images.jpgImagine only being able to open one window or application at a time on your laptop. Work for a bit in Excel and when you need to switch to Word, you’ve got to closer the former before you open the latter. Or what if you want to open two spreadsheets at the same time? Imagine you had to close the first before you could open the second.

That’s silly, right? On a regular computer, yes, it is. So why do we accept those sorts of restrictions on our ereader devices? I can’t open two books simultaneously on my old Kindle or my new iPad. I have to close the first book before I can open the second.

I know what you’re thinking… When you use your Kindle, iPad or other device you’re only interested in opening one book at a time. That’s fine, but what about being able to open that book in two different places? You’ve always been hold a spot with your finger and flip to another location in a print book. It’s so easy we often do it without thinking. That includes the index, btw. How often do you hold your place in a print book, flip back to the index to look something up, then simultaneously open another page in the book without ever having to close the original page? I do that pretty regularly in print. Good luck doing it in an ereader app.

Here’s another common scenario: you’re using a cookbook or reading a how-to-guide with step-by-step instructions. There are definitely times when it’s handy to be able to flip back and forth between an illustration and the written steps, for example. Again, easy to do in print but impossible with today’s ereader apps.

Now let’s go back to the “one open book at a time” problem I started out with. What if you’re a student and you’ve got an etextbook as well as another ebook on the same topic. Why shouldn’t you be able to open them both at the same time to compare related explanations, diagrams, code, etc.?

I’m amazed that with today’s state-of-the-art ereaders, you can’t do something as simple as have the screen split into two panes for different views into the same book, let alone having two different books open at the same time.

Why am I highlighting such a simple missing feature? Because it shows just how far we still need to go to implement common print reading capabilities in today’s ereader apps. I’m still a huge advocate for richer content models that truly leverage the ereader device itself, but I’d love to see Amazon, Apple or anyone else who’s paying attention to build more basic functionality into their apps. As it currently stands, every time I open the Kindle or iBooks apps on my iPad I feel like I’m using a time machine, heading back to the late 80’s when DOS was king, only one app at a time could be opened on my 80286 computer, the music was bad and the hair was big.

Living through the 80’s once was painful enough. eReader developers, please, oh please bring us into the modern era by adding some cool functionality into your apps, OK?

Via Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020 Blog


  1. So why do we accept those sorts of restrictions on our ereader devices?

    Q: How many people out of all the users of Kindles and eReaders want to do any of these things ?
    Q: Why should a manufacturer bother to include features that this number of people want in their first few versions of their eReader ?

    I and many non eReading people would delight in an eReader that had no typing keys, just an up-down-left-right buttons and let us read one book at a time without making notes or highlighting or looking things up in dictionaries or any other unnecessary garbage like unnecessary 3G – all at a nice price of 50 euros or less 🙂

  2. It’s been literally decades since I’ve needed to read a book in that manner (multiple viewpoints).

    But I can see it being essential for a student. At some point some ereader software/ hardware vendor will implement this to differentiate themselves in the e-textbook market.

    This is actually one serious limitation for a device like an iPad that follows the single view/ task model of interaction when being used for content creation.

    When I’m writing I WANT access to reference materials, notes, etc at the same time as I’m immersed in spewing forth words. Sure, you can write on an iPad but there are times it feels like being locked in a closet with a 30 watt bulb overhead and someone has taken away your dictionary, and forces you to go into another dark closet to look at your notes.

    Which is ot. Sorry.

  3. The Pocketbook readers allow you to jump around within a book easily via their bookmark function. All of your book marks show up as tabs in the side when you select book marks from the menu and you can slide down the column or flip back and forth as you desire.

  4. The ability to easily switch among texts is essential for the student, the scholar and possibly also the scientist. Computer scientists, for sure.

    Any e-reader builder who is serious about getting into the academic market will eventually need to build in this functionality — and if it were ever possible to link the Italian-Italian dictionary to Italian texts, German-German dictionary to German texts, an English-English dictionary to English texts, and maybe among other texts as well, I’d guess that the world of scholarship in comparative literature, religion, philosophy, etc. would prostrate themselves at the developers’ feet, and weep tears of gratitude.

  5. @Howard: Ectaco jetBook 🙂 (or a Kobo, or a Sony 300, to be fair)

    @Joe: What you’re describing is a computer, not an e-reading appliance. Most people with ereaders own both. Students (and a lot of other people) surely use their PCs for multi-tasking and study.

    All devices are not suitable for all purposes. Nor in most cases should they be. The added complexity, interface features and energy useage of the OS you want would decrease the usefulness of the ereader for immersive (or ludic) reading.

    In a couple of the case you note (cookbook, instruction manual), I’d say the optimum format is still (and may always be) a book. Books have dominated the information dissemination task for centuries for a reason.

    Disclaimer: I still use a hand file for some shop tasks and I often scramble eggs with a kitchen fork.

    Jack Tingle

  6. Jack: “@Howard: Ectaco jetBook (or a Kobo, or a Sony 300, to be fair)”
    Not at <50 euros.

    My intended point was that the demand for all of these bells and whistles is not what what the vast majority of core book readers will look for when they start to move to an eReader and this will only happen when the prices fall below 50 euros. Most readers are women and between 30 and 50 and just want to read and turn the page.

  7. @Howard: The jetBook is close, depending on sale prices. It’s often available at < US$99, sometimes very much less. At current rates, that's around < e79. The Kobo is similar, although not discounted as often or as heavily. The Sony is more, probably e100.

    Jack Tingle

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