Saturday, January 9, 2010

Blio: Kurzweil vs. Kurzweil?

CyberSERT is back after a bit of an extended holiday (at least, from blogging) with some exciting news. Assistive technology's living patriarch, Raymond Kurzweil, has unveiled a new e-book reader called Blio. It boasts several features familiar to users of Kurzweil 3000: preserving the layout & colours of the original text, text-to-speech, sticky notes, highlighters, and the ability to add voice notes. While Blio is not likely to have the full complement of features found in Kurzweil 3000, it will have some features that sets it apart from K3K: most notably, (1) it rings in at everyone's favourite price-point -- FREE -- and (2) the user interface is not butt-ugly... In fact, Blio has some veritable eye candy (whereas K3K's looks could arguably be compared to eye gruel). There are 3D animation effects, including pages turning. Something I like about Blio is that it not only has synthesized speech for reading texts, but it also allows bimodal reading with recorded human voices. So the words being spoken by the author or actors are highlighted in real-time. You can have human expression and different voices for characters; e-books can truly come to life.

Another interesting difference is that this app will be available not only for PCs, but iPhone as well. There are vague mentions of netbooks (Linux?) and other mobile devices, which we may see in the future. What is clear, though, is that Blio, while free, will have some kind of e-book store where you would download copyrighted materials for a fee.

What impact will this have on the AT marketplace, and particularly on Kurzweil 3000? I'm not sure whether Ray Kurzweil is the least bit involved any more with the software that bears his name, with Cambium Learning Technologies, now owning the brand. While I doubt that Blio will have enough features to compete directly with K3000, having a high-quality reader available for free will undoubtedly eat into the grossly overpriced K3K's market share.

I'm very curious as to how the paid content will impact our schools. Right now, schools are purchasing hard copies of books, and students with disabilities have the right to make a digital copy of the texts the school supplies for them. Whether by scanning the materials or accessing pre-scanned versions, schools have not had to pay extra (at least not directly) for e-texts for disabled students. What's this going to do for school budgets? On one hand, the software is free, but on the other hand, the e-texts are not. Would this be penny-wise but pound-foolish to adopt? Stay tuned as details about Blio emerge. The release is expected in February 2010.

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