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Eyes On With Ray Kurzweil's Blio Ereader App

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If you've caught a good whiff of CES, you know it smells like tablets. And if you're up on tablets, you know they're supposed to save print, or something. And this, the Blio ereader software, is part of the plan.

Designed and conceptualized in part by futurist/engineer/inventor Ray Kurzweil, Blio diverges from traditional ereaders in a couple of ways: first, it's software, intended to be loaded on a variety of devices, from tablets to iPhones to laptops; and second, it's full-color, animated and interactive. It contains web content, video and audio embeds. It can render in a variety of ways, all of which are smoothly animated.


On both PC and iPhone, the rendering is smooth—with colorful books, like reference texts, the effect is impressive, with interactive diagrams, video and clickable text. (Though you'd be right to point out that this kind of tech already exists, and it's called the internet.) Outside of highly visual books, magazine and newspaper are an obvious use for this thing, and though those partnerships haven't been solidified yet, they're coming. The iPhone app was good by iPhone ebook reader standard, but the full-page image-and-text rendering felt like a gimmick on a small screen—most of the time you'll end up reflowing the raw text on your phone, a la the Kindle app.

But Blio the app is only part of the story—the store that its tied to is what really matters. Backed by Baker and Taylor, the world's largest book distributor, Blio plans to launch with over a million titles; a couple hundred thousand will be newer/paid titles, while the rest will be public domain material. It's DRMed like any other ebook store at the moment, and like the Kindle Store, can sync your purchased content—including your position in a given book—from device to device. There's plenty of oomph behind the project, and with a few good devices—tablets, basically—I could see it working out.


That said, I'm worried about how complicated platform is, especially since there's DRM involved. Publishers set the price, and they can sell multiple editions of the same book with different "features": one might have an audio track or special text-to-speech voices, while another could be plain text. I can't imagine modular ebooks taking off. And, weirdly, publishers will be embed to include content from outside the text, meaning that for some books, an active internet connection might be required to get the full experience. Score one for the awkward HTML comparison, score 0 for being sure that you can read the content you thought you purchased. But these are minor concerns.

Point is, you're going to have to read books on your tablet in something, and it wouldn't be a terrible thing if that something was Blio. The app will be available for PC and iPhone come late January/early February, and it will be free.


On another note, if you're wondering why Ray Kurzweil's involvement is a big deal, well, ask Joel Johnson, who filmed the above video: