Gadget Review: the Built-In Organized Orderly Knowledge Device (BOOK)

The other day, Ed Neal posted a mock announcement for a new product–the Built-In Organized Orderly Knowledge device (the BOOK)–on the POD Network listserv.  I thought Ed’s post was very funny, and it highlighted reasons why the traditional printed book isn’t going away anytime soon.  However, his post reminded me of some reviews of e-book readers I’ve heard that bugged me.  Many reviews focus on ways in which an e-book reader fails to replicate the experience of reading a book without highlighting the ways in which an e-book reader allows one to do things not possible with a printed book.  So I posted a response to Ed’s product announcement, in the form of a product review lamenting the BOOK’s missing features…

There’s been a lot of buzz lately about the revolutionary new Built-in
Orderly Organized Knowledge device, or BOOK(tm). As you’ve no doubt heard,
its arrival was so anticipated that people actually waited by their front
doors on the Saturday of its release for their UPS deliveries. We recently
obtained a BOOK(tm) and gave a test drive to see if it lived up to the hype.

The BOOK(tm)’s key selling point is its mobility. It’s true–it doesn’t require any kind of power or wireless connection to function. Moreover, its interface, which requires users to physically turn its “pages” will likely appeal to the kinesthetic learners out there. However, the interactive and customization aspects of the BOOK(tm) leave a lot to be desired.

For example, the BOOK(tm) has no real search function. Sure, the “table of contents” at the front of some BOOK(tm)s gives a rough outline of the program schedule, and the “index” at the back of some BOOK(tm)s makes clever use of the numbered pages, but if the term or name you’re looking for isn’t listed in one of those two tools, there’s no way to search for it directly.  This significantly limits the ability of BOOK(tm)s to be use for later reference after the first “reading.”

Moreover, the BOOK(tm) has no cut-and-paste function! This is particularly surprising, given the backlash over the lack of cut-and-paste in the initial iPhone(tm) releases. If you’d like to reuse any of the content of BOOK(tm), you have to physically copy the content letter by letter, like the monks did in Ireland back in the Dark Ages!

Similarly, there is no easy way to share content from your BOOK(tm) with others. You can lend your BOOK(tm) to a friend, but then you don’t have access to the BOOK(tm)’s content. Moreover, you can only share the BOOK(tm) with one friend at a time–and that friend must physically reside near you.  While the lack of wires needed to operate a BOOK(tm) is a plus, the lack of connectivity to the global Internet is a downside.

It should be noted that another consequence of the lack of connectivity is that the BOOK(tm) provides no options for upgrades or patches. We all know how frustrating it is to have out-of-date information. In the BOOK(tm) business model, if there are any errors or omissions or changes needed to the program content, you actually have to purchase an entirely new BOOK(tm)!  We’ll have to see if this is a tenable business model in the long run.

BOOK(tm)s have no customization tools, either. If the font size of your BOOK(tm) is too small or if the font is poorly chosen and hard to read, you’re out of luck. And since the BOOK(tm) is incompatible with screen readers and its interface requires a certain level of manual dexterity, it’s accessibility leaves something to be desired.

Finally, it may not be clear from the advertisements, but each BOOK(tm) features only one program schedule. If you’re interested in information on multiple subjects, you’ll have to purchase multiple BOOK(tm)s. This isn’t a significant difference from the current cost model, but bear in mind the physical space you’ll need for dozens, perhaps hundreds of BOOK(tm)s. Want to bring five different BOOK(tm)s with you on a trip? Make sure to leave plenty of room in your suitcase!

Don’t take our review the wrong way here. The BOOK(tm) has plenty to offer. But for those used to a certain level of interactivity, customization, connectivity, and ease of use, be warned that the BOOK(tm) might not live up to your expectations.

Image: “Books” by Flickr user ~Brenda-Starr~ / Creative Commons licensed

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