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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clok1966
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I'm not a fan of Apple or MS

I'm not a fan of Apple or MS and it shows quite often on my comments. I looked at an E-reader for my mother, and did some research. I cant see it being a real "worthwhile" purchase. She doesnt read the latest thing, most of her books are purchased at Thrift stores and used. In fact part of her fun is finding the books. Strike one. Price, wow! a cheap (namebrand) reader is $200, the bell and whistle ones are $300+. Now I may be cheap, but at $200 its to much in my opinion, $200 would buy alot fo books at full price. Strike Two. Size, ok here is one spot I thought it would win, but when you really look at it, its too big for a pocket. Its durable, but not durable enough to really not be completly aware of how you handle it. Its really kinda an "odd" size. Books (most paperbacks) are smaller, thicker sure, but i can fit most into my jean pockets with some work (ok, alot of work) but if it dont fit, it can be tossed anywhere , folded pages being my biggest worry. Then when reading in public or on the go the stuff that interupts you, life interupts you, or a million other things. You lay it down and forget. A book is $2-5, a $200 e-reader.... I have left at least 5 books on planes. Now I know a $200 tech toy will get alot more watching then a $3 book, but I bet more then one person "loses" it.
E-readers do have some upsides, instant (well almost) delivery of a book, I think this will lead to alot of impulse purchases (im sure the sellers love that). 100's of books in one easy to carry spot. But as a READER, i seldom read more then one at a time so in reality its bigger then 99% of the books I will ever Carry with me. Now as Information (tech manuals and such all ready at my fingertips) i can see some value, but most times I need that type of info I'm near a laptop or computer. I do see everybody has an E-reader comming soon and couple are int eh $80 range... maybe at that price point, maybe?
I just honestly cant see any value in an E-reader.

I-PAD- wow i dont even know where to start. We have 2 in the tech dept here for evaluation, I looked at it for about a day and was 100% unimpressed. its an Iphone with a bigger screen that I cant make calls on. Yes it more, it crosses into laptop area, but in no stretch of the imagination is it better. A real keyboard cant be discounted. Touch screens are nice for very simple minipulation and I do agree Apple has one of the best Touch screen interfaces going, but ... With netbooks gaining popularity i cant see why anybody would want an I-Pad. We got one to evualuate for some users out in the field. The Higher ups all heard all the buzz and wanted them so our company would look High tech (opinion). When they came down to see what we thought most didnt even know what they really did, the OS they used, etc.. APPLES Advertising MOJO is strong, almost overwhelming. If I have ever seen a product that people want but cant really use, this is it. Much Like laptops in our company, we had everybody wanting one. We got top of the line, docking stations and Nice LCD's (for when docked) everybody wanted one. But in less then a year all but 2 (of about 20)had swapped back to Desktops with speed complaints, losing cords, hefting them around etc. A case of "cool" factor overtaking the "need" and ease of use of said product.

I'm very interested where the I-pad is a good choice? Where is it better then a laptop or Netbook (or the Iphone or Droid?) Weight? laptops and netbooks weigh nothing nowdays. Size? netbooks and phones are smaller. battery life? my netbook runs almost 8 hours in USE. App Store? Most programs can be bought online in digital form nowdays, especially Do-dad ones like 90% of the app store ones are.
Only reason i can see ot purchase one is the "Look at me" factor, envy of people who dont know they are pretty useless. Apple had to change the "no cash back" policy on returns of I-Pads (been alot of byers remorse on them) as they had so many returns and people craying No-fair.

I'm sure Im to harsh (i did mention Im very anti-apple, draconian security/app maker/market control sucks) as I know I'm missing the point in some way. And I'm sure Im exageratining the uselessness of an I-pad. I can see it as a "OK" media (video primarily) on the go device. But then only when i want to show others, as a much more portable (phone, game handheld) device works excellent for that already if I'm the only one watching. Music player? kinda big. laptop type stuff, i already covered that, much better devices. A cool touchscreen ( i give um that one) is not a good device. DO all? Netbooks and laptops already have it beat.

I hail apple for building customer fan base, brand loyalty, and simple use. But Im more a computer nerd so simple use is not something I look for, mayeb that is where I'm missing the boat?. The I-Pad is the must have thing right now that nobody seems to know they dont need. just an opinion, and I almost hate to post it as its so negative, but its just an honest opinion, and just that "opinion".

Now to figure out what to do with 2 i-pads non of us tech guys even want. maybe a really cool Picture frame! (we will be E-baying, the I-pad evaluation period is over and it was found wanting).

Matt Barton
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Reply

You raise a lot of good points, clok. Your grandma sounds exactly like my grandpa--he loves finding some old book at a thrift store and bragging about how little he paid for it (sometimes he gets them for a nickle or some such). He has no favorite authors or even subject material. Clearly, a Kindle would be an epic fail for him.

