I’m pretty certain that eBook readers are about to take off big time over the next year or two. I’m less certain that hardware-based eBook readers like the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and Sony eBook Readers are going to be runaway success stories. Instead, I see Amazon, B&N, and other companies releasing eBook applications that can run on desktop, laptop, and tablet computers as well as smartphones running mobile operating systems.
Amazon has already released versions of its Kindle eBook reader for the iPhone, BlackBerry, and PC. And I’m pretty sure the company would be perfectly happy if customers started buying books on those platforms in large numbers and stopped buying Kindle hardware. And ultimately, I think that’s the most likely scenario, because why spend hundreds of dollars on a device that only reads eBooks when you may already have a phone or tablet that can do the job nearly as well?
So I’m not surprised to see a report today that PC maker Acer has decided to drop its plan to build a dedicated eBook reader. Dozens of companies had dedicated eBook readers on display at CES in early January, but I don’t expect very many of these devices to make it to market given the relatively low consumer demand.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some advantages to devices like the Kindle. They offer a higher contrast reading experience that feels more like paper — and have battery life that’s measured in days or weeks rather than hours. But despite what your parents told you, staring at a digital screen all day isn’t going to make you go blind (as long as you look away occasionally to reduce eye strain), and there are some advantages to reading text on an LCD display. You can read in bed in the dark, display full color pictures, and avoid the slow screen refresh times that you have with e-Ink displays.
because why spend hundreds of dollars on a device that only reads eBooks when you may already have a phone or tablet that can do the job nearly as well?
That “nearly” is key for a lot of us. I have a laptop and a Kindle, and I have no desire at all to use my laptop for ebooks. The e-ink technology is far easier on my eyes; the battery life is in days or weeks, not hours; the Kindle weighs far less than any laptop I could afford; and I can read outside, which is inadvisable at best on an LCD screen.
For people who really love to read and read a lot, every day, dedicated readers really do have their place.
Excellent. This is what makes e-book readers wonderful devices. Now lets break down what may be coming out in the future. In a few months it looks like we’ll have devices with switchable screens which can go from high contrast to vivid full color, so you can read it outdoors, and don’t have the screen refresh performance penalties iInk screens have. They will weight about the same as a Kindel, they will have battery life expectancies when reading books in the day range, and when being used for active content in the 8-10 hour range. They will have an OS that allows you to add apps. They are roughtly the same form factor as the Kindel except that it’s all touch screen. And the proposed prices appear to be from just about the base Kindel price, to about the price of the Kindel DX.
If you were going to buy a e-book reading device in six months, which would you choose? Would you still choose the dedicated device given that it would give you access to MORE content?
Well… it depends. First, I don’t want a bloody touch screen on my reading device!!! Not having fingerprints all over the Kindle screen is a feature for me, not a bug. If devices have a dedicated gesture area or come with some nanobot screen-cleaning fairy, then awesome. If not, I’ll keep my dedicated ereader with it’s smudge-free screen that is meant for reading, not touching.
Also, weighing “about the same” as a Kindle is a big range. I wouldn’t want anything more than a few ounces more for real reading. (The iPad weighs almost twice as much as my K2.) And are all these other things that it’s going to do enough that I can leave my laptop at home? If I can, that’s one thing. But that means the device had better play more than one video codec (*cough iPad cough*), allow me to add my own content (e.g. is not a locked down OS), and have *really* excellent battery life. And I don’t want to pay $1000 for it either.
I’m just not persuaded — yet — that having a device that does one thing and does it really, really well is a terrible thing, and that’s what Kindle is for me as an e-reader. I’m happy to carry my Kindle around daily along with my phone, and to travel with a laptop/netbook as well when I need to.
Well said Lynn. You make an excellent counter argument. If anything you are give a great perspective because you use ereaders. I don’t own an ereader, however I would be a bit irritated being upsold a tablet style device when all you want is an ereader. People overlook battery life. Think about it. A week vs. 1/2 day or 3/4 day. Enough said. I think often the tech world is really out of touch with the reality of the everyday common user. The common user is not a tech geek.
“I’m less certain that hardware-sbased eBook readers … are going to be runaway success stories…”
You’ll proof wrong in the near Future!
I think this really comes down to who the ereaders are marketed towards. There is a vast segment of the population who buy books, but aren’t overly computer literate and have no plans to become computer savvy. Those types will buy ereaders. They don’t need a tablet. A week or more battery life is what this market wants. Would they sacrifice that battery life and pay a lot more for an iPad or tablet? No I don’t think so.
