The Blio eBook reader platform

Is the Blio eBook reader a middleware that sits between systems, or is it a platform? K-NFB prefers the second approach. No matter how you care to call it, Blio’s eBook reader will allow for users to enjoy device independence, and for publishers to enjoy the largest possible market penetration.

The reason for Blio being a platform rather than middleware is that in the digital publishing 2.0 eco-system the company has described, Blio is the platform that the user will consume content through, independent of which device they choose to utilise. So at some level it is at the end of that chain, rather than the middle.

Blio came under IT Enquirer’s attention when Quark sent us their press release in June of 2010, announcing deep support for the Blio platform. In that press release, there was mention of a 3D reader experience.

ebook publishing

The Blio eBook Reader offers a 3D book experience and much more.

The 3D reader experience is a somewhat logical effect of Blio being developed by K-NFB (Kurzweil and National Federation of the Blind). Blio is all about overcoming one of the major objections to the adoption of eBook reading: the user loses touch with what a book really is. Readers lose the look and feel of a particular book in favour of a generic, lowest common denominator electronic version.

“For a good deal of people, the book reading experience is about so much more than the words on the page, there is a feeling or a texture to the page that further reinforces what we are reading. The layout of the pages and the font selected for the book further inform that feeling. Nowhere is this more clear than in content that is graphical, offering an engaging layout and often utilising unique fonts, such as magazines, cookbooks, and children’s books,” said Mike Angelo, Sr. Product Marketing Manager.

So for Blio, K-NFB has focused on recreating that experience as accurately as possible. The Blio eBook reader not only recreates the pages as in the printed book, but also offers a 3D reading view, where the book is displayed in a 3D environment on screen and provides the user with a better sense of size, depth, and in some cases weight.

The Blio eBook reader will also also offer 3D page turning in this view which again is one of those almost subconscious elements that makes the ebook feel more real to the end user. All of this adds up to an eReader experience that is unique to Blio.

To deliver its rich visual capabilities, Blio will run off of the graphics processor, which gives more consistency from device to device as every form factor is now built to play games. This allowed the developers to really push beyond just the 3D rendering, and into the rich media aspects of embedded slide shows, videos, audio obviously, and interactive content such as games, quizzes, and other web content. “We designed Blio to deliver on the promise of what the eBook experience could be, rather than what it has been thus far,” mr. Angelo said.

Market share of the Blio eBook reader technology

“There are powerful players in the eBook reader market, most notably Apple and what they are offering with iBooks and Amazon with the Kindle. But these approaches are both still very centralised around specific hardware. Although I’m hesitant to make a claim on what share of the market we think we can lay claim to, we do feel that there is a sizeable segment out there that is looking for a hardware neutral solution that offers a much more enriching and engaging ebook experience,” said mr. Angelo.

Both the book publishing and magazine publishing markets will be able to benefit from the Blio platform. It is far easier to create engaging content for one platform that works on multiple devices than it is to upgrade the publishing solution in use with each new device that gets launched in the market.

“From a publishing perspective, it seems an easier path to create engaging content, which from our perspective is greatly helped through innovative tools such as QuarkXPress with its direct export to the Blio format later this year,” said mr. Angelo.

The distribution of the content, which is handled through partner Baker & Taylor, the industry leader in delivering physical and digital media, will help book publishers too.

Book publishing to each ebook reader individually can quickly become inefficient and ineffective, as publishing system vendors will upgrade their system with each device, forcing the publisher to keep track of various publishing channels that in essence all deliver the same user experience. It’s also costly to the vendors who have to upgrade their system with each new device that gets released. Finally, vendors may have little choice but to play catch up with devices being launched.

Most vendors’ current offerings therefore can be called ‘point solutions’. However, by tackling the problem in this way, an entirely new set of problems pops up that don’t relate to the business of content creation. “There are technology considerations, engineering considerations for the variety of platforms you inevitably want to target, distribution of the app itself, distribution of the content to the app, and that is all over and above the need to repurpose your content for it to include dynamic, interactive, emotionally engaging content that leverages the capabilities of an eReading solution,” said mr. Angelo.

“Solving these problems on your own can be a costly proposition, one that only the most aggressive publishers seem to tackle in an effort to stay ahead. Everyone else seems to have been waiting for the “real” solution to fall into place, rather than the custom one-offs,” said mr. Angelo. This, he believes, will make people definitely see the need for Blio.

“In fact a good deal already do, simply because this is the first platform that delivers everything that they’ve been asking for in a manner that was built for a variety of content types and for distribution on a variety of devices,” he said.

Availability of the Blio eBook Reader Software

The first white labeled versions of Blio will be available in July when one of K-NFB’s OEM partners begins shipping their devices. The fully Blio branded version will be available shortly thereafter.

Blio will have the capability of expanding from day one to add additional reading voices for the read aloud feature. But that will be the only expansion set at launch time. The ability to assign different character voices for each of the characters in a book is a feature that will be delivered in a later version of Blio.

An integration with Web Content Management Systems like WordPress 3.0 and Drupal is not included with the first version. However, this is an area Blio’s engineers are actively investigating because they feel this is a logical step in how eBook reading and creating content will progress.

The PC version will be the first out the door. This will be followed closely by the iPhone and iPad versions. Additional variations for other devices, including the Mac, are on the roadmap following the iPad release.