Are we going to see a color eReader from Samsung soon?

The Kindle uses eInk Pearl with Mr. Bezos saying color is a long ways off.

At the same time we have -

  1. PVI saying eInk Triton is not far off. Hanvon agrees, and is releasing a color screen eReader this year in China.
  2. PocketBook releasing a color eReader, based on Qualcomm Mirasol, in Q3, 2011. 
  3. Samsung buying Liquavista, which has its own color ePaper technology, and offering 50 Euro discounts on both of its existing eReaders.
  4. Fujitsu selling its second generation color screen eReader in Japan.
  5. Adam shipping with a Pixel Qi powered multi-mode screen, which includes a reflective mode for reading in sunlight.

That’s 5 separate companies and 5 separate screen technologies. 2011 will definitely see interesting color eReaders and reading tablets. The things worth wondering about are -

Will Amazon release a color Kindle? What will PocketBook’s Mirasol screen eReader be like? Is Samsung going to soon release a color eReader?

This post will consider the third question.

Signs that a Samsung color eReader is closer than we think

There are a few -

  1. It just bought Liquavista outright. That might mean it’s getting ready to produce color eReaders and wants to get a lock on the technology, and also guarantee there is enough supply.
  2. It’s started discounting its existing eReaders massively. Samsung E60 is now half-price at 50 euros. If there’s one thing we’ve learnt about eReaders it’s that a big discount is usually quickly followed by a new eReader release.
  3. It’s stayed in the eReader market and it’s launching worldwide. If nothing else, that suggests it has intent to compete all over the world.

You also have to factor in the fact that Samsung is a monster and it’s bound to keep fighting in eReaders. A few facts courtesy Wikipedia -

  • Samsung Group accounts for 20% of South Korea’s exports.
  • It had $173.4 billion in revenue in 2008. Also, in 2008 it had $252.5 billion in assets.
  • It’s everywhere – world’s second largest shipbuilder, world’s largest electronics company, the 14th largest life insurance company. It even has the fifth most popular theme park in the world.

With over 10 million eReaders sold, and a potential market of tens of millions of eReaders a year, Samsung must feel it’s now worth it to commit fully to the eReader market. Which would explain it buying Liquavista.

Is it possible that Samsung might lose interest in eReaders and color eReaders?

Well, it’s rather unlikely.

It has eReaders out. It is selling them all over the world. It just bought a company that makes color eReader screen technology.

There are probably some reasons why Samsung might quit eReaders -

  1. It might think that reading tablets or tablets are a better market to compete in. Note that the Tablet market has very little competition at the moment (just Apple) while eReaders have the Big 3 of Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader.
  2. Strategically Samsung might feel it’s important to focus on markets other than ereaders first.
  3. It might decide to get into the business of providing eReader technology like eReader screens and memory – as opposed to eReaders themselves.
  4. The eReader market might stall at around 10 to 15 million units a year.
  5. Samsung might decide it doesn’t want to get into the hassles of dealing with Publishers for books. It might feel there’s just too much work involved in providing a complete device+store+channel solution of the type Amazon and B&N provide.

While it’s not inconceivable that Samsung leaves the eReader market, it’s a bit unlikely.

Only the US eReader market has reached anything close to maturity - it’s still penetrable via a color eReader or a very cheap one. The whole world awaits and Samsung has a lot of advantages worldwide. It’s obviously got some big advantages when it comes to Asia and especially South Korea and surrounding countries. There is the possibility that the eReader market keeps growing – Samsung can’t risk missing out on a 40 million eReaders a year market.

When might Samsung release a color eReader?

Q3 or Q4 of 2011 would be the most likely time. All signs indicate that a Color Kindle won’t arrive until Fall 2011 or later. eReaders powered by Qualcomm screens are also not going to be available until then. eInk Triton is only arriving in China in the first half of the year – It might not even arrive in the US by end 2011.

Now that Samsung owns Liquavista it can speed up timelines and ramp up production - It gets a chance to beat Qualcomm and eInk Triton to the US market.

The most likely release date – Fall 2011.

If Samsung decides it needs to be first to market – a June 2011 release date.

Anything before then is rather unlikely.