I think most times people confuse the purpose of an ereader. How many people read books at home vs. while outside? My guess is 80% inside. Under this breakdown people don’t need their ereader to surf the internet. It’s something they simply do not need or want. Well you might if you were a geek who has deep pockets. A smartphone and ereader out in public is more than sufficient. Lastly if the ereader market wasn’t large, how is it that the Kindle is the #1 selling item on Amazon.com?
In terms of Acer, yes, they are smart in a way. Wait and see what people actually want first. Then decide. Most companies are deciding for us as to what we want. It’s that big rush to get the tablet onto the market thinking that people who want an ereader must need a tablets functionality.
You don’t think that the vast segment of the population that buys books but
aren’t that computer literate might not just keep buying… books?
I suppose some people keep buying vinyl records too. Are those better than MP3’s? I suppose how much space you have in your house for storage. I think I will refer to Kindle being the #1 selling item on the biggest online retailer in the world as indicator enough where the trend is going. Price is the only real issue for ereaders. That and a bit of educating the public about ereader benefits (font size, dictionary, etc). Acer do computers and actually know nothing about the reading market. Amazon I would suggest know the reading market rather well.
Or it’s a marketing ploy by the #1 retailer in the world to hype the only device they are responsible for bringing to the market. They don’t publish either the method they use for determining how they generate the sales ranking, the volume of sales, or even the total number shipped in the 3 years they’ve been selling the product. This is a quote from Good morning Silicon Valley on January 29th of this year:
For competitive reasons, Amazon has kept tight-lipped about the number of Kindle e-readers it has sold, sticking to generalities like “best-selling” and “most gifted.” But in the course of reporting strong Q4 earnings Thursday, CEO Jeff Bezos finally came out with a number … sort of. “Millions of people now own Kindles,”
Later in the article we get the following: “According to said source, the total number of all types of Kindles in users’ hands reached 3 million last month”
So… That’s pretty good… But that’s not even 1% of the U.S. population, of which 52% read more than 3 books per year according to the last census.
You could make a very strong argument that the only people buying ebook readers ARE geeks, and the more computer savvy book readers, which are why they took the plunge and bought a relatively very expensive, very functionally limited device to get a very minor discount on the content they’re reading.
One could make a very strong argument that this market is also about to be decimated by similar form factor multi-function devices like tablets, which is what a number of analysts reports I’ve been reading lately are predicting.
And btw, there is a growing movement of audiophiles who are going back to all analog sound technologies like Vinyl, because they claim the sound quality is noticeably higher when the music doesn’t go from a analog to digital then digital to analog conversion as it currently does in all digital formats. I think they’re crazy, but I’m not an audiophile. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a market for the product, just because neither you or I agree with their premise, that’s the joy of free markets.
Asus could have simply run the numbers, realized that they were already in the process of trying to prototype the competition to their own ebook reader in house, with the tablet device they’ve been rumored to be working on, and then run the projected sales numbers and realized that they were very unlikely to recoup their investment if they went to market with such a device, let alone to turn a profit on it.
At the end of the day the ebook reader market is limited. The devices may be with us for some time. But they could also easily go the way of the PDA as a seperate device, and die a long relatively slow and painful death. What I keep coming back to when I look at the ebook reader itself is that it’s a one trick pony, and it’s a very subjective argument on whether they’re actually improving the reading experience over print books.
Time and compitition will tell. But we can’t get too attached to the devices that are already in the sales channel. Just because it’s the way it is now, certainly doesn’t mean that it’s the way things are going to be in the future. And trusting the only retailer of a product, that it’s unpublished sales numbers are accurately being depicted on a unregulated, privately generated marketing tool that isn’t subject to any third party review, strikes me as folly.
Thanks for the great read. I agree that Amazon statement can’t truly be taken at face value, however it works in favor of my argument so I’ll use it! 😉
I think ebook readers would have more succes if they were either reduced in price or heavily subsidized when an ebook club membership (1 or 2 year contract). I think the high cost of a dedicated device is hurting the ebook readers.
I had a Franklin eBookMan that I bought at a discount. It was too expensive new. It was not just an ebook reader but also an organizer and did other things too.
It eventually stopped working. I used it to read different ebooks. 🙂
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