Kurzweil Takes On Kindle With New E-Reader Platform Blio

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Amazon sold more books in digital media than on paper this Christmas and 2010 looks to be the year of the e-reader. Along with Kindle, Stanza, Barnes and Noble Reader, a new hat has been thrown into the ring. Ray Kurzweil, prolific inventor and Singularity enthusiast, is planning to debut Blio at CES 2010 in January. Blio is an e-reader platform, not hardware, that can be used on PC, MAC, iPhone and iPod touch. Developed by Kurzweil company knfb Reader, Blio preserves the original format of books including typography, and illustrations, in full color. It also takes advantage of knfb’s high quality text to speech capabilities (discussed in this video) and supports animation and video content. You can even synchronize a PDF with an audio book to get read-along highlighting. By focusing on the software, and not trying to maintain a hardware device, Kurzweil hopes to provide the most versatile, life-like electronic version of print books and enhance them with multimedia. Best of all, Blio is free.

Blio will be a full color e-reader that preserves page layouts.

Blio will be a full color e-reader that preserves page layouts. You'll be able to download it for free onto your desktop or smartphone.

The race to dominate the electronic reader market is really just starting up. Kindle and Amazon have a firm lead but Stanza, Barnes and Noble, Sony, and Samsung are all staying competitive, not to mention potential tablets from Apple and a host of other companies. Heck, for that matter, the PDF format itself is doing very well and provides much of the same experience as an e-reader for many users. While hardware evolution has focused on the best uses of e-ink or the fastest download times, software is all about formatting. How does the book look? Can I read it the way I want to? Are diagrams legible? By preserving original publishing page layouts, Blio may be providing the nearest experience to actually reading a print book you can find. Of course, the question remains, is that what we really want? As traditional media continues to struggle and new media tries to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up, there’s no clear understanding of how and what humans will be reading in the next decade.

Yet even if e-readers turn out to be a transitional medium, they are still exerting a powerful influence. Best selling electronic books on Amazon are usually free, or very cheap. This may force publishers to rethink how they make money off their products. Which is why it makes so much sense for Blio to be free as well. The e-reader can be uploaded onto an iPhone or kept on your desktop. From there, users will be able to purchase reading materials at whatever price becomes feasible.

kurzweil-kills-kindleAvailable books will start with an extensive catalog from Baker & Taylor which should include 50,000+ volumes in January and 180,000+ soon there after. Information released from knfb (see table below) seems to suggest that more than a million books will be available in one format or another. Kurzweil and knfb are working with Google to try to make their extensive catalog of printed materials available for Blio. They are also aiming to have major publishers port their books into PDF for free. Apparently you don’t have to worry about being stuck without something to read.

The e-reading field is still too young, though, to know where it is going. Every time I see a Kindle, or a Sony Reader, I desperately want to buy one, but I never do. I keep telling myself that waiting just six months will mean a better version and more variety to chose from. So far I’ve been right. Too right, maybe. The hardware and software for electronic books keeps improving too quickly for me to settle on a platform.

blio-comparisonWith Blio, the e-readers are seemingly ready to break the bands of separate hardware and dive into multi-platform use. Tablet PCs and Netbooks, which are set to get cheaper and more popular in the next year, may kill the market for dedicated e-reader devices. In the end, it could all come down to the e-book itself. How much will we pay for these things? Like all e-readers, Blio will adopt some form of DRM and proprietary formatting, and publishers continue to try to maintain high prices for their products. Yet anyone with five minutes can find a torrent and pirate a PDF of a book for free. Where’s the balance?

The bigger question may be, as new media kills printed media will the book as a concept die as well? We live in a hyper-linked digital world here on the Internet, rich with comments, multimedia displays, and advertisements. Books as a format are much simpler (some would say better). As we raise a generation that does most of its reading online, we may see an end to books all together (e- or otherwise). Which is perhaps where Kurzweil’s wiley reasoning starts to become apparent. Blio isn’t just an e-ink version of a paper product, it’s a full color multimedia platform that reads text out loud. I don’t know if Blio will be successful, but it just might be the future.

