Travel Tech: Will e-Readers Transform Travel?


Text by Keith Rutowski; Photography courtesy of Amazon

You’re preparing for a grueling, 14-hour flight to India for a tiger safari. A shrewd traveler, you know it’s going to take more than an iPod to get you through this one. And besides, you’ve been avoiding that bedside stack of literary classics for too long. There’s only one problem: You’re carry-on bag is nearly filled to capacity. Moments before you abandon your hopes of plowing through The Brothers Karamazov, you suddenly remember your new Kindle 2, the latest e-reader available to consumers. The clouds part and for a moment all is right in the world. Slipping the e-reader in where it fits in, you’re on your way with not one, but several of your 300-plus-page favorites in tow.

Yes, what was once another sci-fi fantasy is now a market reality, and it may just be the future of books. E-readers have come a long way since they emerged a decade ago, but the obvious benefits remain the same. Most now incorporate e-Ink, which produces crisp images mimicking the experience of reading type set on paper. However, the difference maker is still the fact that, where carrying an entire personal library on vacation might have been a bit of a struggle, e-readers have made it possible to tote more than 1,000 books with you. If you run out, there’s technology available to wirelessly download more from wherever you are—imagine downloading several guidebooks en route during your trip of a lifetime?

Consumers aren’t the only beneficiaries of e-reader technology. The ailing print industry looks to use them to draw consumers away from absorbing all of their media online for free, and publishers hope to benefit by saving money usually spent on the production and distribution of paper copies. Plus, the environment may get a boost from reduced paper consumption.

Of course, there’s a downside. The majority of e-readers average $350 to $400 a pop, with the new iRex Digital Reader 1000S weighing in at a whopping $750. Many would-be buyers claim that they are too expensive and that e-readers need to earn their keep by competing with the low subscription costs of periodicals. Likewise, some analysts argue that despite revenue generated from electronic ads, e-readers are still not a cost-effective business scheme. While developers try to address users’ gripes–such as screen glare or faint type—they struggle to ease the vice-like grip old-schoolers have on their paper copies.

But love them or hate them, ever since the original Kindle showed up in November 2007, e-readers seem to be springing up everywhere, driving competition. Companies such as Hearst and Plastic Logic are now throwing their hats in the ring to give e-readers an aethestic facelift, while trailblazers Amazon and Sony seek to improve consumer experience via updated functionality and ergonomic tweaks. But with similar advancements across the board, your decision might come down to those little perks: Sony’s PRS-700BC‘s built-in LED reading light, a free iPhone application available to Kindle 2 users, or iRex iLiad’s Wacom Penabled technology. If you’re interested, but not quite sold, you can always wait for the new breed of e-readers, a couple of which are listed below so you can continue to navigate the newest wave in the electronic high seas.

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The Next Generation of e-Readers

Plastic Logic Reader
The full-size, 8.5 x 11 screen will put to rest the complaints about strained eyes associated with smaller e-readers. Constructed out of plastic substrates, this 7 mm thick device is also thinner and lighter than many glass silicon competitors. Features like these will make it difficult to put it down; maybe that’s why the Plastic Logic Reader’s battery life is measured in days, not hours. The Reader will launch in late 2009 and see widespread availability in early 2010.

Hearst e-Reader
Proving that the trend will not limited to books alone, Hearst Corp. is making a foray into the e-reader market in an attempt to boost the sales of its magazines and newspapers. The company, which publishes Esquire, Cosmopolitan, and The San Francisco Chronicle, looks to release its wireless, large-format product later this year.

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