University alumni create digital textbook reader

The founders hope their product will help digital textbook readers gain popularity.

Jie Hye, a Univeristy of Minnesota student in the English as a Second Language Program, shops for books on Monday in Coffman Bookstore.  Soon we may start to see more people buying electronic versions of their textbooks and less people in buying the paper versions.

Jie Hye, a Univeristy of Minnesota student in the English as a Second Language Program, shops for books on Monday in Coffman Bookstore. Soon we may start to see more people buying electronic versions of their textbooks and less people in buying the paper versions.

Jennifer Bissell

StudentsâÄô dreams of walking to class without carrying heavy textbooks are starting to come to fruition.
University of Minnesota students havenâÄôt been quick to embrace eBooks or the two eBook readers the University Bookstore sells, but a new tablet textbook company hopes to change that.
Kno, a company founded by two University alumni in Silicon Valley, has developed a textbook tablet specifically designed for students.
âÄúThe way students deal with textbooks is very different from entertainment reading,âÄù Kno co-founder Babur Habib, said. âÄúSo we concentrated and focused on what students really need in our device. ItâÄôs a dual screen tablet and the textbook looks like a textbook.âÄù
Habib graduated from the University in 1993 with a degree in electrical engineering, which he said was the foundation of his professional career and further study at both Stanford and Princeton universities.
With touch screen and Internet capabilities, the tabletâÄôs users can take handwritten notes, highlight passages, add post-it notes and click embedded hyperlinks within the bookâÄôs pages. The device also has a keyboard, calculator, calendar, web browser, notepad and can hold up to 10 semestersâÄô worth of material.
âÄúWhereas the iPad and Kindle have been tried on college campuses, they just arenâÄôt the right device for students,âÄù Kno spokeswoman Kathryn Kelly said. âÄúThey need to write in textbooks in their full glory and the size, and be able to take notes.âÄù
Kno will begin shipping preordered tablets Dec. 20.
Director of the University Bookstores Robert Crabb said he originally expected students by 2010 to be much more comfortable with eBooks than they are.
âÄúItâÄôs gotten off to a very slow start,âÄù Crabb said. âÄúWe carry close to 500 eBooks, but they donâÄôt sell well, even though the price is good on them.âÄù
At the University Bookstores, 5 percent of sales are eBooks, 30 percent are rental textbooks and the rest are either used or new.
âÄúI think thereâÄôs going to be a need for paper books for a long time,âÄù Crabb said. Students âÄúprefer them and I think that will be the case even when devices become more mature.âÄù
Currently the University Bookstore sells two digital textbook readers: the Sony Reader and the enTourage eDGe, which do not have the same capabilities as the Kno.
The price of a dual-screen Kno tablet is up to $899, but in the long run, Kelly said the tablet could end up saving students money. As digital textbooks are usually 30 percent to 50 percent cheaper, the tablet could eventually pay for itself. Kelly said the company estimated it would take the average student three semesters to break even.
At the beginning of the semester first-year students enrolled in the College of Education & Human Development were given new iPads to start the year.
Katie Follett, who was given an iPad, said she enjoyed using the device but was leery about the rumor that students would be required to buy their textbooks as eBooks on the iPad.
âÄúI think itâÄôd be nice to only have to carry the one thing,âÄù Follett, âÄúbut at the same time itâÄôs easier for me to be able to highlight and underline in the book.âÄù
When told about the capabilities of KnoâÄôs tablet textbook, like the ability to take notes on it, Follet said it might take a little while to get used to, but liked the idea.
âÄúItâÄôd be really cool if we can actually figure it out,âÄù Follet said. âÄúItâÄôd be fun to have it.âÄù