It can’t read! (Microsoft’s PMC illiterate?)

ebook II.bmp

We’ve all been waiting for a killer appliance for digital text.

Surely, someone would do for text what iPod did for music: create an exquisite “must have” piece of hardware and software that made reading on the screen the pleasure it is on the page.

The eBook from Gemstar was so bad, they gave up. Tablet PCs are too big, and PDAs are too small. Sony is launching the EBR-1000 Librie eBook reader. A fellow blogger says, ‘this product will go down in Sony’s vault for stupid, expensive ideas. At least it’s so small it should fit.” A second blogger says, “a great innovation trashed by an idiotic implementation rendering it practically useless.”

Microsoft might have used its deep pockets to make a difference. But depressing news today from the NYT. It reviews the Personal Media Center from Microsoft. Apparently, the PMC can’t read.

To make sure, I went to the Microsoft website:

Portable Media Centers put all of your favorite video, music, and pictures at your fingertips wherever you are. Take digital entertainment from your computer with you on the go, including recorded TV shows, downloaded videos, home movies, music, and photos.

Really? Everything but text? Nice going. The iRiver appliance (above) looks like it could handle text. Too bad, it won’t be able too.

I do appreciate that Microsoft does not make appliances, killer or otherwise. And I appreciate that the PMC software is designed to run on cell phones, not perhaps the best place to read War and Peace. I also understand that Microsoft created Reader, which is smarter and better than Adobe’s Acrobat, and that they gave us Clear Type which was welcome too.

But this is a huge market opportunity. We all want print made available to us with iPod grace and simplicity. Clearly, more people need to carry text than music. The numbers are staggering. Last year 15.3 million students attended college classes.

If Apple and IBM won’t step up, perhaps it’s time for Microsoft to show a little leadership. It wouldn’t be hard to insource the hardware design and outsource the manufacture.

An opportunity is a terrible thing to waste. Especially this one.


Pogue, David. 2004. From Microsoft, A First Take. New York Times, September 2, 2004 here (subscription)

The Sony review from dottocomu here

The second Sony review from cinquero here

PMC info from Microsoft here

college attendance stat here

With apologies to Beggin’ Strips.

3 thoughts on “It can’t read! (Microsoft’s PMC illiterate?)

  1. Liz

    having a really great text-to-voice app/appliance IS going to be a giant….not because of the 10% (MOL) of kids who are bright AND dyslexic, but because the boomers are getting old.

    That’s right, old. Me. Having a thingy that can recite the phone book to you, read to you as you drive or whatever.

    It hasn’t happened yet.

    Kurzweil 3000 (text to voice machine) is struggling to put together a database of scanned text w/copyright protections.

  2. Gabriel Rossman

    Fortunately text, even text-to-speech, is a sufficiently simple problem that it can probably be addressed with a software patch. Hopefully someone at Microsoft either was already or has just started working on this.

  3. Grant

    Liz, just a good machine for reproducing text would at this point be plenty. But it’s true that text to speech would be especially useful, and save me many errors on this blog. Thanks, Grant

    Gabriel, But I think we need a ground up treatment, that gives us the perfect appliance, with the right fit and finish, the right visibility, the ability to comment and capture. I know, let’s take some really smart people and lock them in the desert near Santa Fe. They can’t come home till they come up with something. Thanks, Grant

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