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...

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Bill Loguidice
Bill Loguidice's picture
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They look nice and are smaller to boot
Catatonic wrote:

Well as you probably heard - the Kindle is down to $139 now!

Yes, a new generation, but the wi-fi version still needs to be $99 to hit a true mass market price. The 3G model can be $149. All my opinions of course. I'm sure they will sell well relative to their markets even at their current prices.

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Matt Barton
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I finally got to see one of

I finally got to see one of these in action, but it was a Nook. My good friend Charlie Lowe swears by it, and he does make a pretty good case for its flexibility--apparently it runs a version of Android and supports e-pub format. I'm not entirely sold on it myself (it takes too long to turn pages), but respect his opinion highly. According to him, it's a much better value than a Kindle, and what's really awesome is that you can browse or even read entire ebooks for free as long as you're using a B&N store wifi. That's pretty neat.

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Bill Loguidice
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Devices
Matt Barton wrote:

I finally got to see one of these in action, but it was a Nook. My good friend Charlie Lowe swears by it, and he does make a pretty good case for its flexibility--apparently it runs a version of Android and supports e-pub format. I'm not entirely sold on it myself (it takes too long to turn pages), but respect his opinion highly. According to him, it's a much better value than a Kindle, and what's really awesome is that you can browse or even read entire ebooks for free as long as you're using a B&N store wifi. That's pretty neat.

Hmm, it's arguable whether it's a better value than a Kindle, particularly now, though, yes, I will agree that since every e-reading device I can think of supports ePub format EXCEPT for the Kindle, that can certainly play into one's decision. The Nook's inclusion of a color LCD on the bottom of the device is controversial to say the least, particularly to eInk purists, but that could factor into one's decision certainly one way or the other as well.

I was a very early advocate for eInk devices, but have certainly cooled on them over time and even sold my two Sony readers. I may still get another one (Nook or Kindle, since those have good stores) if the price ever drops enough for me, but I still feel at this time that the tech hasn't evolved enough and tablets will be the reading device of the future. Just my opinion, though...

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Matt Barton
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Agreed. I don't like how they

Agreed. I don't like how they are still thinking in terms of "tablets" rather than the e-paper concept that gets hauled out perennially. That's the only idea that really makes sense to me, especially the idea of disposable, foldable ebooks. I could see something about 8 1/2" by 11" with about the weight and thickness of a few sheets of resume paper. If it could get to that point, it'd be a complete no-brainer. As it is, though, these seem like weirdo niche devices to me. I'd rather take that $140 and buy a bunch of regular books.

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Catatonic
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I have tried an iPad, and my

I have tried an iPad, and my only complaint is they are too heavy for comfortable reading. The size and shape is good. Some people say it is too bright to use in a totally dark room but I didn't get to try that.

Can't you convert ePub files to read on a Kindle? There are tons of public domain books in ePub now, practically all the great classics. I have got used to reading them on my iPhone, usually the only electronic gadget that I have with me when I want to read.

Mark Vergeer
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US only situation...

This whole ebook vs tablet discussion is very different in Europe and many other places in the world as the big companies don't offer their services or devices to the old world and beyond. Sure as of yesterday we are able to buy something like the iPad but the amount of books available to us is far limited compared to the US situation. Oh and of course the Kindle is not for sale over here.

Things like netflix or even movies and tv shows through iTunes are not available. Poor people who bought an appleTV in Europe are still staring at the empty menus. Only mp3 is available. I am watching and listening to media downloaded from usenet on my devices. He'll that's why I am probable still waiting for my Pandora.

For Europeans/average world citizen downloading illegal media into an open source device is more accessible than the legal route which does not exist in a lot of cases. It is a crazy situation where socio-economic and political inequality still rules the face of the earth. It all becomes more and more like a big tease filled with empty promises.

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Catatonic
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Canada is in the same

Canada is in the same situation, we usually lag behind with availability of downloads of movies, TV series and books. Music has caught up, though - great selection and no more DRM. I hope the other types of media go the same way. Our government isn't helping much, they're trying to pass laws similar to DMCA, make it illegal to remove DRM and that sort of thing - they have signed international treaties & other agreements that promise to pass laws like that. It is pretty obvious that corporations are running our countries.

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