but reading each line as it came into view.”

The immersive aspect of our eyeballs focused on just a circle of words sounds wonderful to me. I kind of want to buy a headlamp now.


Shakespeare Star Wars

Shakespeare Star Wars

Yeah, the literary mash-up genre does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

But Star Wars-meets-Shakespeare sounds like a fun idea that at least needn’t be taken too seriously —  Slate has an excerpt of William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher (available in print and ebook).


I do rather like the woodcut-style illustrations. Huffington Post has some additional examples to check out: “Inside William Shakespeare’s ‘Star Wars’


Edit: And, Boing Boing has an even better, 16-page preview here.


“What If We Put DRM on Chairs?”

DRM CHAIR from Thibault Brevet on Vimeo.

(DRM = Digital Rights Management)

Chairs and ebooks don’t have a lot in common. But just what if they did? From Escapist Magazine: (“Chair With DRM Collapses After Being Sat On Eight Times“):

“A team of creators working on a global project called The Deconstructionhave put together the world’s first “DRM Chair,” which falls apart after being used just eight times.

At a casual glance, the DRM Chair looks just like your average everyday wooden chair. However, a special built-in mechanism and sensor count how many people have sat in it, emitting a loud clicking noise to indicate the number of uses left after a person stands up. After eight people have used the chair, its joints start smoking, melting the special material that holds the chair together and causing it to collapse into a heap of parts after just a few seconds.”

It might not be a perfect analogy here, but it’s clever and I think gets the point across.

Also, MakeUseOf has a handy rundown, if you’re interested: What Is DRM & Why Does It Exist If It’s So Evil?

Are Pay-As-You-Go eBooks a Good Idea?

apple-iphoneGizmodo (“Would You Buy Ebooks on a Pay-As-You-Read Basis?“) reports on a start-up with an intriguing approach to ebook pricing.

“The idea is simple: instead of paying for a book up front … you instead pay a small fee for each page you read. Only read a quarter of a book? No problem: you’ve only paid for a quarter of it anyway. Of course, it’s unlikely that such a model would ever result in big discounts, but that’s the financial trade-off.”

BookRiot (“Should EBooks Be Pay-As-You-Go?“) weighs in with some additional thoughts. On the one hand, the opportunity to avoid buyers remorse is certainly a win-win for us readers and consumers —

“But would it be good for publishers, authors, and the future of books? I don’t know. I think it’s certainly worth a try, though, and there’s useful stuff to be learned from how far readers get into a book before they abandon it. In the present “buy a book before you read it” model, publishers don’t really have to care if readers like or finish the book–they just have to get you interested enough to want to buy it. If, hypothetically, Total BooX’s attempt to invert the model was successful in moving all ebook sales to the pay-as-you-go plan, publishers and authors would have to produce material that kept readers engaged all the way through in order to earn a full payday. Could they afford to do that? What would happen if authors started tailoring books to what they knew of readers’ habits and interests? Would the overall quality of books improve and lead to an increase in reader satisfaction?”

These are all good questions. In general, diversity in the marketplace is always a good thing — and the idea of giving book readers another option than a $14.99 ebook is certainly worth a try.

Lots of people expected ebook prices to come down (it hasn’t happened, New York Times: “Little Sign of a Predicted E-Book Price War“), and why should there be? Ebook sales are robust, so there is little incentive to offer lower prices at the moment.

Speaking of diversity, TechCrunch also reported earlier this year on another startup venture, with similar aims that has gained some traction with publishers: “ValoBox Launches Pay-As-You-Go eBook Offering; O’Reilly Media, Guardian Books & Other Publishers Sign On.”

TotalBooX (“BooX” as in “books”) and ValoBox, besides having terrible, terrible names, present a creative approach to the large and vexing question of how to make ebooks: a) affordable for readers and b) sustainable for publishers. I hope pay-as-you-go does work. I’ve been an advocate of a subscription-based ebook model for some time now.

This all reminded me of the Stephen King experiment which is something of a primogenitor for these new ebook pricing ideas.

Who Reads eBooks?

random house ebooksRecently, Random House shared some of its insights into ebook reading habits: (“Who Reads eBooks?“). Younger, well-educated, higher-income women seemed to represent a healthy slice of the ebook reading population. I was surprised at how strong a source word-of-mouth (81%) remains for ebook discovery —

“Over a fifth of American adults have read an eBook. EBook consumers are likely to be book enthusiasts who read across digital and print formats. Most eBook consumers are women, are younger than forty-five, have college degrees or have had some college education, and have upscale incomes. EBook consumers are over 20 percent more likely to have household incomes over $100,000 per year than non-eBook consumers. Preferred genres include mystery/suspense/detective fiction, general fiction, and romance.

When compared to all Americans ages sixteen and up, they tend to rely more heavily on word-of-mouth (81 percent versus 64 percent for all Americans ages 16+) and bookstore staff (31 percent versus 23 percent for Americans ages 16+) for book recommendations.” 

Here is the infographic breakdown below, and you can click on the image for more information from Random House.

random house: who reads ebooks?

