Apple iPad's tablet competition drop like flies, e-book readers next

Less than a month following the launch of Apple's iPad tablet device and a day before the release of the 3G-capable version on Friday, Microsoft announced that it has dropped plans for the Courier, the tablet that many pundits said would be an iPad killer. Oops, some wishful thinking.

Less than a month following the launch of Apple's iPad tablet device and a day before the release of the 3G-capable version on Friday, Microsoft announced that it has dropped plans for the Courier, the tablet that many pundits said would be an iPad killer. Oops, some wishful thinking. Other so-called "hot" tablets are now history. Certainly, it's just a question of time before e-book vendors to start dropping out of the race soon. Mary-Jo Foley wrote on All About Microsoft that she was surprised at Redmond's decision on the Courier given its strong buzz:
I’m kind of surprised at the timing, given Microsoft recently confirmed to The New York Times what I’d been hearing for the past few months: That Courier was on track to hit the market in 2011+. Word is the decision to nix Courier happened in the past week or so. Courier was going to be a kind of “Franklin Covey planner on steroids,” according to early mock-ups of the product. Supposedly, Chief Experience Officer J Allard was the main mover and shaker behind the Courier project.
And on Thursday there's the word that Hewlett-Packard killed its Slate tablet computer that was scheduled to run Windows 7. In my Wednesday post about the Palm-HP buyout, I mentioned that Microsoft's partners had no confidence in its mobile strategy or technology. Each day, we see further evidence of its failures. The runaway success of the iPad is causing all the makers of tablet hardware to reevaluate their chances. Microsoft's lackluster technology just makes the decision easier. E-book reader vendors must be next to fall. Consider the following: First and foremost is the market share problem. Until now, there were a number of entries with the Kindle at the top of the heap. Suddenly, Apple sells 500K units in one week and that is for the model that isn't 3G-capable, the one that people supposedly don't want as much. No doubt, Apple will sell more than a million units by the end of May. Could be more, since the device is being rolled out worldwide. How many millions of iPads will be sold over the next few months before the fall school year? Or after July 1, when many governmental agencies have the start of the new fiscal year. Millions.

At the same time, we don't really have a handle on how many Kindles or other e-book readers have been sold. Supposedly, upwards of 3 million units. But this figure is based on dubious calculations. A source in the book publishing business told me this week that the figures appear to be inflated; he believed that fewer than 1 million have been sold. I have distrusted the high e-book reader sales estimates, mainly because they are based on book sales figures. Most users when they start with a technology buy a lot of titles, whether apps or content. When I first purchased my DVD player years ago, I would snap up many titles that now when I see them on the shelf, I wonder what I was thinking. I mean, Johnny Mnemonic? If I am generous, I would say that 1.5 million Kindles have been sold with the total category less than 2 million. However, I side with the industry insider's pessimism and believe that the total installed base of e-book readers is 1.5 million or even fewer. A prediction: When the dust clears and the sales figures are finally known, we will discover that in a short time frame, perhaps in the span of a few months, Apple will have sold more e-book readers than have ever been sold in the history of the category (I saw my first reader in the late 1990s). And by the end of the year, Apple will have a similar market share in the e-reader category that it has with the iPod and iPhone, in the 60 to 70 percent range. In his piece in the New Yorker, Ken Auletta says that e-book readers are all about market share.
There are now an estimated three million Kindles in use, and Amazon lists more than four hundred and fifty thousand e-books. If the same book is available in paper and paperless form, Amazon says, forty per cent of its customers order the electronic version. Russ Grandinetti, the Amazon vice-president, says the Kindle has boosted book sales over all. “On average,” he says, Kindle users “buy 3.1 times as many books as they did twelve months ago.” But publishers also recognize the similarity between Amazon’s strategy and that of iTunes. One publisher said, “Get market share, and when you get far ahead it is hard to catch up. Bezos’s game, like Jobs’s before him, is to get the device and get eighty-to-ninety-per-cent distribution on the device, and you own the game.”
So, a month in and we can see that that race is almost done. Second, I note the iCrime rate for e-readers. I have read anecdotal reports that you can read a Kindle on the NYC subway and nobody will bother you. This was said with a note of pride, as if that was a good thing for the Kindle platform. The "where are the iPads if they're so hot?" measure of the market. We already have news reports that if you pull out a iPad on the subway, you will be instantly mugged. This was the very same problem with the Microsoft Zune audio player a couple of years ago — robbers would steal the iPods and leave the Zunes. Finally, there's the issue of user experience. Jason Perlow offers an interesting comparison between the Kindle and iPad at Tech Broiler. However, the iPad's quality, expanded usability and rich-media capabilities will outweigh the problems with the iPad screen. Hey, if you're outside, "read" an audio book. Despite all the hype by Amazon, in the past couple of years I have only met one really satisfied Kindle owner who is not a technologist. He is a scholar who has a movement disability and appreciates being able to carry his obscure texts in a single, lightweight device. Of course, my guess is that he would be happy with any e-reader.

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