With the Kindle 3 already here, the Sony 650’s details leaked, and Nook 2 waiting to pounce in September we have a pretty good idea of where we stand.
Where we stand with Kindle, eReaders
Here’s a quick list –
- Price – We’re doing very well on price with $189 to $200 prices for the 6″ eReaders and $130 to $150 prices for the 3G less 6″ eReaders. The larger screen models are still rather expensive at $379 for the Kindle DX.
- Technology – eInk Pearl makes the screen contrast excellent and Sony 650 supposedly pulls off touch without hurting readability. Apart from that we’re doing pretty poorly – No flexibility and no rollable screens, no unbreakable screens, and the best bet for color (Qualcomm Mirasol) just announced a facility that’ll mass-produce screens only in 2012.
- User Friendliness – This is going amazingly well. eReaders are still easy to use and getting easier. They are also expanding to low vision readers (super size fonts in Kindle and Nook), blind readers (voice guide and text to speech in Kindle), and other demographics.
- eBooks – This is a mixed bag. We’re at 8.5% market share for ebooks and we’re also saddled with the Agency Model. It’s very encouraging but there are still threats including vague hints of advertising in books.
- Killer Features – Well, across the various eReaders we have Library Books, Accessibility, eInk Pearl, Read to Me, Lend Me, Amazing battery life, much improved page turn speeds, changeable font sizes, respectable PDF support, good browsers (Nook and Kindle), support for more and more languages, touch and free hand drawing, great size, low weight, and a few other killer features. Doing pretty well here.
- Formats and Interoperability – This is a royal mess. Even the ePub companies can’t work well with each other and when they do they make it incredibly complicated to use ePub. You’ve got to love how ‘open’ ePub requires Adobe Digital Editions, PC to eReader transfers, and all sorts of 20th century mechanisms.
- Survival – Everything’s good here. eReaders are alive and kicking. They haven’t been eaten up by or morphed into great-for-nothing, good-for-everything devices.
- Market – The market continues to expand with predictions that 10 million eReaders will be sold in 2010 though it’s disconcerting that over 70% of those sales are expected in the last 5 months of the year.
- School and College – Not much progress here. The lack of touch makes eReaders irrelevant (except for English majors and perhaps a few others). Sony has touch but no large screen eReader. It’s hard to get excited by Blio and NookStudy – they’re not eReaders and they involve reading on LCD screens.
All in all some things are going very well (price, killer features, survival, market size, user friendliness) and some are bumbling along with ups and downs (interoperability, school+college, technology, ebooks).
Which brings us to the point of this post – Figuring out the 1 thing that would have the most impact and the most positive impact on eReaders.
Candidates for the 1 best thing for eReaders and Kindle
Let’s list as many as we can –
- Killer feature or breakthrough based on software. Perhaps a company comes up with some software that just revolutionizes reading and ebooks and eReaders.
- Killer feature or breakthrough based on hardware. Perhaps eInk makes a major breakthrough, perhaps chip makers make a breakthrough.
- A huge jump in ease of use. This is a bit harder to imagine as eReaders are already pretty simple. However, it’s possible.
- Steve Jobs level marketing magic. The major impediment in eReaders’ path to domination is Perception – some people don’t realize it’s just like reading a book, other people don’t realize how much better the reading experience is than on LCD screens, and a few people just can’t get over the touch and feel of books. Add on the 70% of people who have no idea what an eReader is and you suddenly realize the need to market and promote eReaders.
- The end of DRM. Since DRM is supposedly the root of all evil perhaps removing it would lead to something magical and revolutionary.
- 1 common format. Another thing that is the root of all evil (interesting isn’t it – two roots of evil) is the lack of a common format. Perhaps removing this would lead to amazing things.
- 1 eReader winning out. It’s possible though not probable that a dominant eReader would be a good thing.
- A permanent tie between 2 or 3 eReaders. This is much likelier to be good for eReaders – constant competition would mean constant improvements.
- Huge cut in prices on large screen eReaders. Hard to make a case for this when the 6″ eReaders are doing so much better. Perhaps the school and college angle.
- 6″ eReaders hitting $99. We mean the big three – Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader. We’re already at $139 but the magic $100 figure may very well be the secret.
- Death of the Agency Model. Well, it isn’t really hurting eReader sales or eBook sales and $14.99 has morphed into $12.99 so this is unlikely to be the one.
- eReader App Store. This is a total wild card. As opposed to Facebook and iPhone which are in some ways blank canvases and where people have a lot of time to waste eReaders already have their killer function – reading.
- Arrival of color. Color has so little to do with reading books that this is unlikely to be the most impactful change we could have.
- Unbreakable screens. This would help a lot.
- Kindle for Kids or Sony Reader for Kids. This has two consequences – a lot more sales, inculcating a love of reading before school work kills the possibility.
- Actual Internationalization. eReaders that support all languages and book rights that work across the globe.
- Writing capability. This would be huge.
A lot of the items on this list would be impactful. It’d be a fun exercise to run a bunch of readers through the list and have them prioritize these features or cast a yes/no vote on each.
Top 7 Candidates for huge Kindle, eReaders impact
Well, here are the ones that, in my opinion, could have the most impact –
- A permanent tie between two or three eReaders. This would be a dream outcome as the companies would always be competing and improving. 3 or 4 would be much better than 2.
- $99 prices on eReaders from the Big 3. It’s hard to discount this as casual readers are a pretty important market and the fact that eReaders turn some casual readers into frequent or even hard-core readers is even more important.
- Writing Capability. Perhaps the one thing that instantly transforms eReaders from niche devices into devices with incredibly broad appeal (school, college, work, replacing paper).
- Actual Internationalization. The US has almost single-handedly taken eReaders from an idea to millions of sales a year. If we can get the whole world to participate we would transform books and eReaders.
- Huge jump in Awareness. If the rate of increase in awareness could be accelerated things would become much easier. We saw this with Oprah’s Kindle endorsement and you have to wonder if that’s scalable – Surely, every country and every state has its own equivalent of Oprah.
- Major hardware breakthrough. Could we get an eInk related breakthrough that changes things massively? Perhaps unbreakable screens.
- 1 common format. There’s so much drama around interoperability. You almost feel it’d be worth fixing just to get people to stop complaining about it. If those people then become positive and embrace eReaders whole-heartedly this would be a huge factor. If they just find something else to complain about (books not being free, Amazon and B&N dominating, no free coffee) then the format issue would prove to be a red herring.
These are all very good candidates – My money’s on one out of ‘A permanent tie between two or three eReaders’, ‘Writing Capability’, and ‘Actual Internationalization’. The others are very promising too (especially Awareness) – However, any 1 of the latter three could transform eReaders just by itself.