The Future of eReaders: What Goes On in Your Mind While You Are Reading?

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  • What Can Research Help Us Discover?

    Like you, I’ve been experimenting with eReaders. Google’s announcement of its software for several platforms helped me consolidate my thoughts on the subject. My conclusion is that they’re not where I want them to be, functionally. Couple that with the fact the number of titles in my favorite genre available from the state-wide library can be counted on four hands, and you can guess that I’m not ready to invest money yet in this first generation of eReaders. Title availability aside, I believe this first few years worth of effort behind eReaders represents a transparent reach by companies for my pocketbook. There’s no heart behind their products yet, no deep attempt on their part to support my reading in a better way. They merely allow me to read in an obvious, flat, linear way. I am convinced that they need to understand the things people currently do in the real world in reaction to their reading, which will open up many options for functionality that will truly bring a step change to the experience of reading.

    What do I mean? I don’t mean evaluating how people use eReaders today. All the companies have practices in place already to conduct evaluative research into the experience with their existing products. They need to turn to generative research to obtain the insights that I mean. They need an understanding of people’s intentions and thought-processes while reading, regardless of tools, medium, or services. From this understanding they can generate truly new support for readers. For example:

    • Shujie puts her book down to ask her husband, there on the couch with her, whether he agrees with a particular viewpoint she just read.
    • Adam folds a corner of a page to look at later when he’s in front of the computer and can Google the concept he read about there.
    • Gerardo reads the three chapters of the textbook assigned, knowing there will be a quiz tomorrow. He highlights the sentences he wants to remember.
    • Johan wonders while reading a famous passage how it might have influenced Winston Churchill during World War II, which he just watched a program about.
    • Jocelyn reads something and smiles, thinking briefly of her friend Karen who would laugh at that sentence. She then reads on.

    What are all the real-life thoughts, actions, and emotional reactions that go through people’s minds and sometimes get translated to immediate or delayed action? Can these activities and philosophies be compared and grouped into a model that might illuminate our path forward? If we can understand these behaviors, then we can discover the strongest threads that will pull readers toward a smoothly supportive digital reading experience. Generative research like this have the side benefit of producing stable results that shift only over decades and human generations. Therefore research needed now can serve designers for a decade to come.

    How Can eReader Software Improve?

    Currently, all eReader software features are pretty similar. People can highlight text and write notes, and of course change the fonts and background colors and sizes. They can flow text differently to different devices, and they can synchronize across those devices. They can skip around and bookmark pages. But none of this is a completely compelling reason to switch from an analog to digital reading medium. People making the jump to digital right now are true pioneers, putting up with very limited functionality in their digital readers. Not everyone sees benefits to switching from analog to digital. To be compelling, a digital reading experience must support the little things that flit through people’s heads as they read. Without having completed any research yet myself, here are three imagined examples of how a digital experience can be made more powerful: