Saturday, February 07, 2009

E-Books Go Mobile

The use of mobile phones as ebook readers in common in Japan, and is growing in the US and elsewhere. A number of publishers are making the leap (last month, for example, Books on Board announced their catalog of 20,000 books would be available for the iPhone).

Now comes word that Google is entering this market. Google has
launched a mobile phone version of Google Book Search that could could eventually grow to include the 1.5 million public domain books scanned as part of their digitization project.

The books currently exist as scanned images-- these mobile versions will be text created through optical character recognition. Where the computers produce only garbled text, readers can click on the sport to retrieve that part of the scanned image.

Not only does this open up smart phones to the vast public domain resources harvested through Google's digitization project, but this also shows that OCR technology has improved to the point where Google (at least) thinks it is ready for prime time.

Scanned images are just the first phase of bringing books into the digital world. Ebooks need to exist as digital text, and human-based projects like Project Gutenberg are probably proceeding too slowly. OCR is vital to the next phase of mass-digitization. We'll soon see if Google's timing is right.

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