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Why do e-book readers have such poor user interfaces?

We are all familiar with the Ipad being used to display airport charts etc etc and indeed I do that too.

But what happened to those wonderful white-screen totally-sunlight-readable e-book readers? They promised a battery life of hundreds of hours, made possible by the screen not drawing current unless changed.

Amazon are still there with the Kindle DX.

I used to have the Irex Iliad which needed a replacement PDF reader. The stock one wasted a big chunk on the bottom of the screen, and I could not read a Jepp-proportioned plate in what was left. But the company would not allow the installation of outside software unless you applied for a "MAC number", in which I was unsuccessful. The battery life was only about 10 hours.

Now we have a PocketBook Pro 902, bought for Justine's Mum.

All of these are OK for sequential reading of book pages, but the moment you get away from that, the software non-useability is right in there with a 1982 video casette recorder They could have made it so much more useful, so easily - even within the significant constraint of the very slow page update.

It seems to me that everybody doing these readers has picked up some open source version of unix, thrown it together minimally, and is hoping that the great screen will sell it, and the DRM'd documents will cause the big bucks to pour in.

I wonder if the makers crippled them intentionally, to please the content providers. This happens all the time with phones bundled with mobile network subs (hiding the APN menu for example).

I think the Ipad is well on the way to trashing the e-book market, but its sunlight readability - pretty important for IFR, which is mostly done VMC on top, in sunshine - is less than great. With a matt filter it is just about OK. It's battery life is also definitely "finite" enough to make recharging a constant chore. A decent e-book reader could live in the aircraft a whole year.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I think the reason is simple: for anything other than ultra cheap and ultra light, they cannot compete with the iPad or similar. The monochrome display is very limiting and so is the slow refresh rate.

I have been an e-book user almost from day one and I would never use the iPad for the following reasons:

  • way too heavy (although I do have a flexible iPad floor stand that I use to read magazines or watch movies)
  • unreadable outside in bright sunlight
  • too expensive to use poolside (theft, destruction)

For everything else (especially in cockpit), I consider the iPad to be vastly superior. With such a limited field of use, e-book platforms don't get the development environments to develop complex applications. Also single purpose devices are being replaced by all purpose devices.

In a few years from now, iPads and similar will have 100g, a sunlight readable screen and days of battery life. They will not use LCDs but something closer to an e-book, for example Mirasol.

I think the situation has changed dramatically for the Kindle with the recent launch of the Kindle Paperwhite. This not only has the ability to be read in the dark - especially dark cockpits - but the ability to download plates in Kindle format from planning platforms like Eurofpl means that this means of storage and usage has a new - and greater - potential. I am planning to use this method in the coming few months through the winter and would be interested in other pilots reaction to this development.

Rochester, UK, United Kingdom

Peter - have you seen the new Kindle, and saw its speed (or lack of)?

They are getting better, and some I saw recently (Sony I think) were not bad, but if say you have a PDF comprising of 20 airport plates (or 20 separate PDFs, 1 plate per) how fast could one scroll through that lot?

On Goodreader/Ipad2 it is really quick.

The other thing is getting "stuff" into these things. The Kindle is a closed box with no official directory structure, so no drag/drop is possible. Obviously internally it is a unix machine but, much like a jailbroken Ipad, this doesn't help unless you are a competent hacker, because a lot of apps maintain separate databases with lists of files, so just dropping an extra PDF in doesn't make it show. Dropping another QCT map into the Docs directory of Memory Map, on a jailbroken Ipad, doesn't make it show up (it does work on older versions of MM).

On the Ipad, Goodreader's Documents directory is externally visible to 3rd party progs like Iexplorer, which makes dropping a load of files in (even thousands of files) trivial. No e-book I have ever played with works like that - they all seem to focus on DRM (copy protected content) deals with copyright holders.

It is vital to be able to get data into the device, and lots of it, without using the email route which is ridiculous in the "travelling pilot" scenario.

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

I have an early Sony ereader and reading pdfs was a nightmare. You had to resize in order to get a pdf into a format you could read, then scroll glacially to the start of the page. Not such a problem, except that when you turned to the next page the zoom would be reset and you have to start the whole process again. It works quite well for books, but although it states it can do PDFs, none of the engineers who worked on it could ever have used it. Battery life is poor too. You can read as much as you like for three weeks only.

It's a shame, because reading and annotating scientific and technical literature should be exactly the sort of thing a pdf reader would be useful for. There is some free software to make pdfs easier to read on Ebooks, but I haven't tried it in a while and never found any that worked well.

Project Gutenberg has some nice aviation-related books though. There's an early work by the Wright brothers, an impenetrable treatise on biplane rigging, the preposterous adventures of 'the aeroplane boys' whose father, the local doctor, funds their experiments in aviation and who communicate with each other by yelling from plane to plane. They only fly at low level, for safety's sake. And my favourite was a biopic of Santos-Dumont, who apparently once flew his blimp to lunch down the Champs-Elysee.

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