The Great Debate - Tablets versus eBook Readers and the Fight for our Senses

Bill Loguidice's picture

Over at another forum I frequent, a topic that ostensibly began, Dell Streak Available Next Month, AT&T Not Required, soon morphed into a discussion on the merits of an eReader, like the Kindle, over a tablet, like the iPad, and vice versa. To summarize the lengthy battle (though I recommend you read you yourself using the link), the argument on the eReader side essentially goes like this:

- eInk provides a superior reading experience
- The two top eReader devices offer free 3G
- Target will soon be offering the Kindle in their stores, so Kindle sales will naturally skyrocket
- The iPad is too expensive
- iTunes is too draconian
- Grandma and moms don't want a tablet

The argument on the tablet - and specifically the iPad side - goes something like this:

- The reading experience is just good enough for most people, and just good enough often wins over better
- Color eInk is still a ways away, and for black and white, static devices, eReaders are fairly expensive
- The iPad costs more, but also has many more features and capabilities
- If you're going to carry around a device the size of an eReader, it's not that much of a stretch that you'd carry around something only marginally bigger to get access to many more features
- The iPad has become a sexy, must-have device, thanks to slick advertising and the well regarded Apple brand; eReaders are unlikely to ever been seen as sexy, must-have devices
- In roughly two months, the iPad is closing in on the LIFETIME (since 2007) sales of the Kindle

The way I see it, while I'm a fan of eInk, especially for black and white and limited functionality devices, they tend to cost too much, even though the Kindle and Nook offer lifetime 3G service to purchase more books from just about any location you happen to be at (and a select few other online features to take advantage of the connection), though it's arguable if you really ever have to buy a new book every time you're out and about on the town. If they hit $99 or less, they might be able to gain more momentum outside of the successful niche I expect them to remain in for the foreseeable future, but I still find it unlikely, particularly with the coming onslaught of iPad-like tablet clones, which will continue to steal any new eReader thunder. What they really need though on the eReader side are color eInk displays, which right now are too expensive for mainstream price points. If they had color screens combined with a $150 or lower price point, they might stand a chance to be something a bit more than a niche product, though it's arguable how many truly avid readers there are anyway to support such dedicated products, no matter how refined they become (even recent tests with students at universities have not shown them to be reasonable substitutes for text books--at least in their current forms).

So to summarize, my main point is, is that the iPad's momentum will continue, price be damned, a ton of clone tablets will be released to further place the spotlight on the form and functionality factor, and as a result, sales of dedicated eReaders will remain at roughly the same rate and pace they are now. As a result, the dedicated reader's time in the spotlight has probably come and gone, and it's just a matter of time before the tablet format becomes the de facto companion (when called for) to cell phones, smart or otherwise, since they also give you full access to the same book libraries as the dedicated readers, as well all the other types of media (and games, apps, etc., etc.).

Even though I didn't lay out all the details in this post, I think you get the idea. Naturally I'm 100% correct in my prognostication, but I'm open to the remotest of possibilities that I might be a raving lunatic and don't know what the heck I'm talking about, so I would love to hear what YOU think...

Comments

Catatonic
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A lot of the best iPhone apps

A lot of the best iPhone apps have been ported to Android, right, well the Kindle platform has some issues that may prevent it from getting the best apps. 1) 3G data allowance for apps is extremely limited, so if your app uses more than just a few KB of data per day you have to start charging a subscription fee. 2) The e-ink display makes it impossible to have smooth scrolling & almost any kind of animation, and has no touch sensor. So I think some of the best apps from other mobile platforms could be ported to Kindle but may require subscription fees & completely new UI to be designed. So it wouldn't be worth it.

BTW I signed up for their developer program 4 months ago, and have heard literally nothing back except to keep waiting.

Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
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Readers and Tablets
Catatonic wrote:

A lot of the best iPhone apps have been ported to Android, right, well the Kindle platform has some issues that may prevent it from getting the best apps. 1) 3G data allowance for apps is extremely limited, so if your app uses more than just a few KB of data per day you have to start charging a subscription fee. 2) The e-ink display makes it impossible to have smooth scrolling & almost any kind of animation, and has no touch sensor. So I think some of the best apps from other mobile platforms could be ported to Kindle but may require subscription fees & completely new UI to be designed. So it wouldn't be worth it.

