Inside the E-Book Wars: PDF, Reflow, Color E-ink and More

By William Stanek
January 8, 2010 | Comments: 2

Recently a reader named Dayne posted a lengthy response to my post about the Nook. It got me thinking and I decided to turn my response into a new blog post.

Dayne, you are right about PDF -- the format is widely used, as it is pretty much the defacto standard for electronic document distribution in business and beyond. PDF is so widely used because it presents information in a uniform, fixed fashion. This means that whether you view PDF Document A on your computer, a friend's or (just about) anywhere else, the document will be pretty much exactly as it was meant to be viewed, thus ensuring reliable viewing and printing. There are caveats, of course, regarding embedded fonts and such, but it's an extremely reliable way to ensure documents are the way you want them to be when you send them out or make them available to others.

One of the biggest strengths of PDF -- its uniform, fixed formatting for easy viewing and printing -- is one of its biggest shortcomings in the e-reader world. However, you can create a tagged PDF file to resolve this issue. Tagged PDF files can be reflowed, such that when the tagged file is viewed on a reader device its text and images will reflow to fit on the smaller screen. If you are creating PDF documents for viewing on readers, you can create them as tagged PDF files and if the reader supports reflow, you will be able to view the documents in reflow mode.

That said, however, there are better formats for e-readers and the one I recommend is EPUB. EPUB is the industry standard for e-documents and e-books. Any e-reader that supports EPUB fully supports all of its advanced features, which includes advanced support for reflow, tables, figures and graphics. I'll write more about EPUB in upcoming posts, and as I am able.

If you have non-tagged or even tagged PDF files that you want to convert to EPUB, there are tools available that allow you to covert these PDF files to EPUB. Once you do this, you'll have a better viewing and reading experience on your e-reader.

Dayne also had a comment about 16-bit grayscale and image quality, saying:

I'm very interested to see how well images work on the Nook. Testing on my computer, 16 bit gray is actually pretty nice, especially if you tweak the contrast, but again, I'll need the Nook in-hand to know the best settings.

16-bit grayscale is very nice and a feature of what I call 3rd gen e-readers. I think you are going to like it, especially if you've seen images on any of the 1st gen or 2nd gen e-readers. 16-bit grayscale definitely is a step up and a step in the right direction.

For those who are holding out for color e-readers -- color is already here. I blogged about color e-ink displays here. Color e-ink displays are being used in some of the upcoming tablet PC releases.

The color e-ink displays are exceptional for tablet PCs because when the displays are constructed properly they consume power only when the display is updated and then only to update the part of the display that's changed. This allows the device to run much longer between charges.

Thanks for reading, time for me to get back to work! Hope you'll take a look at my new book Windows 7: The Definitive Guide. Also just released is my book Exchange Server 2010 Administrator's Pocket Consultant.

William R. Stanek
williamstanek at aol dot com
http://www.twitter.com/WilliamStanek


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2 Comments

The Nook allows for 16 shades of gray, not 16 bits. 16-bit grayscale would give you 2^16 (65,536) shades of gray.

16 levels of gray on the Nook is about adequate for B&W photos. Most color illustrations seem to come out legibly.

It is funny how a year changes things. PDF reading is ok on the original Nook, however PDF reading is way better on the Nook Color. Don't get me wrong I know that many prefer eink but with the Nook Color and other tablets hitting the market it definitely gives the consumer more choice.

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