Saturday, February 16, 2008

"Reading Books with Nintendo-DS"

I mentioned before that I hadn't seen anyone reading a book with a cell phone (based on direct observation of the screens of my fellow vertical sardines on the crush-rush trains), but today I saw someone reading a book with an electronic device. Not a cell phone, but a Nintendo-DS, which seems to work quite well for reading Japanese, as if you turn it sideways, it even resembles a book with text on both the left and right screens, similar to the open pages of a real book. I'm not sure how well the very narrow screens would work for horizontal English, but the vertical Japanese I saw looked fine. Easy to read (if you understand all the characters that is) lines of text running from top to bottom.

Considering the narrowness of the screen, for English, it would probably be easier to read with the screens horizontal. It looked pretty cool being held with the screens vertical though - rather like a real book! It did occur to me though, that the backlights in the screens must keep battery life on the short side. If they make a folding two-screen device that utilizes incident light instead of backlighting (which they should be able to do just for displaying text - something like old digital watches), and the screens are a little bigger... *and* if the device runs an open-source software like Linux, then I'll rush out and get one.

Seeing a book displayed on the Nintendo-DS, it seems like something I would like, but only if I could drop in my own text files. (The screens of most cell phone are too small to work very well for this application.)

I think I've figured out what's what with recent articles outside Japan about cell-phone books here. There have been articles outside Japan about "cell phone books" in Japan, and I think it's being assumed that people are reading books on cell phones. It could be that this is also happening, but what I've seen on the local media over here are stories about books *written* with cell phones, and then printed as regular (on paper) books.

To understand why someone would even attempt to write a book with a cell phone instead of a device with a proper keyboard, consider a few things:

1) the vast majority of people here get around by train instead of car (in the cities in any case - the countryside is another matter), so they have travel time to stand (not very often sit) and write with a pocketable device. (I've seen a couple of loonies who harass people for using cell phones in any capacity on the train, but generally, writing text with one is considered okay (in contrast with talking, which is considered very nearly absolutely taboo now).

2) In a practical sense, for a lot of people here (and everywhere, or is there something unique about this?), their cell phone is their computer, and so all their personal e-mail and writing is done with the one device.

3) When writing in Japanese with a standard keyboard, people go through two conversion processes with their text. First from "romaji" (western A-Z characters) to hiragana (a Japanese phonetic script), and then from hiragana to kanji (the complicated characters originally from China). With cell phones, they just go directly from hiragana input to conversion to kanji, so while they're losing speed with thumb input, they're gaining it in a simpler input process. (There is also the option of direct hiragana input with a standard keyboard, but for touch typing, it makes more sense to just learn one input method, which can then be used for both English and Japanese.) People who can touch type can still write more quickly with a full-size keyboard, but for someone who hasn't learned to type well, it can even be faster to input text with a cell phone via direct hiragana input.....

Lyle (Hiroshi) Saxon

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