With its monochrome touch screen and the form factor of a sandwich, WikiReader won't be mistaken for an iPod touch. This despite the fact that it's the product of former Apple designer Thomas Meyerhoffer, more recently known for his surfboard designs.
But neither will it drain battery power with the insatiable thirst of Apple's portable electronics. WikiReader, loaded with over three million English language articles from Wikipedia, can survive for months on two AAA batteries.
The $99 device, launched on Tuesday, aims to make Wikipedia mobile and more useful in the context of education.
Openmoko CEO Sean Moss-Pulz describes WikiReader as "a whimsical look at the joy of learning."
It's not an Internet connected device, as the reading tablet rumored to be coming from Apple next year is expected to be. It's designed to accept microSD cards as an update medium for Wikipedia content.
Users can download quarterly Wikipedia updates for free from the Wikipedia Web site, then transfer the file to a microSD card for installation. Or, in keeping with the Netflix model, they can purchase bi-annual updates by mail for $29 per year, which some may find preferable to downloading a massive 4+ Gbyte file every three months.
The problem with this approach of course is that Wikipedia's strength is its online editorial process, by which errors, omissions, and bias are, mostly, ironed out. Without an Internet connection, any inaccuracies in Wikipedia articles will persist for months, at least until the next update is loaded into the device.
At the same time, there are advantages to Openmoko's approach: Thanks to the device's lack of connectivity and parental controls, WikiReader can be used by kids without the constant parental oversight that would be advisable for online Wikipedia research.
In addition, Internet connectivity may mean waiting and frustration if the connection is slow, as it often is for mobile devices. A glance at the iTunes App Store reviews of the Wikimedia Foundation's Wikipedia app for the iPhone shows that complaints about the long load times for articles are common.
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