New E-Reader Technologies and Social Benefit Organizations

Just like any good tech geek, I've been reading reviews and jealously drooling all the photos and videos of upcoming products shown at this past week's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). The annual Las Vegas tradeshow reveals the hottest new technologies, coolest gadgets, and flashiest concepts for all the geeky gear I hold dear. Most of the products either haven't hit the market yet or are at pricepoints out of reach for most average folks — and especially out of reach for many nonprofits, libraries, and public service organizations. For those of you who share my guilty pleasure, CNET has a great series of posts with highlights from the full event.

Blio demo by Laura Sydell NPRWhile I have no need for many of the products displayed there, I've been coveting Amazon's Kindle for the past few months for my reading addiction, but have been somewhat convinced to hold off on buying one of my own until I see what the marketplace has to offer. If CES is any indication of what's-to-come in the e-reader market, there's no doubt that more variety, more functionality, and more apps are coming to support the trend toward e-books, with a variety of manufacturers introducing hardware and apps for the rising swell of e-book reading consumers. 

Two highlighted at CES may be particularly useful to nonprofits, libraries, schools, and social service organizations: The Blio e-reader application and Intel's new e-reader device.

Blio's free downloadable software turns a mobile device, laptop, PC, netbook, or iPhone into a colorful, image-supportive real-book reading experience. For users who long for the fonts, styles, images, and colors to remain intact, but want the portability of digital reading, Blio's program allows the original formatting to shine through with full graphics and color supported. For children, cookbook enthusiasts, travel readers, students using reference texts, and more, this free application can allow reading to be just as engaging and visual as if the reader was holding the printed text.

In addition, the Blio app allows for audio narration, the ability to highlight a word as it is read aloud for learners, and interactive functions like allowing users to take quizzes that might appear in a text book. This function could also provide a great free service to visually impaired communities. Users can also insert their own voice, text, image, or digital notes while reading.

I imagine that libraries, schools, and nonprofits working with school-aged students, children, English as a Second Language learners, adult literacy programs, and youth groups may find Blio's software to provide engaging digital reading and learning opportunities without relying solely on the grayscale, non-image-friendly formatting of e-readers like the Kindle. And, there's no additional hardware to purchase since it can be used on your exisiting Win XP/Win 7 PCs and mobile devices.

The program is slated to be available for free download in February 2010 with 1 million books available for free. They will offer some additional titles as a fee-based service.

Intel ReaderThe second device of particular interest is the Intel Reader, which appears to be on-track to revolutionize reading for people who are blind or visually impaired, suffer from learning disabilities like dyslexia, or just want everything to be an audiobook. The device is essentially a portable, handheld digital scanner that can turn ANY written text into instant audio. The product's developer is dyslexic and developed the device with a keen understanding of how underserved this and other population are in the area of digital independence. You can see a video demonstration of how it works at Endgadget's site.

The Intel Reader is currently available, but has a somewhat hefty pricetag at around $1,500 per unit. Though individual consumers may have a tough time prioritizing the purchase, having a device like this available in a local public libary or through a nonprofit that serves communities in need, could provide a huge resource toward further digital independence and learning.

Do you think the new e-reading technologies will change how your library serves community members? How have e-readers and e-books already been implemented at your library? 

This post originally appeared on the TechSoup Blog

Photos: Blio Demo by Laura Sydell, NPR and Intel Reader by Somewhat Frank


I had an opportunity to see the Intel Reader in action at the Center for Accessible Technology's Digital Inclusion Award Ceremony last year. A woman with decreased vision demonstrated how she used the technology; she was tickled by how quickly the Reader "read" her favorite news sources and admitted that she planned to buy one no matter what the price. Inspiring technology!