Is Google building an eReader? Readying ad-supported books?

The Kindle might be getting a brand new eReader rival.

It seems that Google has bought out a company called eBook Technologies Incorporated. The acquisition is notable for a few reasons -

  1. ETI has two LCD based eReaders and 1 eInk based eReader – the latter looked surprisingly like the BeBook. This might mean that Google is looking at building an eReader. It makes sense to build on one of ETI’s eReaders, instead of starting from scratch.
  2. ETI has 8 very important eReader patents including ones covering advertising in books and secure ebook delivery. These were mostly granted on December 16th, 2010. This might mean that Google already has an eReader ready, and just wants to protect itself from patent lawsuits. Given that Amazon and B&N already have several patents, and that companies like Discovery Communications also have eReader related patents, it makes sense to buy a portfolio of patents that would keep a Google eReader safe from patent lawsuits.
  3. ETI has technology for an eBook platform which includes an ebook publishing and distribution system. This is something Google would definitely need if it were to get into eReaders. In fact, it would need this even if it sticks with just ebooks.

Here are some links of interest -

  1. Cache site for the ETI-Proto – ETI’s 6″ eInk eReader
  2. Cache site for ETI Product Overview – ETI’s eReaders, Online Bookshelf, eBookstore, and Tools
  3. TechCrunch’s Coverage – Some intelligent comments on a rather amateurish post.

However, the real question is – Why did Google buy eBook Technologies Incorporated?

Is Google Building an eReader? Will it build on top of ETI-Proto?

The first possibility is that Google decided that instead of spending $1 billion on B&N’s Nook division, or Sony’s Sony Reader division, it makes more sense to spend $50 million on a smaller company like ETI or Cool-er.

Then it could take the devices ETI has, pick one or more, and build a Google eReader using the technology. As a nice bonus, it gets a bunch of eReader patents that ensure it can release the new Google Reader without any problems.

Will Google go with an eInk eReader or a LCD eReader?

Here are the three ETI eReaders Google could build on (please note that most of this information is from 2007, and is thus pretty outdated) -

  1. ETI-Proto. It has a 6″ eInk screen, a single button, and seems to be a BeBook clone.
  2. ETI-1. It has a back-lit, 8.2 inch, 16 bit color LCD touchscreen with VGA resolution. It has brightness and contrast controls. It also has an internal 56K modem, an ethernet port,  a memory card slot, a Motorola processor, and a stylus.
  3. ETI-2. It has a back-lit, 5.5 inch, 4-bit grayscale LCD touch screen with half-VGA resolution. It has page turn buttons on the front left side. It has an internal 33.6K modem, a USB slot, a stylus, and a Cirrus Logic processor.

It seems ETI had an entire range of eReaders – eInk, grayscale LCD, color LCD. The eReaders also seem pretty decent given these specifications are from 2007.

Given that it’s Google, it’s likely that it will use this technology to build a reading tablet, and not an eReader.

How likely is it that Google is building an eReader or a Reading Tablet?

Very likely.

Google built a phone secretly. Then it built a netbook/laptop secretly. There’s little doubt it’ll build an eReader sooner or later. It has search traffic, it has books, it has public domain books, it has an ebook store, it has cloud infrastructure – the only thing missing is an eReader.

In fact, it’s quite possible that Google has an eReader almost ready - that it’s buying ETI simply for eReader patents.

Is Google buying patents to protect an almost-ready Google eReader? To sell advertising supported books ?

Let’s take a look at the impressive eReader patents ETI has. Thanks to Dave at TechCrunch for the clues.

Patent for advertising in Books

[Advertising in Books] System and Method for providing Sub-Publication Content in an Electronic Device – A patent about showing ‘master content’ and then showing sub-content that might be a book review, news, sports news, classifieds, book-related, and so forth. It includes advertisements as sub-content. This might be the BIG patent. Amazon has a patent for in-book advertising. Now Google just got a patent for in-book advertising.

You can also read the entire eReader patent.

Patent for Secure eBook delivery and offline eBook shopping

From the Management page at ETI’s website we get this -

 John is co-inventor and patent holder of a system to provide secure electronic book delivery. He is also a co-inventor of a patent-pending system to provide offline catalog shopping on an electronic book.