*UPDATE: The Blio website is now live. No more “it’s coming.” The link at the top of the post has been updated. There’s an interesting FAQ, and some great pics, but otherwise not any news. The reader and bookstore both look to be launched in a few weeks.

[image credits: Blio, knfb via Wired]

Discussion — 57 Responses

  • aaron@digitalcole January 5, 2010 on 2:30 am

    Should I assume that K and company will have an android application for this in the not too distant future?

    • Aaron Saenz aaron@digitalcole January 5, 2010 on 3:02 am

      Certainly for Nokia.

  • aaron@digitalcole January 4, 2010 on 10:30 pm

    Should I assume that K and company will have an android application for this in the not too distant future?

    • Aaron Saenz aaron@digitalcole January 4, 2010 on 11:02 pm

      Certainly for Nokia.

  • Anonymous January 5, 2010 on 1:15 pm

    iPhone & iPod, but no Mac?

    • Aaron Saenz January 5, 2010 on 4:55 pm

      It will be available for Mac. The article mentions this.

  • ram January 5, 2010 on 9:15 am

    iPhone & iPod, but no Mac?

    • Aaron Saenz ram January 5, 2010 on 12:55 pm

      It will be available for Mac. The article mentions this.

  • Prometheus January 5, 2010 on 3:38 pm

    What about Linux?

    • Aaron Saenz Prometheus January 5, 2010 on 4:56 pm

      Nothing I’ve read mentions Linux, but considering how much Blio seems to want to be universal software (rather than singular hardware) I would think that Linux would be in the game plan.

      • anechoic Aaron Saenz January 5, 2010 on 8:33 pm

        yeah Linux would be nice but not if DRM is part of the Blio package

  • Prometheus January 5, 2010 on 11:38 am

    What about Linux?

    • Aaron Saenz Prometheus January 5, 2010 on 12:56 pm

      Nothing I’ve read mentions Linux, but considering how much Blio seems to want to be universal software (rather than singular hardware) I would think that Linux would be in the game plan.

      • anechoic Aaron Saenz January 5, 2010 on 4:33 pm

        yeah Linux would be nice but not if DRM is part of the Blio package

  • NachtVorst January 5, 2010 on 3:57 pm

    When you say “Best of all, Blio is free.”, do you mean free as in beer or free as in speech?

    And when you say “can be used on PC, MAC, iPhone and iPod touch”, do you mean PC as in “IBM-compatible” or as in “a computer running Windows”?

    • Aaron Saenz NachtVorst January 5, 2010 on 4:59 pm

      You do not have to pay for Blio. (Beer, I guess?) In this case, PC means Windows platform.

      • NachtVorst Aaron Saenz January 5, 2010 on 5:22 pm

        Hmm, I was afraid of that (on both counts).

        I prefer my software free as in speech (libre), and my OS too, that’s why I run Linux on my PC (hence my confusion on the meaning of PC, I always use PC to refer to hardware, as opposed to a Mac or Sun machine).

  • NachtVorst January 5, 2010 on 11:57 am

    When you say “Best of all, Blio is free.”, do you mean free as in beer or free as in speech?

    And when you say “can be used on PC, MAC, iPhone and iPod touch”, do you mean PC as in “IBM-compatible” or as in “a computer running Windows”?

    • Aaron Saenz NachtVorst January 5, 2010 on 12:59 pm

      You do not have to pay for Blio. (Beer, I guess?) In this case, PC means Windows platform.

      • NachtVorst Aaron Saenz January 5, 2010 on 1:22 pm

        Hmm, I was afraid of that (on both counts).

        I prefer my software free as in speech (libre), and my OS too, that’s why I run Linux on my PC (hence my confusion on the meaning of PC, I always use PC to refer to hardware, as opposed to a Mac or Sun machine).

  • Ben January 5, 2010 on 4:36 pm

    I might consider it when they get an OS X and Android version as these are the devices I use. Until these people can make an application that’s cross platform and available to the top 3 OS’s and all smartphones .. what makes them any different then the Kindle or the Nook. Same old DRM’d proprietary crap.

  • Ben January 5, 2010 on 12:36 pm

    I might consider it when they get an OS X and Android version as these are the devices I use. Until these people can make an application that’s cross platform and available to the top 3 OS’s and all smartphones .. what makes them any different then the Kindle or the Nook. Same old DRM’d proprietary crap.

