Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

Summary: There's nowhere for the e-reader to evolve to ... except into a tablet.

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TOPICS: Hardware
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Over on The Loop, Matt Alexander claims that e-readers like the Kindle and Nook are essentially doomed to being niche devices because there's really nowhere for the technology to evolve. I agree.

Here's the key paragraph:

The concept of electronic paper, to me, sounds dazzlingly futuristic, but here I am calling it doomed. The e-reader’s purpose is, ostensibly, to serve as a stopgap measure until both e-ink itself and LCDs evolve to the point of intersection — and that does not seem too terribly far off. Tablets are losing weight with each iteration, prices are lowering, battery lives are lengthening, and soon, everything that makes e-readers wonderful products will be assimilated into other pieces of technology.

BOOM!

Alexander sums up why e-readers are doomed. Not only is there a strong tendency for stand alone gadgets (e-readers, GPS receivers, MP3 players, etc) to converge into single devices, but there's really nowhere for e-readers too go in the long run. Think about it:

  • Storage capacity isn't really a big issue, especially with cloud storage.
  • Battery life isn't an issue (unless there's some big shift in battery technology).
  • Screen size is ideal as it is at around 7-inch, so there's no room for it to grow of shrink.
  • There's not going to be an 'HD' e-reader.

The only thing left for e-readers to do is to evolve into tablets. Once we get a screen that can handle print as well as it can handle video, then e-readers will really only sell on the basis of price (they'll be cheaper than tablets).

Another thing that I see driving his evolution of the e-reader is that books as we know them will also evolve. Sure, the printed word will never die, but ebooks offer scope for more than just words - sound, video, animation, live web links, over the air updates - and these features require not an e-reader, but a full-blown tablet.

The e-reader as we know it today is the first step. It's little more than a digital paperback book. Just as books have evolved, the next step is for the content to evolve. And that evolved content will be far more suited to a tablet than it will be to the e-reader as we know it today.

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Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Topic: Hardware

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65 comments
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  • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

    I don't like to read for any substantial length of time on an LCD, so as long as they have e-ink devices, I'll use those for reading and tablets for the rest.
    Steerpike07
    • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

      @Adrian: I doubt you would have written this blog post had Apple not SUCKED so badly in the e-book market.<br><br>Yeah, my $79 ebook reader is doomed, so I will spend $500 for Adrian's favorite company's tablet, the iPad. No thank you.
      markbn
      • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

        @markbn This isn't about the fruit. I have an Amazon Kindle Fire. I like the size (7") and the price (USD 200). I'd rather have that than an e-ink e-reader. It's about color, and it's about convergence, watching movies from Netflix and Amazon and shows from Hulu, or reading Wikipedia.
        nightbirdsf
      • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

        @markbn the iPad makes a very nice e-book reader. The Apple e-Book shop, on the other hand, has a very poor, limited selection of current books, which is odd given the way the iPad was touted as the ideal device for textbook delivery.

        (There are a huge number of free, out-of-copyright books to choose from, but we can't really thank Apple for this.)

        That said, you can always download the Kindle software onto an iPad and have the best of both worlds.
        StandardPerson
      • I guess you missed the part where Adrian said the ideal screen size

        is 7 inches.
        baggins_z
      • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

        @markbn
        +1
        Godmocker
      • Re: I guess you missed the part where Adrian said the ideal screen size

        @baggins_z<br><br>No, I didn't miss the claim that 7" is the ideal size: I just think it's wrong, even for novels.<br><br>I also use my iPad for reading text in other forms, including magazines. <br><br>You cannot read the Scientific American or Wired or any similar magazine on a black & white screen; you must have colour. <br><br>Furthermore, while magazines in the more size common formats fit onto an iPad's screen quite well, they do not fit onto a 7" screen: reading magazines on smaller 7" screen, even with colour, is an endless exercise in zooming and scrolling.<br><br><br>A 7" screen may be fine for text-only novels, but it is a pretty bad fit for people, like me, who want all their novels, magazines, journal articles and texts consolidated in one convenient place.

        This flexibility more than makes up for the slight increase in weight and having to remember to charge up the iPad more regularly.
        StandardPerson
      • Re: I guess you missed the part where Adrian said the ideal screen size

        @baggins_z<br><br>No, I didn't miss the claim that 7" is the ideal size: I just think it's wrong, even for novels.<br><br>I also use my iPad for reading text in other forms, including magazines. <br><br>You cannot read the Scientific American or Wired or any similar magazine on a black & white screen; you must have colour. <br><br>Furthermore, while magazines in the more size common formats fit onto an iPad's screen quite well, they do not fit onto a 7" screen: reading magazines on smaller 7" screen, even with colour, is an endless exercise in zooming and scrolling.<br><br><br>A 7" screen may be fine for text-only novels, but it is a pretty bad fit for people, like me, who want all their novels, magazines, journal articles and texts consolidated in one convenient place.

        This flexibility more than makes up for the slight increase in weight and having to remember to charge up the iPad more regularly.
        StandardPerson
  • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

    Just like many single-purpose devices such as cameras (Flip / Kodak anyone?) and cassette/CD/MP3 players, dedicated eReaders will eventually die and be replaced by ever lighter, more power-frugal tablets of various sizes and styles.

