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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Catatonic
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price points

$99 would be fantastic - I wonder if they are already losing money at $149 or more? (and trying to make it up through volume of book sales)

BTW, I tried out iBooks for my iPhone 3G today. It runs so slow as to be useless. Don't know why. Kindle & Stanza run just fine on the same phone... The iBookstore in Canada also still has nothing in it except the free Gutenberg collection.

Bill Loguidice
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Manufacturing costs
Catatonic wrote:

$99 would be fantastic - I wonder if they are already losing money at $149 or more? (and trying to make it up through volume of book sales)
BTW, I tried out iBooks for my iPhone 3G today. It runs so slow as to be useless. Don't know why. Kindle & Stanza run just fine on the same phone... The iBookstore in Canada also still has nothing in it except the free Gutenberg collection.

I doubt they're losing money on the hardware, but at $99, it might be getting close. To my mind, it would make sense for Amazon and B&N to get as close to the manufacturing cost as possible to saturate the market with these devices, and hope you make up for the lowered profit through book sales.

I'll be updating my iPhone 3G to iOS4 tonight. I'll check out the iBook thing too, then. I also have Kindle and Stanza on my phone, though I've used the latter the most.

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Bill Loguidice
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It looks like the Kindle has

It looks like the Kindle has just followed suit, at $189: http://arstechnica.com/gadgets/news/2010/06/kindle-and-nook-race-to-sub-... . I'd still like to see one of the 3G models from either of the big two hit $149 for the holiday, with wi-fi only models at $99. That should definitely move some units. At least this helps in the mean-time!

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Bill Loguidice
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$150 is still not cheap

$150 is still not cheap enough: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2365219,00.asp This one of all of them should be $50 less for the simple fact there's no wireless connectivity whatsoever and there's far less Borders infrastructure and name recognition. The free books - though they're the type that you can get for free elsewhere anyway - are certainly a nice touch, though.

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Bill Loguidice
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Amazon Juices E-books with

Amazon Juices E-books with Audio and Video: http://www.pcworld.com/article/199960/amazon_juices_ebooks_with_audio_an... . Ironically, not available on their own Kindle device for obvious reasons. It's little maneuvers like that that give me the most pause in regards to eInk device viability. The more Kindle means "content delivery platform", the less there's a need for a Kindle-specific, limited function device.

Good Morning Silicon Valley (http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2010/06/develop-apps-for-your-compet...) has a good breakdown of the unusual move:
"Develop apps for your competition to keep them closer, or something like that: In the page-turner that is the digital books industry comes a new, intriguing chapter: Amazon has enhanced its Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch trifecta — probably its biggest competition in the e-reading industry — adding video and audio clips to some titles (13, as of this posting, but hey, it’s a start). This new functionality has some scratching their heads and declaring that Amazon doesn’t care whether the kindling goes out on its e-reading device because of the so-far unparalleled dominance of its e-reading store, which has the selection and the head start. Perhaps it wants to ensure its offerings remain competitive with that of Apple’s iBooks. It seems that at least on the device front, Amazon, whose Kindle doesn’t support video and has yet to support color, is ceding to the feature-packed iPad, which can do both, plus more. But you never know, Amazon could also be setting the stage for an improved Kindle, although just last month Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that even a color Kindle was “a long way out.“"

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Matt Barton
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Kindle
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Good Morning Silicon Valley (http://blogs.siliconvalley.com/gmsv/2010/06/develop-apps-for-your-compet...) has a good breakdown of the unusual move:
"Develop apps for your competition to keep them closer, or something like that: In the page-turner that is the digital books industry comes a new, intriguing chapter: Amazon has enhanced its Kindle apps for the iPad, iPhone and iPod touch trifecta — probably its biggest competition in the e-reading industry — adding video and audio clips to some titles (13, as of this posting, but hey, it’s a start). This new functionality has some scratching their heads and declaring that Amazon doesn’t care whether the kindling goes out on its e-reading device because of the so-far unparalleled dominance of its e-reading store, which has the selection and the head start. Perhaps it wants to ensure its offerings remain competitive with that of Apple’s iBooks. It seems that at least on the device front, Amazon, whose Kindle doesn’t support video and has yet to support color, is ceding to the feature-packed iPad, which can do both, plus more. But you never know, Amazon could also be setting the stage for an improved Kindle, although just last month Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said that even a color Kindle was “a long way out.“"

I bet they're making such a killing on ebooks that it's well worth it to support the other devices.

I think there could still be room for a dedicated ebook reader, but it would need to do that one task so much better than the more generic devices that it was the de facto standard. I'm not really sure how that's possible.

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Bill Loguidice
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eBook Stores - A whole mess of them
Matt Barton wrote:

I think there could still be room for a dedicated ebook reader, but it would need to do that one task so much better than the more generic devices that it was the de facto standard. I'm not really sure how that's possible.

When wi-fi enabled eInk readers sell for $99 or less, I think they'll be logical devices for lots of people to own. Another major issue right now is the preponderance of eBook stores, led by Apple, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Sony, among others. As a consumer, you'd have to logically stick with one and ride it out for as long as possible to protect your purchases for the future. For my money, I'd bet on Apple and Amazon, though Google is also on its way to joining the party shortly. The more devices these stores support, the better chance of it being a good option for consumers. Even at $99 or less, an eInk device that only supports one store is a semi-risky prospect if you can't be sure those same books can be read on every other device you own. Most do support multiple devices, so it's not a major issue, but certainly something to consider.

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Matt Barton
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Besides the superiority of

Besides the superiority of e-ink (which I've sadly YET to experience), the most intriguing thing for me was the automated reading aloud part. That's certainly an area where a dedicated machine might make some strides. I've never heard a computer read a book in a really convincing way (and in a way that didn't eventually start to irritate). Yet again, though, I don't see why if such software was invented (and assuming no special hardware is required), why it couldn't easily be ported to iphones and such--assuming it wasn't patented, of course, which would probably be critical for whoever reached it first.

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Bill Loguidice
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"Reading on iPad and Kindle Up to 10 Percent Slower Than Paper"

Not a particularly comprehensive study by any stretch of the imagination, but interesting what they used as the basis for comparisons: http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2366065,00.asp

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Catatonic
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Well as you probably heard -

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

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