eReaders into Netbooks – the Mythical Evolution

Creative is the latest company that is ‘evolving eReaders’ and turning them into supposedly evolved eReaders that provide ‘videos, pictures, text and services in one device’.

Asus, Creative, MSI, etc. are all playing this card and thinking this will differentiate them.

However, here’s a question –

At the point that an eReader provides videos, pictures, text and services doesn’t it become a Netbook?

Asus and MSI in particular are netbook companies – are they just trying to take advantage of the eReader market by selling us renamed netbooks?

Where does the Future of eReaders lie?

To be more precise, what is the direction of evolution of eReaders –

  1. Is it that eReaders will maintain their reading focus and become more specialized and more suited for reading and eInk will evolve to give us color and faster refreshes and more reading related features? 
  2. Or is it that eReaders will morph into Netbooks or Tablets that are decent enough for reading and also let us do a lot more?

It’s an important question because there’s a war going on for the future of eReading that will decide whether or not books survive.

On one side we have –

Amazon, B&N, Sony and other companies that have dedicated reading devices that also happen to do a few reading related things.

And on the other side we have –

Asus, Apple, MSI, and other companies that want to build a general device that is ‘good enough’ for reading.

Which side is going to win out? What sort of future could we expect? 

eReaders evolve into Netbooks

This is (unfortunately, in my opinion) looking likelier every day.

It’s a perception problem. Take a normal reader and offer him two value propositions –

  1. A dedicated eReader that is 90/100 for reading and 10/100 for 5 other things. 
  2. A do-everything device that is 75/100 for reading and also 75/100 for 4 other things.

The latter will be more tempting for a lot of people. What makes it worse is that the current state of eInk means eReaders aren’t even a 90/100 yet.

Throw in a few more factors –

  1. All-purpose device companies are doing a much better job of advertising their ability to do everything (including reading) than dedicated eReader companies are doing. Apple alone has a budget of half a billion. Asus and MSI and Dell (when its reading tablet is released) will all throw in big marketing money.
  2. Most do-everything devices will piggy back on subscription services. It’s not the Debt of Free – but it’s very, very similar. A $100 device for which you pay $100 a month for 2 years seems cheaper than a $259 eReader. You can’t even point out that it’s bad for customers because committment and consistency means people delude themselves into believing that $100 + $2,400 is better than any other option.

Note: One of the things that people refuse to acknowlege is that they can be (or are) influenced. Its almost as if its in our wiring to refuse to see we’ve been misled when we are. Some sort of happiness defence.

Which means that Asus and Dell and Apple spending billions on advertising could convince a lot of people of just about anything and those people would stick to those beliefs even in the face of evidence. 

It’s just a tough, tough battle for the future of reading now that the Giants are coming in.

Where would it leave reading and dedicated eReaders if netbooks became the mainstream eReaders?

As a niche. Perhaps 20 to 40 million device sales a year.

eReaders evolve into Super eReaders

In many ways the only future for eReaders is to replace paper. Any lesser ambition (and any lesser amount of effort and drive) will make them vulnerable to do-everything devices and kill them.

If eReaders focus a lot of R&D resources on evolving eInk and adding new features and being aggressive we will get –

  1. Super eReaders that offer a 95/100 reading experience that do-everything devices just can’t match.  
  2. Enough reading related functionality to make eReaders a more attractive value proposition than do everything devices that happen to let you read. 
  3. New killer features like Read To Me and a full blown LendMe feature (personally don’t see publishers allowing this).

It’s a strange way of thinking of strategy i.e.

For a niche you suddenly have giants moving in so try to expand that niche into something huge.

However, that’s the most effective.

An Apple Slate might win the battle to be the ‘ebook reading device’  of the masses. However, there is no way it can replace paper. ePaper, on the other hand, can and will.

In a way it would be a move of sheer brilliance – to take on devices that are trying to do everything by doing something super basic and a foundation element.

Could a touchscreen Apple Slate ever replace a notebook and a textbook and a Journal i.e. reading and writing? Who knows.

However, a dedicated reading and writing device would be able to get there first and then the size of your market expands from books to paper.

Nook International, eReader from Creative

Nook might go international in 2010, Creative has a do-everything eReader and a lot of other Kindle and eReader related news. 

Nook International – Barnes & Noble to take Nook eReader International (at some undisclosed time)

TechCrunch has ferreted out that Barnes & Noble are looking to hire a ‘head of international operations’.  

  1. This is all about the Nook and taking it international.
  2. Ironically the WiFi capability would allow an international Nook to avoid the $1.99 3G premium Kindle books have outside the US.

We might end up with a situation where by mid to end 2010, the Nook would be available worldwide and B&N ebook prices would actually beat Kindle ebook prices outside the US.

Look for Kindle 3 to have WiFi and work worldwide.

