Skiff Looks Interesting, but Do We Need Another E-Reader?

Among the gazillion products making their debut this week at the Consumer Electronics Show: Skiff, the first reader from a new spinoff of publishing behemoth Hearst. The Skiff has the largest (11.5 inches) and highest-resolution (1200 by 1600) screen of any e-reader to date; it uses a new "metal foil" technology from LG instead of glass, making the gizmo sturdy and thin; and it emphasizes magazines and newspapers more than most e-readers, as you might expect of a reader that emerged from Hearst. (Kindle and Nook both offer magazines and books, but in a drab, text-oriented format that looks more like a 1986 CompuServe screen than a real periodical or a Web page.)

Whatever Skiff is, it's definitely not an unimaginative Kindle wannabe, and I'm looking forward to seeing it at the show in a few days. But I'm not unreservedly excited about the profusion of new e-reading devices that are arriving. We have a sufficient supply of hardware-at least hardware that utilizes monochrome e-ink displays. And e-reading is going to be a hundred times more exciting once the industry agrees on some standards that make these devices as compatible with an array of content as Web browsers have been from day one.

Skiff apparently plans to license its platform to other devices too, and that's smart-but it's still a proprietary format that won't work with every major e-reader. To mention CompuServe yet again, we're still stuck in the equivalent of the era when CompuServe, AOL, GEnie, and others duked it out by building their own proprietary technologies and licensing exclusive content. You think it's a coincidence that the online world only really took off when the Web knocked down those walls?

Here's the e-reader development I most want to see: An e- format that's largely based on existing HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and other Web technologies, with a dash of something along the lines of Google Gears to make it possible to peruse publications when you're not online, plus some sort of mechanism for enabling paid content. Something, in other words, not wildly different from the Web as we know it, except in a form that provides more of the visual elegance and browsability of print. Seems simple enough to me...

For more up-to-the-minute blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PC World's complete coverage of CES 2010.

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