That's the thing, an eBook Reader really is JUST an eBook Reader, even though it may be able to touch on a few other capabilities. Nothing wrong with that, particularly with the next-best-thing-to-a-text-book reading experience. However, being limited to black and white, and with the high relative cost, its value proposition diminishes significantly in the face of something like a tablet, be it an iPad or some type of other such device, like an Android-based one. For an eReader to be long term competitive with tablets, I argue that it needs to support color and be at a $150 or lower price point. If not, better reading experience or not, if people will be doing digital reading, it will be on a fuller function tablet type device.

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Catatonic
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Heavy readers ought to

Heavy readers ought to appreciate the Kindle and similar devices very much, but we know that perhaps 25% of people never read a book ever, and the vast majority read less than one book a month. Also people over 50 read more books than younger people, and they would benefit a lot from e-readers (sharp text, can be enlarged to any size) , but may be more put off by electronics.

Mark Vergeer
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hmmmm

My thoughts on eBooks, Tablets.
The companies outputting these devices often exclude certain territories, use closed formats and even dare to charge as much for a digital book as for a paper-copy. The paper copy one is much more versatile. Can be lend or borrowed without much problems, can also be bought and sold second hand so apart from the environmental impact of old style paper books there are a huge number of advantages over these digital ebooks.

Of course eBooks are wonderful and reading an eBook from a Star-Trek like datapad is the best thing since sliced bread but there are a lot of downsides to it as well. From what I gather some companies even don't let you 'own' the book and they even have to power to disable/erase the books.... Wow that really gets me thinking about Kafka.

Personally I will only want to use open ebook formats. Or buy ebooks at a much lower price as the use of the ebook is so much more limited than the paper counterpart. User freedom is incredibly restricted with ebooks and I don't like that one bit.

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Matt Barton
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I agree with Leo Laporte on

I agree with Leo Laporte on the iPad--it's great as long as you consider it a media consumption device, not a laptop. I probably wouldn't read much on it, but I can see doing things like looking stuff up as I play games on my PC (for instance, using thottbot or wow wiki while playing wow), or for reading on when there is still on my monitor (for instance, scanning articles while working on an paper or article on the big screen). I could also see getting comfortable on the couch and watching some Youtube videos or possibly even a show via netflix.

I recently got to play with one and was very impressed! The oily smudges are a problem, though. I used one that belonged to a fastidious lady, and even that one was quite smudgy. I'm sure mine would soon be as greasy and disgusting as my phone. On a positive note, though, the interface is very slick, very fast, and quite sleek. It *is* heavier than I expected, though. It needs to be about 15% lighter to really be comfortable holding up. As it is, you'll want to be sitting down and holding it in your lap.

I have no real interest in a Kindle. I don't tend to read many books at once, and certainly wouldn't mind bringing a paperback or two with me on a trip. Besides, the flight stewardesses would probably prevent you from using it during takeoffs and landings anyway. Then you'd be stuck reading the flight mag.

There is an AWESOME game that apparently comes with it-- a sort of air hockey thing. You can even play it two player! It was so much fun. You use your fingers to control the...what DO you call that thing? The little thing that bounces the pucks around. Anyway, it was awesome.

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Catatonic
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Kindle app

Remember that all Apple devices have a free Kindle app available.. effectively turning every iPhone, iPad and iPod touch into a Kindle.

Rumor also has it that the next iPhone will have over 300 dpi resolution on the screen, but this could be proven wrong as early as tomorrow.

Bill Loguidice
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Catatonic wrote:

Remember that all Apple devices have a free Kindle app available.. effectively turning every iPhone, iPad and iPod touch into a Kindle.

That was my point as well, that Kindle and other eBook apps are available on a wide range of platforms, not just dedicated readers. Again, the reading experience is not as good, but then with some books, like say with Vintage Games, you'd be missing out on all the color images. I know I was very disappointed with reading PDFs on the two eBook readers I used to have. Color is sometimes a necessity for full fidelity.

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Matt Barton
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I think the key is what type

I think the key is what type of book you're talking about. If it's an informative book, I'd prefer the iPad. If you're looking to read novels on some type of device--that deep, immersive reading with minimal distractions--and paper isn't a desirable option--Kindle or something with e-ink seems like the best choice. One thing paper can't match, of course, is the ability to download practically any novel you care to read instantly--and be able to search, save your place, make notes, etc.

I just saw a bunch of stuff about Google Editions, and I'm pretty stoked about that. Ebooks seem like a cheesy alternative for authors who can't get published "for real" right now, but that could very well change in the near future. I particularly like the idea of getting a free ebook when you buy a printed book. That seems a great way to go for now; get people accustomed to ebooks that way and gradually wean them off paper.

