A designer has come up with a concept he hopes could encourage sceptics of the story of the digital revolution to turn the page.
Just as the door to the ereader market appears to swing shut on newcomers, a designer has come up with a device he hopes could capture book lovers’ hearts.
While Kobo innovates with an edge to edge screen and the Kindle and Nook’s latest incarnations sport backlights, Fabrice Dubuy is busy reinventing the wheel by creating an ereader which opens up like an actual book.
The device (only a design for now) would mimic the act of reading a physical book by providing readers with two adjacent screens, showing two pages at once.
Dubuy tells CBR that he is hard at work on a prototype, and that his aim is to replicate the sense of affection booklovers have for the physical object, by creating a device somewhere between a typical ereader and a well-loved hardback.
He says that the concept was born of his own frustrations with electronic reading devices: "I feel deeply that tablets are high-tech objects, linked to the world of video, motion and multimedia, absolutely not linked to the world of reading."
This attitude – of drawing a clear line between tablets and reading devices blurred by the likes of the Kindle Fire, has coloured his approach to the TwistBook – which will feature no buttons at all.
"The simple gesture of pushing a button to turn on an ereader is nonsense to me. Pushing a button brings you back to the world of high-tech objects," he explains.
"There should be a different way to turn on an ereader, like slightly touching it, or opening it like a book."
Instead of a button, then, the TwistBook is likely to feature a sensor capture instead alongside an interactive screen – the standard for most ereaders now.
In doing so, Dubuy hopes to win over ereader sceptics – though concedes the ‘open book’ concept may not be enough to persuade diehard fans of the real thing to swap their battered paperback for its electronic equivalent.
"Many readers are paper lovers and completely allergic to ereaders, trying to get them to use it would be a waste of time," he says.
"My target is simply ereader users who are not fully satisfied with their reading habits on a tablet, and also some ereader sceptics who would be more receptive to a less technological and more sensitive object."
It would also feature functions we now think of as standard, such as a built-in dictionary and the ability to annotate text – something he believes could be done better – and the option to personalise the covers of the device.
Despite the proliferation of available devices, Dubuy believes the market is not swollen to saturation point – nor does he feel that the biggest companies (Amazon has a 50%-60% US market share, Apple around 20%) will crush any real competition.
Indeed, he feels the biggest players need to be more creative to stay on top.
"The ereader market is very young, it grows and moves incredibly fast, as does e-ink technology," he says.
"Amazon is strong, for now, [but] they should work harder. Look at the way they advertise their new Kindle Paperwhite on their website, everything is about technical points – it’s a little bit lighter, has a better resolution, etc. You don’t build dreams with technical specifications.
"If Amazon is not more audacious and innovative, someone else will be, and they could lose their leadership in the blink of an eye."
Perhaps that someone could be Dubuy himself, but he will need backing first. The most popular devices are platforms for booksellers – the Nook (somewhat unsuccessfully thus far) is Barnes & Noble’s creation, while Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has cheerfully admitted that his company made no profit on the Kindle hardware last year – but every time it sells one it is gaining a customer who from then on will buy all their ebooks from the online giant.
Dubuy hopes the TwistBook will generate interest from a big bookseller, but is open to other business opportunities too – "if the project is bought by a big company, it could maybe become an upscale alternative among an existing range of products (beside the Kindle, for example)," he says.
But he has to build it first, of course.
"I have no idea where this project will take me," he admits. "Right now I am working on it because I am passionate, I deeply believe in it and I expect to learn a lot of things."
If the prototype is successful and people begin to get behind the idea, perhaps the TwistBook could be the next big revolution in reading.