The PRS-505 electronic book reader introduced in North America last year has won prestigious international design awards, including Red Dot and IDEA awards. The Reader is truly a booklover's book, and one that's rewriting the book on how people read. A refreshingly simple product that does one thing and does it well, the Reader is also a natural product of Sony design ideals.
Mugura: There are lots of avid readers in North America. Once booklovers find some time, they buy a few books, head off somewhere comfortable, and spend hours reading. This is quite an established pastime. But often, these books are big, bulky, heavy, and certainly not cheap. Books are now a big purchase—literally. This also inconveniences students. Each term, students must buy and lug around a new stack of textbooks and reference books.
Digitize the books, and all these problems are solved. The potential of this solution led Sony Electronics Inc. in the U.S. to propose the Reader Digital Book, which became our PRS series. Just transfer digital book files (downloaded from the Internet to your computer) to the Reader to read them. You can see how it's a product closely linked to online services.
To make it happen, our mission as designers was to prepare what needed to be ready online and determine the Reader user interface. We had to "think local," and knowing how readers here interact with books proved invaluable. But thinking "global" was also important, because we intended to introduce the Reader in other markets eventually. For this reason we took a special approach to development, gaining insight and opinions of local developers while ultimately creating the user interface and software in Japan.
Mugura: Even before the PRS series, people had been exploring possibilities in the North American e-book market. Some developers sold novels converted to text files for users to read on computers or PDAs. In this case, the display device is an LCD screen. Reading for a few hours (on a flight, for example) often causes eyestrain from the brightness of the backlight. It's even worse on the subway, because your hand never stops shaking. That's why for the display device in the PRS series, we chose e-paper.
E-paper is a medium very similar to paper. It contains charged ink, which is controlled by voltage to produce black, white, and shades of gray. Illustrations are rendered in detail with each tiny ink particle. It's also energy efficient. After a page is rendered, e-paper retains the image without requiring voltage. And because no backlight is used, it's easier on your eyes. It seemed the ideal choice for the kind of e-book we sought.
E-paper does not render pages as quickly as monitors do, though. LCD monitors also support faster scrolling and cursor movement, which is not easy with e-paper. Still, we thought that if you reject the expectation of a computer-like user experience, this aspect of e-paper actually recalls some desirable qualities of books and paper. To find the information you need, just look in the index. To access it, just turn the pages. Even after a millennium, basic ideas about what books should be like haven't changed. Some people view books as the ultimate user interface, and the Reader is our attempt to reproduce this ultimately user-friendly and intuitive interface electronically.
Press one of the numbered buttons for direct access to the features or items you want. Use these buttons for selection and navigation in menus and indices. Buttons to turn pages are located in two positions. We discussed the icons on the menu screen at length, because pictograms obvious to people in North America may not be clear elsewhere. Here, we had to respect conditions in our initial market while adapting the Reader for use around the world.