In part one of this series, we reviewed the Blio business model and how Blio has strategically catered to the needs of book publishers as well as readers. In this post, we will review what we know about the technology and functionality of Blio Reader and how it might enhance digital textbooks to move closer towards their potential as a interactive teaching tools.

Excerpt from part 1 of this series:

Blio reader is a fascinating digital publication platform which appears poised to grow rapidly across multiple devices. Since medical textbooks are such a prime target for digital publishing, one can almost guarantee that Blio reader will be how a significant proportion of tomorrow’s medical students and health professionals will be reading.

Layout preservation

Blio’s preferred submission format from publishers is PDF (Adobe’s “portable document format”). As readers are aware, this text document format precisely specifies the exact layout of columns and pages as well as the type and images. This immediately differentiates Blio reader content from Kindle or iPad iBooks where the original pagination is lost. For volumes where layout is important, such as anatomy and pathology atlases, preserving the published layout will allow for a rich, colorful book-like experience. However, the trade off is that reading multi-column text on small screens (such as an iPhone or Android phone) will be require repeatedly panning left and right as the Blio reader will not re-flow the text to accommodate smaller screen widths .

In initial demos, it appears that the Blio reader software displays the text as images, rather than rendering the type using computer fonts. However, clicking on a text region allows the underlying text to be selected, which can then be copied and pasted. The software will allow for bookmarking, highlighting as well as note taking within the text. Interestingly, the user can paste a locally stored image or text (such as a hyperlink) directly into the notes, opening the door to using Blio reader as a powerful research tool.

Enhanced text

Using the software development kit (SDK), publishers can further “enhance” the text. Video files can be be embedded directly into the text, as long as the file size is reasonable. Larger files can be streamed from the internet. Publishers can also add quizzes, either in-line within the text or separately. However, the big caveat with these enhancements is that any additions to the layout will necessitate re-flowing the text and revising the book pagination and index. The additional costs associated with these changes means that, except for large sellers, older volumes will probably be offered un-enhanced for the time being.

Social media integration, presumably sharing on Facebook or Twitter, is also promised. Digital rights management (DRM) settings will be chosen by the publisher, the default will allow for viewing the document on up to five devices. This number, as well as user printing permission, can be set individually for each text by publishers.