Back in June of this year our Patently Apple site noted that Samsung was working on a 12.2" tablet with an HD IGZO display. Our report further noted that the new tablet was being aimed at the education market. On Tuesday, Pocket-lint found Samsung's US Federal Communications Commission filing confirming that the new tablet is on the way. In October Google filed for a patent titled "Systems and Methods for Manipulating user Annotations in Electronic Books," which will support Samsung's hardware in education. Last month Apple's CEO Tim Cook boasted that Apple held a commanding lead in the educational market with 94% market share. Apparently Google and Samsung are preparing their counter attack that could come as early as 2014.
Google's Patent Background
Even as widespread use of the Web reaches its twentieth anniversary, there has been little change in how people make use of textbooks. Students still fill their backpacks with as many of the five-pound books as will fit, and the impact of such paper-based learning is felt not only in students' backs, but in the carbon footprint of all of the infrastructure required to supply, use and dispose of such materials. A change of just a few pages in a textbook may make it obsolete and call for a new version to be printed; students carry not just this week's chapters with them everywhere, but last month's and next month's chapters as well.
Although some attempts have been made to transform study material from Gutenberg's era to the digital era, some of the advantages of using paper books for study purposes have not been replicated. Students from time immemorial have used their texts in different ways. Some highlight portions of particular interest; others place notes in the margins to keep track of clarifications of difficult concepts. Some used textbooks are more useful than new ones because they naturally fall open to the most important pages after repeated use, or because particularly important pages or sections are more dog-eared than others. Electronic reading devices have not to date provided interfaces to implement some of these subtle yet important features that help students learn from their texts most efficiently.
It would be advantageous to provide improved interface mechanisms for students to obtain, read, study from, and otherwise use textbook content with some of the tablet, laptop and other electronic devices that are now entering widespread use.
Google's Electronic Book Reader for the Education Market
Google's invention relates to an electronic book reader including input recognition, annotation, and collaboration subsystems. Improved interaction methods provide more intuitive use of electronic books for studying.
The provided annotation functionality allows a reader (e.g. a student) to make notes as is common with conventional paper books. The collaboration subsystem provides functionality to share these notes with others, enabling group learning on a variety of scales, from small study groups to collaborations with worldwide scope.
In one aspect, the electronic book reader is configured to provide tabs or other interface controls through which a user can access a syllabus for a particular course, corresponding textbooks, the student's own electronic notebook for the course, and lecture material (whether actual audio/video of the lecture, a slide deck used with the lecture, or related materials from the lecture).
The reader is further configured to facilitate collaboration not only with other students, but with a professor or other teacher, or a teacher's assistant assigned to help students with the class. In one aspect, the reader is configured to recognize the student's hand gesture in the form of a question mark on a textbook page to open a question to a moderator (e.g., teaching assistant). The student can then type in a question, and the moderator will know which portion of the textbook relates to the question based on the reader transmitting that information along with the question to the moderator. The reader provides a number of other predefined gestures and is further configured to allow users to define their own gestures (e.g., scribbling in the initials of a friend opens a chat with that friend, again keyed to the currently displayed portion of the textbook).
A Bookmarking System
In another aspect, the reader is configured to facilitate navigation through a textbook by providing various user options for provisionally or tentatively moving through the text, for instance to temporarily move to a glossary section before returning to the main text, or temporarily moving from a question page to a portion of the main text relating to the question. By using suitable gestures, the student navigates between these options in a provisional fashion that allows easy return to the main section of interest. In a related aspect, a bookmarking system facilitates easy access to portions the student identifies as important.
In a further aspect, the reader is configured to allow a student to attach annotations to an electronic textbook, in much the same way as a student might write notes in a conventional paper textbook. These notes can take on a wider range of forms than is possible conventionally. For example, a student can attach audio and video as well as more traditional textual annotations. In a related aspect, the reader is configured to provide tools for converting student annotations into computer searchable and manipulable form.
An Annotation "Pouring" Effect
In yet another aspect, the reader is configured to communicate with an accelerometer subsystem on the user's computer to allow the user to "pour" annotations off of, or onto, the user's view of the textbook to either remove clutter or provide annotations as the user may require at any particular time. The reader is configured to permit students to show all annotations, to show only certain annotations, to marginalize annotations, or to hide all annotations as preferred at any particular time. Apple filed for a patent on such a feature in July 2011.
Easy Transfer of Notes from Tablet to Notebook
Google furthrer notes that the reader is configured to allow students to use gestures to select portions of a textbook to copy over to the student's electronic notebook, for instance where such copying might provide a more efficient way of connecting concepts than merely annotating the textbook with notes. In a specific aspect, a user interface allows the student to include more or less information in such a guide, based on the student's needs and available study time.