    The one big thing inhibiting eReader's immediate decline is the eInk screen. Reading an eInk screen outdoors or in a brightly lit place is a wonderful experience. Doing the same with a nice glossy illuminated tablet is a nightmare.

    The day someone works out how to lay an eInk layer over a normal *LED display so that one can switch to "reading mode", that'll be the end of the eReader.
    bitcrazed
    • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

      @bitcrazed Many of the things you mentioned are not doomed, such as cameras. Are you going to have tablets with large, detachable, interchangeable lenses? No? Then the camera isn't doomed. The cassette player evolved into the CD player which evolved into the MP3 player, so it's still around as well.
      jgm@...
      • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

        @jgm@... Pro-level devices aren't doomed because there will always be a market for them. But the point-and-shoot cameras that are the bread and butter of the camera producers will soon be toast as smartphones with 8-megapixel or better integrated cameras displace them. I haven't even picked up a digital camera in the two years since I began using an iPhone 3GS. The convenience of the iPhone alone (always handy in my pocket vs. always lying in a drawer for my Nikon camera with a better image sensor) made it a no-brainer for me, and now that I have a 4S with equal or better image quality, the camera is being shipped off to gazelle.com for recycling.
        ssaha
      • And I REALLY can't see . . .

        Someone jogging with a 7" tablet strapped to their arm (maybe they could strap it to their chest? )
        JLHenry
    • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

      @bitcrazed
      At the core of your argument is the fallacy that Starcastle's ineptness makes Emerson, Lake, and Palmer a better band. The eInk technology does provide a better outdoor reading experience. Full stop.

      The other fallacy you invoke is that one use case trumps all others. Yes. Every lunch, we all can see just how many people do the only reading they do all day outdoors.

      I argued below - way, way below - that the doom is not so impending, so just as though people who are reading outside (that'd be me using the iPad in the shade, adapting to its limitations) are not concerned with ozone depletion or the eventual expansion of the sun into a red dwarf, there's time to thrive at the market with a dedicated e-reader. Shoot, e-readers make the classic blade and razor business model, no?
      DannyO_0x98
    • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

      @bitcrazed I think you hit it right on the spot. I've have not heard anything about the ability of the new "tablets" in the area of reading in sunlight or daylight. That is one of the things I love about my Kobo.
      ricklw
  • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

    Just as monitors don't compete directly with TV sets, and mobile phones don't compete with PCs, ebook readers won't compete with tablets - at least not in the foreseable future.

    That's because with current battery and display technologies, compromises must be made regarding display technology and processing power. Devices that are able to play and display multimedia content in acceptable quality just cost way too much and eat up too much power to compete with ebook readers.

    That's where the latters' advantage lies: in price and in battery life - and that won't change till there's a huge jump in battery capacity and a heavy drop in LED display prices. The latter will obviously change in a few years, but I see no real advancements regarding battery technology to come in the next few years, or even until the end of the decade.

    So, ebook readers don't have to evolve - and actually the very day they will be able to do so (eg. "evolve", meaning increase processing power and display quality, without sacrifying battery life and price) will mean their end. Not the lack of said "evolution".

    If anything it's usability and functionality that needs to evolve in them (in conjuction with the content displayed and handled by them), not their technical specs per se.
    ff2
  • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

    Don't forget the work thats being done to develop color eInk screens. It won't be long until eReaders start using those.
    Ricardo Bilton
    • Color eInk screens are no good for tablets

      @Ricardo Bilton Color eInk can't handle the refresh rate required to do basic animation .... much less video playback. eInk is mostly good for static displays.
      wackoae
  • RE ereaders: No, E-readers represent the wave of the future

    Tablets are not man-tools, they're twitter-toys for adolescents:<br><br>Even the marketing of this junk (and the adjuncts) is adolescent: twitter, icecream sandwich (ohfergodsakes), linkedin (a rock group from the 90's?), google (you can't hide your googley eyes, and the truth you can't disguise, 'cause by now you realize, you can't hide your googley eyes), android (a techie downstairs you feed through a slot in the floor), Nook (hey baby how 'bout a little Nookie), Kindle (hey baby how 'bout I Kindle yer fire), . . . etcetera ad nauseum . . .<br><br>Until battery life exceeds 30 days on a charge, purchase cost is less than $100, screen is color, screen size is comparable to an e-reader, ease of use is similar to an e-book, a full-sized keyboard folds over the screen to protect it, and the weight is in the 6-12 oz region, I will NEVER buy a tablet (and I'm not kidding). <br><br>In other words, the E-reader is way closer to my specs than a contemporary tablet (it's just missing the color screen and the keyboard).
    Gezeer
    • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

      @Gezeer Moore's law.
      nightbirdsf
      • RE: Are e-readers doomed? Yes, they are

        @nightbirdsf "Moore's law."
        Is dead. So says [url=http://news.techworld.com/operating-systems/3477/moores-law-is-dead-says-gordon-moore/]Gordon Moore[/url]. When the man the law is named after says the law is dead, I'm pretty sure he knows what he's talking about.
        Captiosus