  • Mike Perry January 5, 2010 on 4:58 pm

    From your description, I fail to see how Blio differs that much from PDF. For example, you write:

    “By preserving original publishing page layouts, Blio may be providing the nearest experience to actually reading a print book you can find. ”

    But I can already do that on my iPod touch with any of several PDF readers and the experience is sheer misery. There’s no way the ‘original published page layouts’ of a 6×9 inch book (much less an 8.5×11 inch document) can display on a tiny screen without text that is unreadably small or constant scrolling left and right as well as up and down. Silly hype can’t override grade-school geometry.

    What’s needed is not a replication of existing print layouts, but an epublishing scheme that’s smart enough to intelligently adapt to the platform it’s displaying on. For small screens, small pages are absolutely necessary. That’s what ePub and Mobibook do for uncomplicated text, and why both are popular. But it’s not what Blio does in any description I have read.

    A new and genuinely better scheme would be clever enough to handle illustrations, perhaps by intelligently moving them to a separate screen no matter how the text pages are breaking. It also needs to handle footnotes, endnotes, and cross-references in some helpful fashion. It can’t simply replicate the book on screen. It must do what books do, but in a way better adapted to digital devices with a wide variety of hardware specs.

    In short, all Kurzweil seems to have done is mimic what PDF and Adobe’s Reader already does (including reading text). That’s a time-wasting detour rather than a genuine breakthrough.

    • Aaron Saenz Mike Perry January 5, 2010 on 5:05 pm

      When comparing Blio to PDF…yeah, I’m not sure how much innovation Blio actually provides (hence the discussion in the article). However I would argue against a program that tries to reformat a page layout. Editors can spend hours getting a single page to look right during the original publication. Trying to replicate that on the fly with software is likely to be impossible at the moment. Sure, simple text-based pages would be simple to reformat to a new screen size. But when you have a document with embedded diagrams, photos, and text…I just don’t see how a laying it out again is going to work better than reading it with a zoom tool.

  • Mike Perry January 5, 2010 on 12:58 pm

    From your description, I fail to see how Blio differs that much from PDF. For example, you write:

    “By preserving original publishing page layouts, Blio may be providing the nearest experience to actually reading a print book you can find. ”

    But I can already do that on my iPod touch with any of several PDF readers and the experience is sheer misery. There’s no way the ‘original published page layouts’ of a 6×9 inch book (much less an 8.5×11 inch document) can display on a tiny screen without text that is unreadably small or constant scrolling left and right as well as up and down. Silly hype can’t override grade-school geometry.

    What’s needed is not a replication of existing print layouts, but an epublishing scheme that’s smart enough to intelligently adapt to the platform it’s displaying on. For small screens, small pages are absolutely necessary. That’s what ePub and Mobibook do for uncomplicated text, and why both are popular. But it’s not what Blio does in any description I have read.

    A new and genuinely better scheme would be clever enough to handle illustrations, perhaps by intelligently moving them to a separate screen no matter how the text pages are breaking. It also needs to handle footnotes, endnotes, and cross-references in some helpful fashion. It can’t simply replicate the book on screen. It must do what books do, but in a way better adapted to digital devices with a wide variety of hardware specs.

    In short, all Kurzweil seems to have done is mimic what PDF and Adobe’s Reader already does (including reading text). That’s a time-wasting detour rather than a genuine breakthrough.

    • Aaron Saenz Mike Perry January 5, 2010 on 1:05 pm

      When comparing Blio to PDF…yeah, I’m not sure how much innovation Blio actually provides (hence the discussion in the article). However I would argue against a program that tries to reformat a page layout. Editors can spend hours getting a single page to look right during the original publication. Trying to replicate that on the fly with software is likely to be impossible at the moment. Sure, simple text-based pages would be simple to reformat to a new screen size. But when you have a document with embedded diagrams, photos, and text…I just don’t see how a laying it out again is going to work better than reading it with a zoom tool.

