02 ebook testing kit

Various ereader hardware stacked upon each other

I have just finished up a consultancy project building an ebook that i’ll talk about soon. The photo above shows the kit that I used to test the ebook at various stages. I produced two files in the process: EPUB for most devices including the iPad and a Mobi file for the Kindle hardware and app version.

  • Laptop with various reading software – Adobe Digital Editions v2.0, Kindle app, ibis reader, Kindle previewer (lets me test all versions of the hardware on the computer and saves buying hardware).
  • iPad with the Kindle app and ibooks (i used 3 iPads v2+3)
  • Google nexus7 with the Kindle app, Aldiko reader (lame) and Moon+reader (also lame), ibis reader
  • Kindle Paperwhite
  • Nook Simple Touch
  • Kindle 2nd Gen – it was kicking around so why not?!
  • Kindle previewer (allows you to test in all versions including the Kindle Fire)
  • Kindle Touch
  • Sony PRS-350 (thanks Stephen) – great to see how e-ink handles colour graphics
  • iPhone 4 with the Kindle app, ibooks and also ibis reader
  • HTC One X with Kindle app and ibis reader

For each device, the ebook displays and behaves differently so it is essential to test on the devices that you think will be used. Mr Andy Clarke said it best:

Designers need use only a subset of devices, because what matters most is that we develop an affinity for how our designs work on any type of device when we hold it our hands. To be clear, how a menu feels when used on a smartphone is a very different issue from whether it technically works on a particular make or model of smartphone. That’s why designers don’t necessarily need to buy a myriad of smartphones and tablets, just those they need to develop an affinity for.
Andy Clarke, Encouraging Better Client Participation In Responsive Design Projects

Sound simple right?! I got the list partly from what I have been using anyway and then from The mobile read wiki which has popular community input.

I will write more about ebook building, testing and frustrations in future posts.

By the way, my favourite reader is the now in limbo ibis reader which I read on my mobile phone or nexus7.

01 Why bother with ebooks?

Mobile everything has been much hyped over the past few years with figures of device ownership and network activity usage both up, up and away. Within the mobile space, one topic t intrigues me more than others, which is the idea of the digital book, made possible by ebook readers, tablets, computers and software. The NMC Horizon report, an annual look at what’s hot in education and technology has been waving the flag for ebooks since 2010  saying that by 2012 ebooks should be beginning to hit their stride and gaining widespread use. I think they might just be right.

The current digital book is largely relegated to hastily cobbled together editions of existing print books wrapped in an often poorly built PDF file. I can live with this, knowing that there must be light at the end of the tunnel (hopefully not a train) as duplicating print books has been tried, and now we have begun to look at that is next. Whilst I do believe that benefits such as having access to a library at my fingertips, fast searching and 24/7 distribution are great features, those alone are only scratching at the surface of what a digital book could be.

In Post-Artifact Books and Publishing Craig Mod writes:

  • The way books are written has changed.
  • The canvas for books has changed.
  • The post-published life of a book has changed.

Suddenly these three sentences thrust what digital books are becoming into the light. I feel it is worth considering each in context of education.

The way books are written has changed.

The process used to be be of isolation with author> select reviewers > Publisher > seller. Martin Weller’s 2011 book The Digital Scholar came into being in part from his public blog writing on many of the thoughts and topics that went on to become the book. The comments and statistics could have been one method of seeing what “sticks” to inform the book process. Which was then further honed by his tribe using various social tools.

Over the past year or so I have been following with interest as Gráinne Conole writes Designing for learning in an open world, sharing each chapter of it, using the web to “…act as a space to invite discussion and debate on emergent issues. ”

We are able to use ‘digital’ tools and communications to reach those at whom the book is aimed from day zero. Services like Kickstarter have enabled people to float an idea for a book and get the funding BEFORE day 1.

The canvas for books has changed.

We now have a countless number of ways to read digital books. From dedicated hardware such as the Amazon Kindle, to tablets such as the Apple iPad, Google Nexus 7 and more mainstream computers and mobile phones with book reading capabilities. These devices along with ‘apps’ let us read on a digital book on a new type of canvas from print.

My current favourite reader is the ibis reader which allows me to upload EPUB books and access them on all my devices and sync the page I am reading so i can effortlessly move from one reading device to the next. At the 2012 Digital Book conference, Liz Daly, creator of ibis reader spoke about the possibility of streaming books becoming a possible future (spotify for ebooks), helping us become file format and device agnostic.

I can imagine a near future where education book release will be “digital by default”, saving print for core texts.

The post-published life of a book has changed.

A digital book never has to be complete, like Wikipedia, edits can be made and released with ease. New versions being released as “dot” versions much like how software upgrades are done. Being digital, the book may be discovered by a far greater amount of people, and will be easily distributed via established library catalogues and newer services like Apple iTunes U. Services like Amazon allow you to publicly share your ebook reading lists and highlights,  suddenly these unique digital social features might start to find usefulness for education books. Teacher and learner sharing notes on the same books, this opens the door to potential new pedagogical exploration.

I am now reading as many digital books as I am print books and I continue to marvel at the idea of what is coming next.

100 Things about digital publishing in education

Welcome to 100 things about digital publishing in education. Join me as I discover how learners, staff and institutions make and use digital books for traditional and emerging practices. Lets explore what is unique about ‘digital publishing’ from the view of the people affected. I believe it is an interesting topic and hope 100 things will inform and inspire more of you to try digital publishing and ebooks. If you would like to contribute or heckle, please do get in touch as I’d love to hear your views.

  1. Why bother with ebooks?
  2. ebook testing kit
  3. Under the cover of the mrc ebook
  4. Publishing jargon

Uses for ebooks

Despite having been around for years, ebooks are still very underutalised in education. There are two types of ebook to consider. Firstly, those books made available from the publishers and other writers. Secondly, self-published books that you produce yourself. I am not sure how much we can shape the path that the academic publishers are on at present so will focus on self-publishing of digital books.

There are plenty of uses for print books in education and currently the main driver for education ebooks is to replicate existing print books in digital form.

For the most part this means simply scanning print books and using Adobe PDF as the ebook file format. The scans are often of poor quality and do not take advantage of the power features of the format.

This underlying theme will continue but the most exciting area will be finding new uses for books that take advantage of what being digital can offer.

Why now?

The growth of commercial ebooks led largely by the ease with which we can now distribute and view ebooks on our mobile devices (laptops, phones and dedicated readers) has shone a light on applications for education.

There hasn’t been much recent research on producing digital books for eduction so I hope posts like this and the work JISC will be doing this year will contribute to the start of something bigger.

ebooks can be accessed and read  across multiple  platforms:

  • There are dedicated ebook readers (to remain niche?)
  • Mobile phones
  • Computers and tablets
  • Printed out

Uses for digital books

  1. Text books (ebooks textbooks)
  2. Course supplement
  3. Promotional books e.g. prospectus
  4. Course handbooks
  5. Workbooks
  6. Reading lists
  7. Reference book
  8. Monograph
  9. Research e.g. journals
  10. Collecting themed work e.g. blog posts

In a future post I will explore the unique opportunities that digital books can offer.


JISC – Digital monogragh technical landscape study

JISC Digital Media – Introduction to ebooks

JISC Digital Media – Getting started with ebooks

Craig Mod – Post-artifact books and publishing