About paperbacks and disposable books...Well, we can't forget how long print has had to evolve. If you look at the history of books, you see that for many generations they were far too expensive for anyone but the elite. Libraries used to be absolutely essential because no one could afford more than a few books. If we were comparing ebooks to print technology in general, I'd say they are still in the Gutenberg era. We aren't anywhere remotely close to today's print technology, which can make books so cheap we can literally just throw them away when we're done. Even the cheapest netbook isn't there--only a very rich person would consider buying one just to take to the beach and toss in the garbage when he's done. Besides the economics of it, printed books have also evolved to be very attractive and comfortable, plus there's an undeniable social prestige to being a book lover. If you're reading a Kindle in public, people can't see the book you're reading (which could have undesirable, but perhaps also desirable effects such as a fellow fan chatting with you about it).

I kept hearing about "e-paper" or "smart paper" or whatever, and that seemed to be the right idea--but of course that's still vapor as far as I know.

As far as the iPad's form factor, as I said before, I feel it's too heavy. I wouldn't be comfortable holding that thing up and reading a book on it like I do with paperbacks or small hardcovers. It also suffers from the distraction problem--I probably couldn't read a book on it anyway, because I'd be too tempted to play music, surf the net, etc. That's one area where the Kindle or a dedicated ebook reader is still superior. There's nothing stopping me from reading books on my computer screen right now, but I certainly don't do it.

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Bill Loguidice
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Personal preference
Matt Barton wrote:

As far as the iPad's form factor, as I said before, I feel it's too heavy. I wouldn't be comfortable holding that thing up and reading a book on it like I do with paperbacks or small hardcovers. It also suffers from the distraction problem--I probably couldn't read a book on it anyway, because I'd be too tempted to play music, surf the net, etc. That's one area where the Kindle or a dedicated ebook reader is still superior. There's nothing stopping me from reading books on my computer screen right now, but I certainly don't do it.

I have the opposite problem, honestly. I'm reading through a Carl Sagan Cosmos oversized color paperback, and it's a bit clumsy for me to hold up comfortably in bed and keep the pages apart and turn them. That, combined with the small type, is making it a struggle of a reading experience for me. Putting something like the Kindle aside for the moment because I'd lose the color imagery - which would defeat the purpose - I could see something like the iPad being a much better choice. I'd have it propped up anyway and it would be easier to turn the pages and also make the text size larger. Presumably even doing all that, the formatting would remain intact. That to me is a win over the traditional version of the book. Of course, that's assuming that that old edition of Cosmos is even available from one of the eBook providers, which, frankly, it probably isn't. That's a big factor as well -- availability. There's still a long way to go, particularly for older stuff.

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Bill Loguidice
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See, this is the other thing

See, this is the other thing that I've been talking about and that's scary about something like the iPad versus something like the Kindle, the ubiquity across the Apple product spectrum, which can't be discounted. There's strength in numbers and integration, even at the expense of "better" options:


2:15

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
#7: iBooks
Monday June 7, 2010 2:15 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:16

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
We are bringing it to the iPhone for the iPhone 4. Gorgeous, same controls, the same highlighting, the same bookmarking, the same notes as you see on the iPad, same bookshelf to keep your books.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:16 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:16

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
The same PDF reading. Right on your iPhone.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:16 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:16

bheater:
PDF? See, Apple doesn't hate Adobe after all.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:16 bheater

2:17

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
And of course the iBookstore right on your iPhone. What can we do with all these products together? I'd like to outline just a few things. Wirelessly. Purchase and download a book to iPhone, iPad or iPod. It'll wirelessly be downloaded right to your device.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:17 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:17

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
You can download the same book to all your devices at no extra charge. Buy a book on your iPad, download it to your iPhone. You only have to buy it once. And iBooks will automatically and wirelessly and for no charge sync your current place all your bookmarks and all your notes across all your devices.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:17 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:18

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
Demo of iBooks on iPhone. [[ Remember, this is #7 of 10, and then there's probably "one more thing." ]]
Monday June 7, 2010 2:18 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:18

[Comment From Oli Oli: ]
I am now starting to understand AT&T caps on data...
Monday June 7, 2010 2:18 Oli

2:19

Sean Ludwig:
I'm guessing Steve's "one more thing" will be video chat capabilities. I don't think he's talked about the front-side camera yet.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:19 Sean Ludwig

2:19

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
PDFs on the bookshelf look like things you've printed at Kinko's with plastic binding. Cute.
Monday June 7, 2010 2:19 Sascha Segan (Live Blogging)

2:21

Sascha Segan (Live Blogging):
iBooks as you know has the iBookstore on the iPhone and the iBookstore joins the iTunes Store and the app store as the third store on the iphone. We have gotten over 150m accounts for these stores with credit cards ready to buy your apps. we believe this is the most of any store on the web, we believe we're number one. 16b downloads.