      • Meredith Greene Aaron Saenz May 7, 2010 on 3:53 pm

        I agree with the overall PDF flaws regarding reformatting. As ePublishing novelists, my husband and I spend an enormous amount of time trying to search and destroy PDF re-formats in our books. It’s like having a stubborn editor with tunnel vision, who also has complete layout rights to your piece. We recently eased the problem by switching to EPUB via Calibre, but Blio gives me hope of an even better solution. Great piece.

  • MIchael B. January 5, 2010 on 5:03 pm

    while he (ray) is probably so smart he has a comma in his i.q., i am wondering what makes THIS application more compelling on the desktop (and ONLY windows 7 ?) than a multi-format (pdf,mobi,epub,txt,html,cbr,whoknowswhatother) reader/manager/converter and e-reader manager program like calibre (which also has a web front end and can communicate with most of the readers on the market).

    that is, until publishers get a clue and start INCLUDING rich/interactive media into a e-book. by which time i am sure calibre (and its ilk) will have the ability to display/manage/incorporate such, having a large, active community and being opensource/free (as in speech) software

  • MIchael B. January 5, 2010 on 1:03 pm

    while he (ray) is probably so smart he has a comma in his i.q., i am wondering what makes THIS application more compelling on the desktop (and ONLY windows 7 ?) than a multi-format (pdf,mobi,epub,txt,html,cbr,whoknowswhatother) reader/manager/converter and e-reader manager program like calibre (which also has a web front end and can communicate with most of the readers on the market).

    that is, until publishers get a clue and start INCLUDING rich/interactive media into a e-book. by which time i am sure calibre (and its ilk) will have the ability to display/manage/incorporate such, having a large, active community and being opensource/free (as in speech) software

  • B. Clay Shannon January 5, 2010 on 6:14 pm

    I wonder how well Blio would do at reproducing color photographs, such as in my latest book. Neither Kindle nor feedbooks are able to do much justice to them.

  • B. Clay Shannon January 5, 2010 on 2:14 pm

    I wonder how well Blio would do at reproducing color photographs, such as in my latest book. Neither Kindle nor feedbooks are able to do much justice to them.

  • JR January 5, 2010 on 7:38 pm

    I am wondering if Blio will be able to import other reader file formats. I currently use the .prc files from mobipocket. I want a reader for .prc that is updated regularly to fix bugs and new OS issues. I currently have over 200 books in .prc and want a reader that is updated.

    Since the fools at amazon purchased Mobipocket there has not been an update on Mobipocet for PC in almost 2 years. Before then, Mobipocket released updates almost weekly.

    Anybody have a little cheese to go with my whine? ;)

    • anonymous coward JR January 5, 2010 on 9:50 pm

      FBreader will suffice or maybe try out calibre

  • JR January 5, 2010 on 3:38 pm

    I am wondering if Blio will be able to import other reader file formats. I currently use the .prc files from mobipocket. I want a reader for .prc that is updated regularly to fix bugs and new OS issues. I currently have over 200 books in .prc and want a reader that is updated.

    Since the fools at amazon purchased Mobipocket there has not been an update on Mobipocet for PC in almost 2 years. Before then, Mobipocket released updates almost weekly.

    Anybody have a little cheese to go with my whine? ;)

    • anonymous coward JR January 5, 2010 on 5:50 pm

      FBreader will suffice or maybe try out calibre

  • Gerald E. Butler January 5, 2010 on 7:52 pm

    This is stupid! Why do I want the page formatting preserved. My screen has no relation to the standard page size of printed books. I want the content to flow to my screen size seamlessly (as HTML is intended to do and does do except when stupid, idiotic, graphics artists – who think they know what I think is a good layout – force the HTML layout to a fixed size).

    In short: THIS IS COMPLETELY USELESS!

  • Gerald E. Butler January 5, 2010 on 3:52 pm

    This is stupid! Why do I want the page formatting preserved. My screen has no relation to the standard page size of printed books. I want the content to flow to my screen size seamlessly (as HTML is intended to do and does do except when stupid, idiotic, graphics artists – who think they know what I think is a good layout – force the HTML layout to a fixed size).

    In short: THIS IS COMPLETELY USELESS!

