Developer Findaway World began development of the bespoke devices for the Navy two years ago, and now 365 of them are being rolled out to ships and submarines, with each vessel initially receiving about five.
The company has already delivered similar gadgets to members of the US Army and other military personnel.
The brainchild of the Navy’s General Library Program, the electronic ink Kindle-alike has no internet capability, no removable storage, no camera and no way to add or delete content. This is to prevent it being used to smuggle secret military data ashore, take illicit photos, introduce computer malware or record covert conversations.
The books have been selected to keep the average sailor happy. But if readers’ tastes extend beyond bestsellers like the Game Of Thrones and Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, authors deemed popular with Navy readers like Tom Clancy and James Patterson, American classics and naval history, they could become a little bored.
Besides, if the titles were selected by popularity, doesn’t that mean more sailors have already read them? It’s certainly a lightweight selection compared to the Navy’s 108,000 digital library titles, but those are only available when sailors are ashore.
The key advantage is, of course, that a handful of e-readers takes up a lot less space than 300 books. But paper books never go wrong and don’t need charging when power consumption needs to be kept to a minimum.
Some cynics have commented that it allows the Navy to control what sailors read in the same way it controls what they eat and when they work and sleep.
Still, it beats being stuck on a six-month submarine tour with nothing but a dog-eared copy of Dan Brown’s latest and a November 2011 issue of Reader’s Digest. Brrrr.