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Bill Loguidice
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That is a good evaluation,

That is a good evaluation, clok, and I think you also do a good job of trying to put yourself in someone else's shoes, like your grandmother. However, I think perhaps you didn't go quite far enough. We're talking about products that are already successful, so we can't really debate why anyone would want them - people do - and it's not necessarily a question of why - people have their individual reasons and each form factor certainly does what it sets out to do. As for draconian Kindle and iTunes markets, again, the people (bless their hearts) have spoken and appear to be perfectly fine with DRM'd content as long as it's accessible, easy to work with and cheap. While it's arguable that the eBook market fails the "cheap" part, the same cannot be said for iTunes stuff, where, for instance, I was able to purchase both "Dragon's Lair" and "Cobra Command" for .99 each.

Again, I'm not advocating the purchase of either. I sold my two Sony eBook readers and I'm already committed to not buying an iPad or any tablet until I see a product generation that has features that I feel are missing.

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Matt Barton
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I am angry that I've yet to

I am angry that I've yet to experience "e-ink." I'm pretty sure I've seen it, but definitely haven't had a chance to read a book in it. Therefore I'm not really fit to make the comparison, but given what I've read from others, it is sufficiently better for reading basic black text that it should be factored in quite strongly. I'm not sure whether the color models will be just as good, but assuming they are, that could be great--but I also fear the price difference will be staggering.

I've yet to see any type of screen that had the sharpness of a really good printed book or even a magazine. You know what I mean--that sort of "eye popping" color you get from a really good print. It sounds like that book you're reading is one of that type.

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Bill Loguidice
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Books
Matt Barton wrote:

I am angry that I've yet to experience "e-ink." I'm pretty sure I've seen it, but definitely haven't had a chance to read a book in it. Therefore I'm not really fit to make the comparison, but given what I've read from others, it is sufficiently better for reading basic black text that it should be factored in quite strongly. I'm not sure whether the color models will be just as good, but assuming they are, that could be great--but I also fear the price difference will be staggering.

They recently set up Kindle kiosks in Target stores, but they've stupidly locked the Kindles into demo modes, where you can't actually do anything. I believe the Nook at Barnes and Noble has less restrictions. I've never seen a fully working Sony Reader kiosk, either. They really are quite pleasing to read on, but again, at the prices these things are sold at (cheapest I've seen in $99 for a refurb Sony Pocket Reader) and the cost of the books to load on them, you can buy a metric ton of regular books.

I wonder if a local library by you allows you to check out an eReader? I know most now offer eBook loans/rentals.

Matt Barton wrote:

I've yet to see any type of screen that had the sharpness of a really good printed book or even a magazine. You know what I mean--that sort of "eye popping" color you get from a really good print. It sounds like that book you're reading is one of that type.

It's my understanding that color eInk will have/has the same quality properties, albeit with a matte finish. So, glossy magazine style is probably well out of the question, and then yeah, who knows about the cost (a large format color eInk reader has been sold in Japan I think for around $1000).

Again, I personally am a fan of eInk, but not necessarily the infrastructures. I grew quite frustrated not being able to get the latest books on my particular devices, and found it cheaper and easier just getting the dead tree version. Stupid, really. That's why I'm expecting big things from both Apple and maybe even Google, particularly with the former's announcements today regarding eBook ubiquity across all their devices. When it becomes super convenient (among other things), the fact that the price is close to the dead tree counterpart becomes less of a factor.

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Bill Loguidice
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Apple grabs 22 percent of e-book market with iBooks
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Catatonic
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Joined: 05/20/2006
more thoughts
Matt Barton wrote:

I've yet to see any type of screen that had the sharpness of a really good printed book or even a magazine. You know what I mean--that sort of "eye popping" color you get from a really good print. It sounds like that book you're reading is one of that type.

The iPhone rumor was true - it will have a > 300 dpi screen, and is the IPS type that retains excellent viewing angle without the colors going loopy. The LCD panel is also fused to the glass; current models have a gap. See: http://daringfireball.net/2010/06/iphone_4

In my estimation, the iPhone is way cooler than the iPad and has totally leapfrogged it already. The iPad will benefit from a major OS upgrade in a few months, but I do believe people are going to start wishing it had a sharper screen (not practical at that large size yet?) , a built in camera (wouldn't it be nice to video chat with someone who is using the new iPhone?) and less weight.

For what it's worth, I have read about two and a half books on my iPhone, and didn't mind it at all. But the books I read usually are borrowed from the public library or holiday gifts.

Bill Loguidice
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Definitely a hot new device

Christina and I will be getting new iPhone 4's thanks to AT&T allowing us to break our contracts early (according to reports). Otherwise we would have had to have waited until December. I will consider using mine as an eReader, as I've had good results with my regular iPhone 3G. However, I still think a larger sized device would be the only way to read PDFs well.

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