Despite all the buzz about Apple’s iPad tablet and how it could be useful for reading electronic textbooks, a new software program on the way might hold even more promise for education.
Blio, a free eReader program that is expected to be available in February, reportedly will allow users to read more than a million electronic books on nearly any computer or portable device, with the ability to highlight and annotate text, hear the text read aloud, and more.
Blio was announced at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas and is the brainchild of education technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil, creator of Kurzweil Educational Systems and a range of assistive technology products.
Perhaps the software’s most impressive feature is that it can support the original layout, font, and graphics of any book in full color, its creators say. It also can support embedded multimedia such as video and audio, and readers have the ability to highlight, annotate, and share information.
Blio isn’t yet available, but already it’s backed by Baker & Taylor, one of the world’s largest publishers, as well as Elsevier, Hachette, HarperCollins, Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, and Wiley. Blio users will have access to more than 1 million books altogether, its makers say—including a large selection of current bestselling titles.
Lisa Galloni, partner relationship manager for Blio, said the software has had tremendous support from publishers because it can preserve any book’s original layout and graphics.
Its flexibility is appealing as well, Galloni said.
“Because it’s not attached to any one device like a Kindle, it’s not restrictive,” she said.
As a user downloads eBooks, these are permanently stored in a personal virtual library, Galloni said. The entire library seamlessly migrates to up to five devices per user, any of which can be mobile.
“What’s great about it is that since all these devices are synched, you can read seamlessly,” she said. “Say I am reading a textbook on page 23, and then I leave my computer and decide to read on the bus via my iPhone. When I click on that book, it will still be on page 23.”
Because all texts are stored virtually, all of the user’s highlights and annotations are saved as well.
Users also reportedly can:
- Create a personalized list of reference web sites, for one-touch lookup of highlighted phrases;
- Adjust reading speed and font size;
- Translate to or from English in an embedded translation window; and
- Insert text, drawings, audio, images, or video notes directly into the content. These are saved and can be exported to create lists or study materials.
Another feature that could prove useful for assistive and language learning is Blio’s read-aloud function. A synthesized voice can read texts aloud using text-to-speech functionality, synchronized with follow-along word highlighting, so a user can look and listen at the same time.
Amazon.com’s popular Kindle eReader also includes text-to-speech capability, but in a concession to publishers, Amazon requires users to turn on this functionality themselves. Turning on this feature of the Kindle currently requires users to navigate through screens of text menus, which is a problem for users who are visually impaired.