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 –
- 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?
- 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 –
- A dedicated eReader that is 90/100 for reading and 10/100 for 5 other things.
- 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 –
- 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.
- 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 –
- Super eReaders that offer a 95/100 reading experience that do-everything devices just can’t match.
- Enough reading related functionality to make eReaders a more attractive value proposition than do everything devices that happen to let you read.
- 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.