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The Shadow of the Olive Tree

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01 April 2009 Blog Home : April 2009 : Permalink

The Frstapr eBook Reader

I don't normally break tech news on this blog but it looks like I'm going to break this story. I've been involved in the marketing development and no one asked me to sign an NDA so I figure I might as well let the cat out of the bag.

The development group producing the Txtr reader split up after a row recently and a new breakaway product team has been formed. The new team will be using almost exactly the same hardware but they have made two critical changes, which I'll get to later, and of course the upper levels of the software will be drastically revised in order to meet their deaing goals - goals that the original Txtr team could not support.

The new team, Frstapr, doesn't quite have a website yet and the name is not exactly set in stone - if I told you that the 3 developers have first names of Franz, Stephan and Pieter then you might be able to figure out how they came up with Frstapr - but it fits in with recent naming trends (flickr, tumblr, twitt(e)r) and ties in with one of their two target markets.

OK so now I've whetted your appetite what exactly are the two target markets and design goals. Simple. Frstapr noted that all current ebook readers are aimed at the dextrous adult market. They have tiny buttons, tinier memory cards (the txtr will use pin sized micro-SD cards) and many of them seem to require bizarre gestures to do things like turn a page. And if you get the gesture wrong you turn two pages or exit the book or something. Furthermore they are notoriously fragile - a trawl of the mobileread forums will turn up any number of stories of expensive ebook readers with cracked screens and other defects.

Frstapr is therefore developing a more robust reader with larger buttons, a robust plastic instead of glass eink substrate and is sticking to the standard SD card format. It is also adding far better support for illustrations and supporting really really large text fonts. These rquirements are key since Frstapr is trying to become the ebook reader for children. That's what I mean about the name tying in with a target market as Frstapr could also stand for First Application Reader. There have in fact been some preliminary discussions with a charity called Looflirpa which provides books to kindergartens and grade schools in Germany about providing the Frstapr to all German schoolchildren on the first day of school.

However while they want to get involved in the child reader market that is, as I say, only one of their target areas. And, realistically, it's going to take a while for any momentum to build up there so they are now looking at the other area as the launch market. The other area is basically the other end of the age spectrum, that is to say the elderly, and trust me jokes about second childhood did fly around when we came up with this strategy. The reason being that the elderly have many of the same requirements and are likely to buy it themselves and so give feedback on what doesn't work.

Elderly readers frequently have problems with small text - that is after all one major driver of existing ebook reader sales - but many current ebook readers still do not display text in large enough font sizes. The frstapr team did a little market research and discovered that font sizes of 32, 40 and 48 point would be popular with the elderly but that neither the Sony nor the Kindle (nor the Txtr) could sensibly display text at these sizes. The problem is not just the ability to display the appropriate font, the Txtr could do that (as can the Bookeen Cybook3), it is to do with hyphenation and long words. At 48 point you are looking at around 20 characters per line (32 gets you about 30) and without proper hyphenation support you either get very short lines or you get bizarrely hypehenated words that require the reader to think about what he has just read. This is a special problem in German where you have words like "Geschwindigkeitsbeschrankung" to deal with...

Elderly readers are also likely to appreciate the big buttons and shockproofness. Just ask any of the more mature people you know about "childproof" medicine bottles and the clumsiness that arthritis, parkinsons and other age related maladies can cause. I'm sure the easy to use SD card slot will also be appreciated too, though that's probably the most fiddly part of the device. The developered are aware of this and did think of trying for something bigger but unfortunately there aren't really any popular flsh card formats that are larger.

Obviously they will be doing a lot more publicity later but since there's been a flurry of recent annoucements (e.g. the foxit and this plastic logic one) I thought the time was right to get some initial word out on this product which could take the world by storm one niche at a time.

PS format support: PDF, RTF, ePub, Mobi (non DRM), HTML and plain text for now.