  • anonymous coward January 5, 2010 on 9:48 pm

    I think this is a great idea. Competition makes for better devices and software as we’ve seen time and time again. Who else is tired of seeing a malformed ebook page? Though I think where this will shine is probably in the school/medical community. I hope is supports all the formats out there though. See calibre for an example of something that opens nearly every current format.

  • anonymous coward January 5, 2010 on 5:48 pm

    I think this is a great idea. Competition makes for better devices and software as we’ve seen time and time again. Who else is tired of seeing a malformed ebook page? Though I think where this will shine is probably in the school/medical community. I hope is supports all the formats out there though. See calibre for an example of something that opens nearly every current format.

  • Sean January 5, 2010 on 10:03 pm

    I read with interest the comments discussing the futility of maintaining a print page’s layout. Can I just throw the auditory side of this into the mix?

    As a blind computer user, I have a screen reader. using a speech synthesizer of my choice, with rate, pitch, inflection and voice settings particularly customised to my liking. Just because KNFB’s text to speech may be “high quality”, it mayn’t be to everyone’s taste.

    I applaud text to speech; I have to – without it my computing experiences would be virtually zero. but I don’t want a computer that sounds like a Human – I’ve not yet met a Human who can impart information to me at over 400 words per minute, be it fiction or source code, with the same level of efficacy.

    In the blind community, “self-voicing” apps (software that has speech builtin in some way) is nine times out of ten a complete hindrance to us, because in order to be the compitent users that we want to be, we must already have ways of using output (braille, Speech and so forth) without each individual computer program using different voices and command sets for the control thereof. Programs that can speak and highlight may well be useful to *some* blind people, but I submit for the majority of established computer users with any degree of sight loss who already use screen reading software that the product speaking for itself will be little cause for celebration.

  • Sean January 5, 2010 on 6:03 pm

    I read with interest the comments discussing the futility of maintaining a print page’s layout. Can I just throw the auditory side of this into the mix?

    As a blind computer user, I have a screen reader. using a speech synthesizer of my choice, with rate, pitch, inflection and voice settings particularly customised to my liking. Just because KNFB’s text to speech may be “high quality”, it mayn’t be to everyone’s taste.

    I applaud text to speech; I have to – without it my computing experiences would be virtually zero. but I don’t want a computer that sounds like a Human – I’ve not yet met a Human who can impart information to me at over 400 words per minute, be it fiction or source code, with the same level of efficacy.

    In the blind community, “self-voicing” apps (software that has speech builtin in some way) is nine times out of ten a complete hindrance to us, because in order to be the compitent users that we want to be, we must already have ways of using output (braille, Speech and so forth) without each individual computer program using different voices and command sets for the control thereof. Programs that can speak and highlight may well be useful to *some* blind people, but I submit for the majority of established computer users with any degree of sight loss who already use screen reading software that the product speaking for itself will be little cause for celebration.

  • Michael G. January 5, 2010 on 10:30 pm

    I’ve been using a multiplatform ebook reader for years – mobipocket. Palm Vx, WinMobile, PC. Lots of low cost ebooks from webscription.net. unfortunately, mobi’s change in ownership seems to be the end of new platform dev. That more than economics has changed Amazon from being my first source for handback editions of the books I also purchase electronically.
    Note also: that ALL of my electronic books are DRM free. On purpose. Just like my printed copies, but easier to carry. I went looking for my first new mp3 player in years last year. First requirement – not apple. First desired feature – support mobi/ereader (.pdb, .prc, .mobi) formats. Couldn’t find a one that had that feature. So I am now on a search for a new personal standard for ebook format.

  • Michael G. January 5, 2010 on 6:30 pm

    I’ve been using a multiplatform ebook reader for years – mobipocket. Palm Vx, WinMobile, PC. Lots of low cost ebooks from webscription.net. unfortunately, mobi’s change in ownership seems to be the end of new platform dev. That more than economics has changed Amazon from being my first source for handback editions of the books I also purchase electronically.
    Note also: that ALL of my electronic books are DRM free. On purpose. Just like my printed copies, but easier to carry. I went looking for my first new mp3 player in years last year. First requirement – not apple. First desired feature – support mobi/ereader (.pdb, .prc, .mobi) formats. Couldn’t find a one that had that feature. So I am now on a search for a new personal standard for ebook format.

