What happens when the 10,000 hours rule kicks in with eReaders

The Kindle has been in the market for around 3 years and 3 months. It was in development for around 3 to 4 years before that.

Sony Reader has been in the market for nearly 4 years. Perhaps there was 2 years of development before that.

Nook has been in the market for 1 year and 3 months. It was in development for around a year before that.

We’ve seen eReaders evolve and improve over that time period. However, you have to wonder how close we are to a truly glorious eReader. An eReader that is timeless.

Let’s consider two questions that might help us figure out how long we have to wait before the superstar eReaders arrive -

  1. Does the 10,000 hour rule apply to products people make (in that same way that it, perhaps, applies to skills people learn)? 
  2. When would eReaders hit the 10 years/10,000 hours mark?

And after that we’ll wonder -

  1. What happens when eReaders hit the 10,000 hour rule?

Let’s start by jumping into the 10,000 hours rule and our assumption that such a thing as the 10,000 hour rule exists.

10 Years/10,000 Hours = Mastery

A concept brought up in numerous books like Talent is Overrated and Outliers is that it takes a certain amount of ‘deliberate practice’ to attain mastery in a skill.

These books talk about the process of mastering a skill as something very distinct from randomly doing something for fun.

  1. They claim Mastery requires deliberate practice. Deliberate Practice is a special type of practice that involves a very conscious, almost painful, focus on improving/learning.
  2. They also claim it usually takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to master a skill. For some areas it takes 20,000 or more hours.
  3. Additionally, they claim that this 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is usually spread out over a period of 10 years.

If we make a giant assumption that such a 10,000 hours rule exists, we have to ask ourselves what happens when a person has attained mastery. One possible answer is that the person starts working on her/his masterpieces.

How long does it take an ‘expert’ to make a masterpiece?

We have an expert. She has spent 10,000 hours over a period of 8 to 10 years and attained mastery in her craft. Now she sets off to create her masterpiece.

How long would it take her?

That’s a good question, and one assumption we could make, one that seems awfully convenient, is that it would take her another 10,000 hours of ‘deliberate application’ of her skills to create her masterpiece.

Let’s run with the assumption because, well, it is rather convenient. Plus it’s better to overshoot the figure than undershoot it.

It’s better to assume a 10 year period than a 2 year period

Let’s take eReaders. If we say that truly skilled people can create a masterpiece in just 2 years we would have the Nook 1, the Sony Reader, and the Kindle all labeled masterpieces. While they’re all good, it’s doubtful that any of them represent an eReader masterpiece.

If, on the other hand, we assume a 10 year period, we can hope that in around 2013 the best Kindle ever made will arrive. That in 2013 Sony too will exceed itself. That the best Nook ever will arrive in 2015.

What happens then?

What happens when eReaders get 10,000 hours of deliberate application?

We haven’t really gotten close to where we could be with eReaders.

Kindle – 6 to 7 years. Sony Reader – 6 years. Nook – 2 years.

Yet, already, we have around 10 million eReaders sold. We have eBooks at 10% or so of the US Book Market. We have the beginning of the democratization of Publishing and the rise of indie authors. We have a fall in book prices.

What happens when eReaders get their full 10 years and become true masterpieces?

Everything accelerates – the quality of eReaders, the adoption of eReaders, the spread of eBooks, everything.

Perhaps these are the main improvements we’ll see by 2013/2014 (when at least Kindle and Sony Reader have hit their 10 years) -

  1. Prices around $50. 
  2. Color support.
  3. eReaders you can also use as eWriters. 
  4. Unbreakable eReaders.
  5. Flexible eReaders.
  6. Availability of 90% of books that are published.
  7. eReaders that can be folded out into screen sizes that are larger than their carrying sizes. 

It’s hard to say what features we’ll see over the next 3 to 4 years. Text to Speech wasn’t really a feature many people anticipated. Neither was the free-hand drawing that Sony Reader added in its second generation eReaders. Hopefully, there will be lots of good surprises.

We are still in the beginning stages

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this ‘eReaders still have to hit 10,000 hours’ post is that we’re still only 50% or 60% into making good eReaders. By 2013/2014 we’ll get our first superstar eReaders. The real masterpieces.

By then lots of other things will have improved too – resources for authors, publishing, platforms, services, software.

It’s going to be a very different world and it’ll be interesting to see how the people who are predicting 25% market share for ebooks by 2015 handle the new reality.

6 Responses

  1. I don’t see the connection between mastering a skill and advancement of portable electronics. Moore’s law would be a better metaphor, though even it doesn’t directly apply here.

    Are there many examples where 10 years brings a device from infancy to mastery? When would you consider the e-reader’s birth? The Rocketbook was born in 1998. E-ink was available in the Sony reader in 2004. Both of these milestones eventually lead to the current market.

    Personally, I think that the first generation Kindle (my only current e-reader) is an excellent “prototype” (limited run, saleable device) and the K2 is a solid piece of consumer electronics. They’ve reached a greater level of “mastery” than most consumer devices ever hope to obtain.

    • I meant one device.

      Moore’s law is something completely different.

      I only mean a person’s ability to utilize his skill, his idea and thoughts, into a product. Not the pace at which the components evolve. The pace at which the device’s vision is turned into something final.

      • Yeah. I understand that and it still doesn’t work. It’s an iterative process. The product is released, customers provide feedback, the product is updated. (Moore’s law clearly doesn’t apply as it only describes transistor density – I was just saying it’s a closer analogy — not a good one)!

        Increasing one’s own skill is not an iterative process. There is no feedback loop except during a time of great progress. Lengthy plateaus occur where no positive feedback is obtained.

        Individual skill does not relate to a group-produced final product. It doesn’t even directly relate to an individually produced commercial product. Products so designed are typically low quality because they don’t pay attention to customer feedback.

  2. This is uh…. pretty out there. The 10K hours is more an observation on human skill. Electronic device manufacture observes different rules.

    2-3 Already exist in certain forms. #1 is IMHO within the realm of possibility, although I’m not sure probability. Maybe with some heavily subsidized subscription, or with buying say, $50 in ebooks? 5-7 are not going to happen by 2014, I think, possibly not even by 2020.

    • Devices are created by humans though.

      If you think of the different versions of a product as its evolution it’d be interesting to figure out how long it took, on average, to create a really compelling version.

  3. Ten years to perfect the concept, I could believe that. Amazon wasn’t in the business of consumer electronics prior to the Kindle, so they’ve had quite a learning curve to master.

    One area they must improve is text to speech. That has gone from ‘oh, interesting’ to must have for this commuter. Many of your other ideas have merit.

    In this world of $250+ tablets, Amazon’s #1 priority should be to cut costs. I read your $99 Kindle article before commenting; I think Amazon needs to work on getting down to $79. From what I’ve read (in online surveys), that will double the market take up.

    At this point Amazon needs a line up of devices. Something color and touchscreen for the children’s market, a cheap device for market penetration, and another device for bragging rights (dual core, video, yet an excellent reader).

    It is clear, this is just beginning

    Neil.

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