Those are two very important patents. Can’t find the patent numbers. Please do leave a comment if you can find them.

Flexible Electronic Device

Update: This is actually Skiff.

Patent Application Number – 20100315399. This is a patent that covers a flexible electronic device and a method of manufacture. This patent specifically quotes the Kindle and Plastic Logic’s Que -

In many cases, electronic devices have replaced traditional, non-electronic devices.

For example, for many, electronic reading devices have replaced traditional paper books. An example of such a device is Amazon’s Kindle wireless reading device, which allows a user to download an electronic book, and then read that book using the device. Another example of a similar product is the Plastic Logic Reader. These devices, while providing functionality for the user, still resemble small, inflexible computers.

It’s interesting that Skiff has patents for a flexible eReader. Thought that News Corp had closed it down. This might be a pretty valuable patent. Skiff has at least two more eReader related patents -

  1. [This is Skiff] Electronic Display Controller – System for controlling an electronic display, such as an electrophoretic display.
  2. [This is Skiff] System and Method for Providing Spatial and Temporal Content in an Electronic Device. Includes Advertising which makes it a hugely important patent.

It’d be worth investigating what other patents Skiff has. Perhaps in a later post.

Additional Patents

ETI also holds a few additional patents -

  1. Electronic Paper Display Whitespace Utilization – A patent about how ePaper content formatting is presented. It literally talks about figuring out how best to display content on an eReader, and which content to display, given a certain amount of available space left. It’s a bit ridiculous there’s a patent for how words are shown on a page.
  2. System and Method for delivering Publication Content to Reader Devices using Mixed Mode Transmission – A patent that talks about multi-casting content to multiple eReaders. It also talks about using mixed mode transmission.

It’s interesting that nearly all of ETI’s patents mention devices using electronic paper displays. Why would it focus so much on eInk when it had just 1 eInk based eReader?

Is Google buying ETI’s Platform and Distribution Technology?

After looking at the patents ETI has, this possibility seems really unlikely. However, let’s see if there’s something worth acquiring.

ETI has a platform consisting of four parts -

  1. eReaders. Which we’ve looked at above.
  2. Online Bookshelf. This is ETI’s equivalent of WhisperNet/the Cloud. They talk about ‘the ability to purchase and access ebooks anywhere, and at any time’ – which sounds identical to the Kindle’s ‘Buy a Book Once. Read it Everywhere’ sales pitch.
  3. eBookstore. The equivalent of Kindle Store. ETI mentions relationships with over 24 major publishers. It also talks about accessing the store through an eReader, a browser, an offline catalog, or through an alternate web retailer.
  4. Content Conversion and Publication Tools. Apparently, ETI’s founders were founding members of the International Digital Publishing Forum, which created ePub. ETI has a tool, eBook Publisher, which converts books into ePub format. It can process text, ePub, OEBPS, Html, Word, and Powerpoint files. ETI also has a tool, Auto Publisher, which performs pagination, compression, and encryption of ebooks.

It’s clear that ETI’s platform, and its distribution technology and tools, might be pretty valuable too. ETI’s President is on the IPDF board and helps set direction for ePub – which definitely helps since ‘openness’ and ePub are going to be used as weapons in the eReader Wars.

Is Google buying itself an eReader Development Team?

ETI’s management team -

  1. John Rivlin, CEO, was the VP of Software Systems at Softbook Press. SoftBook Press released one of the first eReaders in 1998 – the SoftBook. This company was acquired by GemStar, and he was then responsible for design, development, and operations of the Gemstar eBook server platform.
  2. Garth Conboy, President, was the VP of Software Engineering at Softbook Press. At Gemstar he was the GM for the Gemstar eBook Group which was a combination of SoftBook Press and the company behind the RocketBook.

More details at the cached page for ETI’s Management Team.

By acquiring ETI Inc. Google instantly gets some of the people with the most experience in eReaders and eBooks.

Closing Thoughts

Google acquired – eReader technology, some extremely valuable patents, a distribution system and platform, two people who know an awful lot about eReaders. It’s a pretty good acquisition.