  • Talking Clipboard January 6, 2010 on 9:40 am

    Well Talking Clipboard has most of the functionalities for quite a time. Color Book, Read Aloud, PDF, ePUB support. Bookmarking, auto scrolling, highlighting current spoken word.

  • Talking Clipboard January 6, 2010 on 5:40 am

    Well Talking Clipboard has most of the functionalities for quite a time. Color Book, Read Aloud, PDF, ePUB support. Bookmarking, auto scrolling, highlighting current spoken word.

  • Phoghat January 6, 2010 on 12:11 pm

    “Tablet PCs and Netbooks, which are set to get cheaper and more popular in the next year, may kill the market for dedicated e-reader devices. In the end, it could all come down to the e-book itself.”
    Why is e ink so important? Battery life? I don’t need a battery life of weeks. I can get by with 10-12 hours before recharging.
    With e ink there’s no color
    Hell even daily newspapers print in color, so why would I want to give that up.
    I’m using an i Touch as a reader, and if Apple doesn’t come out with its tablet soon, I’ll just buy a netbook

  • Phoghat January 6, 2010 on 8:11 am

    “Tablet PCs and Netbooks, which are set to get cheaper and more popular in the next year, may kill the market for dedicated e-reader devices. In the end, it could all come down to the e-book itself.”
    Why is e ink so important? Battery life? I don’t need a battery life of weeks. I can get by with 10-12 hours before recharging.
    With e ink there’s no color
    Hell even daily newspapers print in color, so why would I want to give that up.
    I’m using an i Touch as a reader, and if Apple doesn’t come out with its tablet soon, I’ll just buy a netbook

  • Aaron Saenz January 6, 2010 on 5:11 pm

    Post has been Updated. The Blio reader website now has more to offer than “it’s coming.” Bookstore looks to launch in Feb.

  • Aaron Saenz January 6, 2010 on 1:11 pm

    Post has been Updated. The Blio reader website now has more to offer than “it’s coming.” Bookstore looks to launch in Feb.

  • Nerdie McSweatervest January 6, 2010 on 8:29 pm

    “Best selling electronic books on Amazon are usually free”

    Uh, what? The were mostly 10 bucks last time I looked, which was just now.

  • Nerdie McSweatervest January 6, 2010 on 4:29 pm

    “Best selling electronic books on Amazon are usually free”

    Uh, what? The were mostly 10 bucks last time I looked, which was just now.

  • Lucian Armasu April 3, 2010 on 10:48 pm

    Is blio reader still coming? Ray said it will be available in february and it’s april now… I thought they might just wait for ipad launch but I see it’s still not ready. Any updates??

    • ThierryA Lucian Armasu May 4, 2010 on 3:56 pm

      It’s even may now… bad publicity, poor organisation from someone claiming (and rightly so imho) to see into the future
      I’d rather be waiting for the Ipad than for Blio: I woudn’t miss the Ipad :)
      Come on now seriously ? Where is Blio ???

  • Lucian Armasu April 3, 2010 on 6:48 pm

    Is blio reader still coming? Ray said it will be available in february and it’s april now… I thought they might just wait for ipad launch but I see it’s still not ready. Any updates??

    • ThierryA Lucian Armasu May 4, 2010 on 11:56 am

      It’s even may now… bad publicity, poor organisation from someone claiming (and rightly so imho) to see into the future
      I’d rather be waiting for the Ipad than for Blio: I woudn’t miss the Ipad :)
      Come on now seriously ? Where is Blio ???

  • Meredith Greene May 7, 2010 on 7:53 pm

    I agree with the overall PDF flaws regarding reformatting. As ePublishing novelists, my husband and I spend an enormous amount of time trying to search and destroy PDF re-formats in our books. It’s like having a stubborn editor with tunnel vision, who also has complete layout rights to your piece. We recently eased the problem by switching to EPUB via Calibre, but Blio gives me hope of an even better solution. Great piece.

  • SMM October 12, 2010 on 5:08 pm

    shame that it appears that only people in america might want to read a book – ie only those US credit card billing addresses can pay for books?