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Digital Reading Terminology

Posted on Tuesday, October 26, 2010 at 4:51 PM

A handy glossary of digital reading vocabulary for editors.

By Meredith L. Dias

There are a great many devices available for reading digital content. You may already be using some of them at home or in your editorial department. However, for many, the technology can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. This month, we have compiled a glossary of devices and terms to help identify and differentiate between portable digital reading devices.

Digital Reading Terminology

E-reader: A computing device, usually a unitasker, engineered specifically for consumption of e-books and digital magazines and newspapers. E-readers come in a variety of sizes and offer a wide range of features, from annotations to 3G connectivity. (Examples: Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader)

Laptop: A portable personal computer, often with similar specifications to a desktop computer. Characterized by its ability to sit on a user's lap. (Examples: Toshiba Satellite, MacBook, HP Pavilion, Dell Inspiron)

Mobile device: A blanket term that describes any pocket-sized computer (e.g., iTouch), PDA, or smartphone.

Netbook: A smaller version of a laptop with lower specifications, often geared toward Internet browsing and on-the-go word processing. Netbooks are engineered for longer battery life than their larger laptop counterparts. (Examples: Acer Aspire, HP Mini, ASUS Eee, Toshiba Mini)

PDA (personal digital assistant): A palm-sized computer or smartphone that allows users to manage information (e.g., appointments, contacts, etc.). Many modern smartphones have integrated PDA functionality, so there is some overlap between PDAs and smartphones. (Examples: iPhone, iTouch, Palm Pre, Blackberry)

Smartphone: An advanced mobile phone with Internet connectivity via Wi-Fi or 3G networks. Other advanced features include PDA functionality, on-the-go word processing, social networking, and email. (Examples: iPhone, Android, Blackberry)

Tablet computer: A portable computer characterized by touchscreen maneuvering and virtual keyboard. Some models offer traditional keyboards users can plug into USB ports. (Examples: iPad and the upcoming Blackberry Playbook)

For Your Consideration: A New Term

All of the devices above share an important feature: portability. While some are more unwieldy than others, any of the above devices can be transported to and fro' with relative ease -- unlike, say, a desktop computer. We find that there is no commonplace term to categorize all of the devices -- the laptops, the netbooks, the smartphones, the tablets -- that facilitate on-the-go digital reading. For simplicity's sake, Editors Only has devised a new term for this purpose: portable digital readers (PDRs). You will likely see this term pop up again in our future coverage of mobile and tablet publishing.

Why the New Term?

We felt that a blanket term like "PDR" was necessary, particularly given the wide range of digital reading devices and the development of non-portable technology like Google TV. We wanted to differentiate between the devices that anchor readers to the nearest outlet and those that run on battery power and can be taken virtually anywhere, much like a print magazine. PDRs include not only the dedicated devices like the e-readers, but also devices capable of various other functions. Essentially, any portable device upon which someone may read a digital book, magazine, or newspaper qualifies as a PDR.

There is overlap between some of the terms on the list (e.g., between smartphones and PDAs), but there doesn't seem to be one term to unite all of these portable reading devices. For instance, while the term "mobile" applies to the pocket-sized devices in our glossary, it doesn't apply to the laptops, netbooks, e-readers, and most tablets. Similarly, the term "e-reader" doesn't really fit the other devices on the list, which tend to be multitaskers. It is the word "portable" that unites them all.

So which PDRs do you use? I remain faithful to my rather large (but, oh, so slick) 17-inch Toshiba Satellite, reading digital galleys of books for review while the graphics processor warms my lap. Someday, my schedule may demand a shift to an even more portable device that allows me to read digital content while on my lunch hour or during my commute. For the time being, though, I like to leave the Internet at home or in my office. But thanks to the Editors-Only-coined PDR classification, I can feel like a part of the rapidly expanding digital reading culture rather than a total Luddite!

Meredith L. Dias is senior research editor of Editors Only.

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