Creative eReader MediaBook on the way

Epizenter has the scoop on Creative’s surprise announcement at their Annual General Meeting –

Creative surprised many by announcing its plan of entering the e-book market.

Displaying a working model of its first e-book reader – tentatively named the MediaBook (no, not the one above) – it features a touchscreen, text-to-speech function and an SD memory card slot.

Running on the company’s Zii Technology, the MediaBook will also be internet-enabled to give the user a multimedia experience.

The other juicy details –

  1. Creative hopes to differentiate itself by having videos, pictures, text and services in one device.
  2. Creative is discussing content with 10 international and local publishers.
  3. It seems to be focused around Singapore at the moment.  

Nintendo planning Nintendo version of Kindle WhisperNet

This is the sort of stealing ideas that should be encouraged. Financial Times report –

Nintendo is looking at the business model of Amazon’s Kindle as it considers the future for its portable consoles, the company’s president said on Friday.

“I’m interested because it’s a new business model in which the user doesn’t bear the communications cost,” Satoru Iwata said.

It makes perfect sense because you don’t have to mess with cartridges and losing them and distribution and all the other complications.

You also eliminate the used games market and game sharing.

Mr. Iwata also points out that it allows Nintendo to reach a wider market than if it went the wireless subscription route –

“Only people who can pay thousands of yen a month [in mobile phone subscriptions] can be iPhone customers. That doesn’t fit Nintendo customers because we make amusement products,” Mr Iwata said.

The article also mentions that the Nintendo DS has sold more than 113 million units worldwide since it launched in 2004. Wonder how many kindles Amazon will sell in its first 5 years. My money’s on 31 million Kindles by end 2012.
Various News

Lots more going on –

  1. The AP has a surprisingly well written article on Esquire magazine’s 3D Augmented Reality December issue. You have to give Esquire magazine credit – first experimenting with eInk, now this.
  2. Ars Technica reports that a consumer group in Norway are taking a break from handing out Nobel prizes for Christmas and complaining about Kindle’s terms of service.
  3. Daily Mail in the UK write about the threat of piracy of ebooks. There’s a comment from English poet Wendy Pope which pretty much captures the actual hopelessness of it – 

    … according to the award-winning English poet Wendy Cope, it is authors who stand to lose most from internet book piracy.

    ‘For some time I have been concerned that, as many of my poems are available for free on the internet, some readers may feel there is no need to buy my books,’ she said.

    ‘If the laws of copyright do go out of the window it will have a drastic effect on my income. But as things stand at the moment there is not very much anyone can do about it.

Wendy Pope is right – we’ve trained an entire generation to expect free everything. There’s not very much anyone can do about Internet piracy.

Rate of Evolution of eReaders is going to skyrocket

Have been thinking about this for a while and now it’s becoming more and more apparent – eReaders are going to evolve faster and faster.

Creative now have an eReader they’re working on. They’re the 5th or 6th company to enter the arena in the last 4 weeks. In just the last 4 weeks we’ve heard from –

  1. Bridgestone – color epaper.
  2. Creative – new entrant.
  3. Entourage Edge – new entrant, Android based Dual screen eReader.
  4. Asus – release date is 2010 and not 2009.
  5. MSI – Digitimes confirmed they’re working on an eReader.
  6. Apple (rumors) – That it might be called the Slate and Apple has talked with New York Times and Australian Newspapers.
  7. Kindle – Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac are coming. Kindle went international.
  8. Barnes and Noble – The Nook is announced.
  9. Plastic Logic – A name and a date (Jan 7th).
  10. Spring Design’s Alex.
  11. Jetbook announced the jetBook Lite for just $149.

Plus about 5-10 more eReaders and eReader companies. It’s not Kindle-Sony any more.

What Happens With so Many eReaders?

The bar keeps getting raised –

  1. More and more eReaders are getting wireless. 
  2. More and more are going open. 
  3. New innovative features that are then getting copied.
  4. Lower Prices.  
  5. eBooks hitting $9.99.

We have basically seen more developments – more evolution of eReaders – in the last 6 months than in the 1.5 years before that.

eReaders are going to evolve even faster.

2010 just might be the year where eReaders surprise us with an insane amount of innovation and evolution.

  1. Multiple Companies are looking to bring color eReaders to the main stream.
  2. Someone is going to debut a full-blown journal plus eReader.
  3. Google will launch Google Editions and perhaps bring ad-supported ebooks into the mainstream.
  4. The $9.99 price might standardize and the WalMart-Amazon $9 hardcover war might spread.
  5. Pixel Qi’s magic screens will debut in devices.

Plus we have the threat of Apple coming in and changing how we think about reading.

Every new innovation gets copied and spreads. Every new competitive advantage, even one that reduces profits, has to be matched and negated.

It’s a great time to be a reader.