On Selling Used Ebooks

used ebooks amazonHere’s some potentially-interesting news, from Gizmodo: “Amazon Has a Patent to Sell Used Ebooks.”

What’s noteworthy about the used ebook patent is that it sounds like a step towards solidifying the tricky issue of what we do with digital objects that we “own.” Think about it — what exactly do most of us do with ebooks that we’ve finished reading? Not much, probably. Sure, Amazon allows Kindle lending but the system is imperfect at best.

Which isn’t of course to say that the used ebook market is imminent (Gizmodo: “Of course many patents never amount to anything at all and are moves to secure intellectual property before another company does“).  It is somewhat telling that the secondary market for the tangible, hardware e-reading devices is more clearly defined than the dearth of options for the more-ephemeral ebooks.

Also, Publishers Weekly (“Amazon Poised to Sell Used E-Books“) mentions ReDigi and their efforts to create a used digital content marketplace (along with the copyright issues hindering those efforts). Never heard of ReDigi before but, interesting.


For another interesting perspective, check out (” ‘Ere, mate, wanna buy a second hand ebook? “) –

“What’s actually happening, of course, is not the transfer of a physical object, but the transfer of access rights or data. Data don’t depreciate, so there’s no real reason to discount the product because it’s been used. The straight transfer is therefore rather dull: person A yields it to person B for the same amount he or she paid for it, and person B gets the file via bluetooth or similar rather than via Whispernet or broadband download. Um. No measurable benefit to anyone. Or, yes, you’d end up with a market where people would discount in order to make some money back, and ultimately drive down the value of the book. Not great news.”

Useful: “Everything about eBooks”

ebook ecosystemsMac Observer has a very nifty series of ongoing articles, “Everything About eBooks” that is worth checking out.

It gives about as good an overview of the current state of ebooks — with a nice explanation of the competing ebook ecosystems — that I have seen. For anyone debating the merits of which particular device to invest in (should you get a tablet that can do many things, including reading? or an ereader device that is only for reading?), the articles are quite useful.

I’d suggest reading at least Part 1 and the first half of Part 2 — that should give a good eBooks 101 crash course without getting bogged down into overly many details.

Here are the links:

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2: eBook Types

Part 3: Apple’s iPad

Part 4: B&N Nook HD

Part 5: Google Nexus 10

And, an interesting analogy in comparing the iPad vs. the Nook which I found not inaccurate. (The article is fairly pro-Nook in general, which is just something to keep in mind):

“Here’s an analogy that shows the difference. Consider a Saturday lunch dining experience at the mall. You wander into the food court, and there are lots of choices. You can nibble here, nibble there and sit where you wish. Change tables if desired. You can even see some of the storefronts out in the mall corridor and ponder visiting. There’s a lot going on: lots of loud music, chatter, and the hall is full of energy. That’s the iPad mini.


The next time, you try a sit-down restaurant. The decor and surroundings don’t change much. You have a fixed menu. You stay at the same table the whole time you eat. It’s quieter. The server makes a friendly suggestion about dessert. You don’t feel constrained because you’re reveling in the dinning experience. That’s the Barnes & Noble Nook.”



Thoughts on eBooks, and Notes

Do you take notes in your ebooks? I am a chronic note-taker, so the topic of ebook notes is a fairly significant preoccupation of mine. In terms of note-taking and highlighting, most of the significant ebook apps and devices range somewhere between “O.K. to Functionally Non-Existent”, so there is still lots of room for improvement. To that end, the-always interesting O’Reilly TOC (“How to improve ebook marginalia“) brainstorms some of the ebook note-taking features we’d like to be seeing sooner rather than later —

  • Jot notes anywhere you like (e.g. blank pages in the back) to keep track of your overall reaction to the book.
  • Highlight non-contiguous phrases on a page, editing out all the boring bits and spotlighting the author’s best points.
  • Draw arrows, circles, and all manner of geometric curlicues, reminding you of how this section here relates to that point over there.

The Guardian (“Ebooks: a more civilised way of scribbling in the margins?) also weighs in on ebooks and “the contested area of marginalia and underlinings.” They correctly point out that main virtues of ebook notes is that they are searchable, indexable, and shareable (ideally). I love searchable book notes.  An integrated, easier way to share book notes would be awfully nice, too. GigaOM asks a rather important question: “Who Owns Your Notes in e-Books?

“You buy a paper book and you physically own it. The same is not true of the e-book; the seller can revoke your “ownership” given a violation of set conditions. Even worse, a company can choose to stop handling a given reader, putting all of the content that has been “purchased” in a legal limbo.

These worst-case scenarios are not likely to happen with the big companies, say Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but the fact is these things can happen. While it would be bad enough to lose the right to read the books you have purchased, what if you’ve taken notes in the books you can no longer access?”

Portability of ebook notes is so, so important; they are the notes that you take, and you should not have them locked within a single device, just because that’s the way things are. I think notes and highlighting exporting is absolutely one of the best things about Amazon Kindle. Lastly, here’s a useful post from the Google Books blog — “Take Note(s): Highlighting your Google eBooks