Personalized Study Guide
In another facet of their invention Google notes that the reader is configured to assist a student in creating a personalized study guide. The presence of annotations made by the student and/or the prevalence of annotations made by other users informs which portions of an electronic book are included. The reader provides controls to allow the student to tailor the precise criteria used in generating the study guide to help meet their specific needs and requirements.
Book Content Hosting System
In Google's patent FIG. 1 noted below we see a high-level diagram illustrating a networked environment 100 that includes a book content hosting system 110. Although the system is particularly suited for textbooks, it should be noted that many of the features are equally applicable to various other types of books. The content hosting system makes available for purchase, licensing, rental or subscription textbooks that can be viewed on user and content provider computers using a reader module 181 or browser 182. The content hosting system and computers are connected by a network 170 such as a local area network or the Internet.
Reader Module & Database System
In Google's patent FIG. 2 noted below we see an illustration of a functional view of a reader module 181 used as part of an electronic textbook system.
In Google's patent FIG. 3 noted above we see a functional view of the system database that stores data related to the textbook content hosting system. The system database may be divided based on the different types of data stored within. This data may reside in separate physical devices, or it may be collected within a single physical device.
Android Tablet for Education Market Examples
In Google's patent FIG. 5 noted below we see an illustrated Android based tablet computer with an "open eye" icon which indicates that the user wants to show their annotations. When the user closes this icon, the closed eye-icon indicates that their notes are hidden.
The illustration also illustrates a virtual sticky note, complete with a user control for settings (which in one embodiment includes an OCR option to convert the handwritten text to clean machine-searchable text and an option to toggle between handwritten and machine text versions for display).
In one embodiment, a small "resize handle" icon appears at the bottom of the note to allow the note to be made larger or smaller as the user may desire, and an "X" in the upper right hand corner of the note allows the user to delete the note if desired. The small gray bars referenced above are replaced with a "TV" icon indicating a video annotation as well as a small green circle with a number in it indicating how many comments have been entered concerning this annotation (e.g., by other students in a collaborative study session).
A similar loudspeaker icon with a small green circle and corresponding number indicates an audio annotation and comments on that. Likewise, the highlighting and handwritten text previously indicated by vertical lines is now fully displayed. Also in this display, an indication of the current bookmarked status of the page is included in the upper left-hand corner, along with an "X" which, when touched by the user, removes the bookmark.
In Google's patent FIG. 7 noted below we see an Android tablet configured as an electronic book reader, including a contextual menu; patent FIG. 8 illustrates operation of the contextual menu of FIG. 7.
In Google's patent FIG. 8, there is shown a progression of contextual menus. Specifically, menu 801 includes five user choices related to annotations, in this case color, stroke, chat, "sync and share," that the user can select. In this instance, color denotes a choice of a color for annotations, stroke denotes gesture recognition activation (and in alternate embodiments, various gesture-related configuration and operation choices), chat denotes activation of a chat window, sync denotes synchronizing the user's display with that of other connected students (e.g., to share annotations), and share denotes sharing of annotations with other students.
The latter two choices also have small triangular blocks in the lower right of their respective menu portions in the menu; in this embodiment these blocks indicate that the choices will spawn additional user choices (i.e., not result in any action being taken immediately without the opportunity for further user selection, for example by presentation of a further menu of user choices).
A central circle 802 with an "X" in it provides a mechanism to close the circular menu, and is primarily used for newer users who may not understand that menu 801 can also be closed by simply tapping outside of menu. In a related embodiment, small graphics rather than words are used to denote the user's options: An artist's palette for "color", a swoosh symbol for "gesture", a word bubble for "chat", a circle with rotating arrows for "sync", and a document with an arrow for "share".
Contextual menus, e.g., 801 are brought up in different forms based not only on location of the user's finger press (e.g., over body text of the book as opposed to over a user's own annotation), but also based on when the press is made (e.g., immediately after highlighting a section of text) and based on other triggering events (e.g., recently receiving a question or annotation from another student) that might warrant actions that would not be needed otherwise. By providing menus with context-driven choices, the need for interface "real estate" on the screen is reduced, since inapplicable choices simply do not appear rather than appearing in grayed-out text as is done with many conventional menu systems.
Google originally filed their patent application back in Q2 2013 and the US Patent Office published earlier in this quarter. Considering that this is a patent application, the timing of such a product to market is unknown at this time.
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