Despite countless attempts on my part, to foist an e-reader on M., she has steadfastly refused one. She wasn’t taking a principled stand against technology or engaging in pretentious posturing.
M. genuinely cherishes reading books, the NYT, and The New Yorker, in print, though she happily puts up with their digital editions—because she’s a sucker for polished editorial and literary content. She’s forced to read most academic papers as .PDFs, online, but she takes that in her stride.
What M. would truly love, she’s said, is not a device to read on, but to write on.
“Of course, there’s device for that,” I told her. “And you already have it.”
“A computer,” I said.
“No, something that would enable me to jot a thought down, on the go,” she attempted to explain.
“But don’t you already take notes on Mead’s little fat notebooks?” I asked, more in the spirit of reminding her of her own stationery.
Apparently, she had in mind an entirely new category of writing surface that was an electronic gadget, which occupied a sweet spot between a glowing laptop screen and a matte-faced composition book, wasn’t spendy, and didn’t call itself an app.
Given the mind-boggling array of goods on the market today, it shouldn’t be hard to find, I thought. I wasn’t shopping for an Underwood No. 5 typewriter, after all.
I’d always kept an eye out for innovations that matched that description. Not many had.
So, I turned to Google to explore. The search engine coughed up a preposterously slim yield. A single item, in fact—the Boogie Board.
The product, described as an “L.C.D. writing tablet,” had generated a lot of buzz at the International Consumer Electronics Show, held yearly in Las Vegas.
Awarded top grades, it was touted as the “tree-friendly, electronic alternative to memo pads, sketchbooks, sticky notes, dry-erase boards, and scratch pads.”
This seemed like the perfect gift for M.
Thrilled, I placed an order on Amazon. But after it arrived, and I’d opened the package, I recall, I pulled a long face. Its crude finish was a disappointment. The power button, which had the tactile sensation of a light switch in a colonial bungalow, in the Kaziranga game sanctuary, reminded me of a crotchety elder.
But exterior design is not everything. Functionality counts. Its stylus allowed one to scribble quite smoothly on a 4A-size, gray, slate-like plane. Tapping a small, flat knob saved a doodle, a sentence, or a grocery list, to its feeble memory. A length of cable transferred them onto a hard drive, enabling one to visualize it more clearly on a computer.
Where it faltered, though, was in the area of watching the data as it was being recorded. It didn’t have pages. And because it didn’t have them, unlike in paper pads, it didn’t let one go back and glance at what one had noted down previously. The result was unfortunate. It broke one’s train of thought and disrupted one’s flow of ideas.
I had to return it with a heavy heart. But I didn’t blame its manufacturer, a fairly lightweight, Kent, Ohio-based firm, for its less than satisfactory performance.
A prerequisite for product innovation is consumer demand. One reason there’s a conspicuous paucity of e-writers is that there’s a scant interest in gadgets that simulate writing by hand.
It’s easy to see why. All the research and development, all the energy, all the action, is monopolized by e-readers. One can choose from among three categories of e-reading devices:
E-Readers employ black and white e-ink. They include the Amazon Kindle (which comes with or without a touch screen), Barnes & Noble Nook, (which again, is available with or without a touch screen, and one with a self-illumination touch screen), Plastic Logic Que, Sony Reader, iRex DR800SG, and the Alex e-reader.
Compact tablets are seven-inch tablets, with L.C.D. color screens, which include Amazon Kindle Fire and Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.
Full-size tablets are like the compact tablets, only larger, with 10-inch screens. They include the iPad, iPad 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab 27.0, Amazon Kindle DX, Asus Transformer Pad TF300, and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
Till the time there’s a revival of interest in penmanship, I guess it’ll be hard to find an evolved e-writer, with the degree of sophistication of the contemporary e-readers.