Towards a Simple Chronology of E-book Evolution

As some of you may know, this project is now inextricably intertwined with work on my dissertation for the MSc E-Learning programme at Edinburgh University. In the process of reviewing the published literature and research about the uses of E-books, I frequently discovered articles with seemingly essential titles (“Survey of student attitudes to E-books”, etc) that turned out to be of little use to my deliberations as they were written in the 1990s, and equated e-books with CD-ROMs and floppy disks. Historically interesting, and potentially informative about the development of technologies and concepts. but clearly irrelevant to the current state of play in a post-iPad, post-Kindle era.

To help in distinguishing the topical from the superannuated, I decided to created a simple temporal classification for e-book research and developments. I’ve divided the e-book epoch into four chronozones, of which the latter are of greatest relevance to current considerations around e-book usage and mobile learning.*

E-book period
Approximate dates
paleo before 2001 Includes all early electronic text endeavours (e.g. Project Gutenberg, 1970s), e-books on physical media such as CD-ROM (1980s), and early efforts based on the World Wide Web (1990s).
meso 2001 – 2006 2001 saw the launch of Safari Online e-book distribution platform a significant step by tech-savvy publishers O’Reilly in partnership with Pearson. The e-books are predominantly PDF, and probably get printed locally by purchasers, but there is a strong sense of the electronic version supplanting paper.

The period sees the proliferation of mobile phones and also a wide range of hand-held PDAs, and a number of approaches to e-reading are explored, notably the Mobipocket application/format, usable across many PDA platforms. In 2005 Amazon acquired Mobipocket to develop what would become the Kindle. In 2006 the Sony PRS-500 Reader was the first commercial e-reader in the US to use an e-ink display.

neo 2007 – 2009 Begins with the launch of the Apple iPhone, uniting PDA and mobile phone technology, and the first Amazon Kindle (using e-ink).

Also in 2007 the XHTML-based EPUB format was adopted as a standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum.

holo 2010 – present 2010 saw the launch of the more-affordable Kindle 3, and the Apple iPad, leading to a sea-change in expectations, uptake of ‘e-reader’ devices and ubiquitous mobile computing.

As you can see, research into e-book usage patterns in the paleo or meso periods is going to be of little relevance, other than historical, when considering current trends in mobile computing and e-book usage.  Put another way – since 2010 my mum and dad have acquired and used both a Kindle and an iPad: that changes things.

* I intend to use this system to tag the bibliography I’m currently assembling in Citeulike.

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