Matt Alexander at The Loop:
E-readers are targeted products built with the aim, as I wrote in my Kindle Touch review, of providing a compelling “replacement for the venerable and inherently simple printed word.” They are cheap, lightweight, have long battery life, and operate well in direct sunlight, but they do little more than present traditional literature in an electronic package.
So far, we agree, although I think presenting literature electronically comes with quite a few nontrivial gains that shouldn’t be glossed over. But then:
And while that might be enough for some, it is clear that e-ink is progressing towards a colorful, responsive, video-capable future, and that is certainly not what constitutes an e-reading device. That is a tablet.
Is it really clear and inevitable that e-ink is going to become colorful and video-capable? I’d argue that most of e-ink’s appeal today will still appeal to a lot of people five years from now, and probably even longer.
Newsprint can’t do much compared to color glossy magazine printing, but it has never gone away. Why must black-and-white e-ink readers inevitably be replaced by multimedia color tablets?
The e-reader’s purpose is, ostensibly, to serve as a stopgap measure until both e-ink itself and LCDs evolve to the point of intersection —
and that does not seem too terribly far off. Tablets are losing weight with each iteration, prices are lowering, battery lives are lengthening, and soon, everything that makes e-readers wonderful products will be assimilated into other pieces of technology.
As tablets lose weight, so do e-readers. As tablets get cheaper, so do e-readers. As tablets get longer battery lives, so do e-readers. With the (large) exception of the screens, tablets and e-readers are using the same classes of components, the same batteries, and the same manufacturing processes. But e-ink readers have far lower hardware and power needs, so e-readers should maintain their advantages over tablets for quite some time: the best e-reader on the market today costs $79, weighs less than a third as much as an iPad 2, and has a battery that lasts a month. That’s a huge gap that won’t be filled with incremental hardware improvements.
Plus, the ideal size of an e-reader is probably going to remain smaller than the ideal size of a tablet. And there are other big advantages to reading on a basic e-ink reader, such as the lack of a bunch of apps and multimedia features to distract you from reading.
I don’t think the e-reader is “doomed” at all. It may just be relegated to a fringe device for reading nerds, but that’s what it’s been for most of its lifespan as a category and it’s been fine.