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Bill Loguidice
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Tablets versus eReaders - More
Matt Barton wrote:

I think the key is what type of book you're talking about. If it's an informative book, I'd prefer the iPad. If you're looking to read novels on some type of device--that deep, immersive reading with minimal distractions--and paper isn't a desirable option--Kindle or something with e-ink seems like the best choice. One thing paper can't match, of course, is the ability to download practically any novel you care to read instantly--and be able to search, save your place, make notes, etc.
I just saw a bunch of stuff about Google Editions, and I'm pretty stoked about that. Ebooks seem like a cheesy alternative for authors who can't get published "for real" right now, but that could very well change in the near future. I particularly like the idea of getting a free ebook when you buy a printed book. That seems a great way to go for now; get people accustomed to ebooks that way and gradually wean them off paper.

We have to separate ourselves from the masses in some cases, though. As I've stated, I believe in the sad mass market edict of, "it doesn't have to be the best, it just has to be good enough". While eInk provides the best electronic reading experience, are traditional displays as utilized by tablets good enough? The answer is probably "yes". With that said, what is more likely to get into more users hands? Tablets. We're not a nation of readers, sadly, so the sexier, more functional device will likely take hold of the market, particularly since Amazon Kindle's - even with "free" 3G - sell for $259 and ONLY do black and white, which means you can't read color books like Vintage Games the way they were meant to be read, you can't read comic books, and you can't read PDF's (again, as they were meant to be read).

Now, if you look at the Kindle as the paperback of eReaders, then it should logically be $99 and no more. This way you get it in the hands of the most people and it doesn't matter if its black and white and optimized for just reading text. Now, when the color eInk version hits - hopefully no later than late next year - that could release at the current $259 price, though that to would be best served by dropping in price sooner rather than later. So you'd have the black and white Kindle at $99 and the color Kindle at $199, give or take. That would likely be a more effective strategy. What these eReaders have going against them are the same services are or will be available on the coming tidal wave of tablet devices, some roughly the same price as the iPad, some far cheaper. It's quite possible that the sales that four years worth of eReaders have enjoyed will be surpassed by the tablet category in just a single year. That to me tells me what wins, ultimately. (and again, by "win" I just mean, which becomes the de facto device - eReaders will continue to stick around in their niche indefinitely)

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Matt Barton
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Kindling
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Now, if you look at the Kindle as the paperback of eReaders, then it should logically be $99 and no more. This way you get it in the hands of the most people and it doesn't matter if its black and white and optimized for just reading text. Now, when the color eInk version hits - hopefully no later than late next year - that could release at the current $259 price, though that to would be best served by dropping in price sooner rather than later. So you'd have the black and white Kindle at $99 and the color Kindle at $199, give or take. That would likely be a more effective strategy. What these eReaders have going against them are the same services are or will be available on the coming tidal wave of tablet devices, some roughly the same price as the iPad, some far cheaper. It's quite possible that the sales that four years worth of eReaders have enjoyed will be surpassed by the tablet category in just a single year. That to me tells me what wins, ultimately. (and again, by "win" I just mean, which becomes the de facto device - eReaders will continue to stick around in their niche indefinitely)

Here's a link to the video I discussed before: The Book on Google. Pretty interesting if a bit long. One point raised there is that Amazon isn't a hardware company and is essentially "winging it," whereas Apple has strong hardware and Google (arguably) software and some hardware. I'd say Amazon has content and retail nailed, but the fact that the Kindle is so expensive speaks to their inefficiency. To really be a big hit, the Kindle should probably be even cheaper than $99, possibly as little as $25 or even free. If Amazon could literally give these things away (perhaps as a bonus on a minimum sized purchase at their store), people might be curious enough to buy a few ebooks to try out. Once you get them accustomed to the device, they could end up buying hundreds of dollars worth of ebooks.

As it stands, the Kindle hasn't seem to strike anybody as anywhere near as sexy and chic as the iPhone or iPad. That wouldn't be important if it was cheap, but it's not at all. My guess is that Amazon really flubbed it with the hardware, ending up with a very expensive to produce item, and is possibly even taking big losses selling them at the current price point. It would have been smarter just to team up with Apple or Google and not try to go its own way, at least not without a surefire device on its hands. They really need to be doing what they do best: retail. They'd be fine for selling ebooks, but they should have left the hardware and software part of it to someone else.

I mean, it'd be like if instead of selling mp3 files in its music store, Amazon had its own dedicated music player and some weirdo file format that only worked on that device. AND that device cost as much if not more than Apple's iPods or even generic mp3 players...At least they ported their kindle app to the iPhone and Blackberry. That was a smart move.

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