Are tablets driving e-readers to extinction?

Moderated by Rachel King | December 17, 2012 -- 07:00 GMT (23:00 PST)

Summary: One niche device after another is falling victim to convergence. Are e-book readers next?

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes




Matthew Miller

Matthew Miller

Best Argument: No


Audience Favored: No (63%)

Closing Statements

The future of the e-reader is the tablet

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes

"Why am I buying a device that can only do one thing -- even if it does that one thing very well indeed -- when I can pick up a device that has near limitless possibilities instead?" This is the question that anyone thinking of buying an e-reader needs to ask themselves.

I will concede that the e-ink screens on e-readers are nice -- very nice, and so pleasant on the eyes -- replicating the paper experience is, in my opinion, a step back. Modern displays, in particular the high-pixel-density 'retina' displays, are so crisp and clear that they ideal for even extended bouts of reading.

While there's no doubt a case for standalone e-readers--for the mainstream market the trend is moving away from standalone devices and towards convergence devices that bring multiple functions into a single device and is easy to carry around. Not only is this cheaper -- one device costs less than multiple devices -- but a single device is easier to manage and carry around.

There's still a place for e-books

Matthew Miller

Using an iPad or a tablet for e-book reading is a compromise solution. Many people do it because their tablet is more readily available. However, people who like to read are already compromising by going to an electronic form and those who are serious about reading want an experience as close to a "real" book as possible. Only an e-reader can give you a display like paper, battery life that you don't have to think about, weight that is even less than a paper book, and convenience to carry many titles with you at once.

I work all day on a mainstream display so it is refreshing to go to an e-reader for book reading and get away from a machine that distracts me with email, social network updates, web browsing, gaming, and other unnecessary annoyances. I actually think there is a lot more potential for growth in the e-reader market as many people still read paper books and have yet to transition to electronic form. If Amazon and Barnes & Noble start giving away e-readers they may speed up the adoption of e-books and grow the market. People still try to figure out if there is a place in their lives for tablets.

And the winner is...

Rachel King

This was actually a very hard decision for me to make as I think both gentlemen made some solid points. After racking my brain over this issue for a considerable time, I ended up leaning towards the niche argument, thus giving the win this week to Matt Miller.

But first let me say that there were definitely several issues on which I agreed strongly with Adrian. For one, I’m a minimalist. So I prefer buying, owning, and carrying around as few electronic devices as possible. I have owned Nook e-readers in the past, but I have consolidated and typically only read on my iPad 2 and smartphone now. It also just gets too expensive to buy (and later upgrade) more gadgets all of the time.

However, I still find the reading experience -- especially outdoors -- to be far, far better on electronic-ink displays than on virtually any tablet or smartphone with a color display.

That said, there are still a few spots where technology hasn’t caught up -- although that’s not to say it won’t within the next few years, if not sooner.

So there are some categories, such as e-readers and digital cameras, where it is still difficult to defend the consolidation argument still. For example, I still own a point-and-shoot camera (the Canon PowerShot S100) because it’s incredibly portable and snaps high-quality photos...while my Samsung Galaxy Nexus just doesn’t.

As the technology to make them advances and becomes more affordable, e-book readers will continue to drop in price, making them more appealing to consumers who don’t care or want all of the features that come with a more expensive tablet.

Furthermore, being that they are cheaper to produce and sell, e-readers could have a lot of potential in developing markets. While I don’t have figures for this, I would predict that e-readers could have some more educational use cases too and be distributed to students much like low-cost laptops.

Overall, while it will be downsized considerably in comparison to what it was during the last few years, I believe the dedicated e-reader segment can still exist as a niche market.


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  • Do They Have e-Ink Tablets?

    We can't see the screens of tablets in the bright California sun (I can't even see my iPhone screen). e-Ink allows us to read even in ultra-bright sunlight. Color is not an issue if you can't see it.
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for No
    • Key word in title: "driving"

      Technology doesn't stand still. The color experience WILL improve.
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Different devices

    I think we need both types of devices. Hopefully we get cheaper readers, they are kind of expensive just for reading. Readers have better screen for reading, better battery life, they weigh less and they dont heat up. Also easier to read in sunlight.
    Juan Ean
    Reply 1 Vote I'm for Yes
    • Why would one need a dedicated e-reader when...

      ...the same functionality exists on tablets, cell phones, and personal computers?

      Personally, my Android phone has become my emergency book collection (much nicer than reading magazines in doctor's offices). A lot of great public domain books have been published over the last three millennia or so (currently, I'm working on Adam Smith's "The Wealth of Nations").
      John L. Ries
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • It's not just functionality that matters

        As I wrote in my comment below, a primary consideration for book readers is WEIGHT. Tablets will always weigh more than a device dedicated to reading. As for reading on a cellphone, it works, and I've read at least one short book on a phone. But the experience is much more satisfying on an eReader. If phones were satisfactory for reading and web surfing and such, then tablets would be phased out. You don't see that. And you won't see eReaders disappear, either. What's cool is that we have so many choices.
        Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • Your use of the word "emergency" says it all.

        All e-readers are about the size of a paperback book. They fit into your pocket. A cellphone screen is often too small and a tablet screen is often too large.
        M Wagner
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided
        • Yea1

          I hate reading on a tablet. Its almost like reading a full sized textbook. Form factors above a paperback are actually pretty pointless. I like squinting too.
          Reply Vote I'm Undecided
  • Over time the two devices will converge.

    As the in sunlight readability of tablets improves and the price of tablets goes down dedicated e-readers will slowly fade away.

    The problem I have with e-readers in general is unlike a physical book you don't own the ebook, you just have a license to read them and that license can be revoked at any time. Something I'm not comfortable with considering the cost of physical books and ebooks are nearly the same and in some instances physical books are actually cheaper.
    Reply 2 Votes I'm Undecided
    • When was the last time your e-book licenses were checked?

      Even when your "license to read" were to be revoked, I don't see how they will enforce it...
      Reply Vote I'm Undecided
      • How about lending that e-book

        to your relatives or friends? Oh! It's copy protected. Too bad! Can't borrow it from a friend or from the library? Too bad! I have an iPad, but for reading books I will stick with paper.
        Reply 1 Vote I'm Undecided