There are two very likely consequences – a Google eReader will arrive in 2011, Google will try advertising-supported books in 2011 or early 2012.

Why are eReaders no longer the flavor of the month?

The Kindle is rumored to have sold 8 million units in 2010. You’d think that would make every company on Earth want to manufacture eReaders. Strangely, if CES 2011 is any indicator, most companies seem to have given up on eReaders.

Decline of interest in making eReaders – CES 2010 vs CES 2011

Here’s a post reviewing the eReaders of CES 2010. Here are some of the eReaders shown off last January (with updates on their status in 2011 included) -

  1. Mirasol. Mirasol is the star eReader at CES 2011 – just as it was the star eReader at CES 2010. The first Mirasol device is rumored to be the PocketBook Mirasol and it’s set to debut in Q3, 2011. Note that Mirasol powered eReaders were supposed to launch in 2010 itself – so that Q3, 2011 date isn’t a given.
  2. BeBook with Liquavista Color Display. No mention of it now. 
  3. PixelQi. Notion Ink’s Adam tablet with Pixel Qi display is available – It’s a Tablet rather than an eReader. No other devices with Pixel Qi at CES 2011.
  4. Alex Reader. Arrived and was rather good – didn’t make much impact. 
  5. Entouradge Edge. Arrived and was good but very expensive. Didn’t have much impact.
  6. Copia. Released a social platform instead of an eReader.
  7. MSI Dual Screen eReader. No idea what happened to this.
  8. Cool-er. Bankrupt now.
  9. Bookeen Orizon. No idea what happened to this.
  10. Samsung E6 Reader. This is set to release in the US soon.
  11. Aiptek Story Book.
  12. Fujitsu. Still only in Japan.
  13. Skiff. Closed down.
  14. 20 other generic readers. Most didn’t arrive.
  15. Acer and Asus had plans for eReaders. Morphed into Tablet Plans. Acer does have one eReader+eWriter set to launch in summer of 2011.

CES 2010 was all about eReaders. More importantly, it was about new companies jumping into the eReader market.

Contrast that with CES 2011 -

  1. Hanvon’s color eReader which won’t be released in the US.
  2. The two CES 2010 stars – Mirasol and Pixel Qi.
  3. iRiver’s Story HD.
  4. A few more. Just a few.

From 40 to 50 new eReaders at CES 2010, we’ve gone down to 10 or so at CES 2011. We have almost no new companies trying to release eReaders. Tablets have replaced eReaders as the flavor of the month.

Why has there been such a sharp decline in interest in making eReaders?

For all intents and purposes eReaders are doing great -

  1. Amazon has definitely sold millions of eReaders. It might have sold as many as 8 million eReaders in 2010.
  2. B&N is selling half a million Nook Color reading tablets a month.
  3. B&N has sold millions of Nooks.
  4. Every eBook store and app is talking about ‘millions’ of sales and ‘millions’ of customers.
  5. eBooks are 10% of the market now.

You have to wonder why there were 50 companies jumping into eReaders in January 2010, when just ‘millions’ of eReaders had been sold, and now there are close to zero companies jumping in – even though 10 million or more ereaders have been sold.

Why is everyone shunning the eReader market?

Here are possible reasons -

  1. Companies believe Tablets will kill eReaders.
  2. Companies feel Tablets are a much bigger market than eReaders – that Tablets could become as big as laptops, while eReaders will always be a 10-15 million eReaders sold a year market.
  3. There are not that many companies excited about eReaders – They find tablets more interesting.
  4. With Tablets, companies see an opportunity to compete on price. iPad at $499 means a lot of opportunity for lower priced tablets.
  5. Companies feel Amazon has wrapped up the market. That there’s a small 10 million eReaders a year market, and Amazon has most of it.
  6. They feel the major markets are US and UK, and those are very difficult to get into. With Tablets they feel there is more of an international market.
  7. Companies don’t feel they can compete with the trifecta of Kindle, Kindle Store, and Free WhisperNet.
  8. Companies don’t want to deal with Publishers. Can’t really blame them.
  9. Companies get a free Operating System they can use with their tablets – the ‘optimized for Tablets’ Android Honeycomb. Even more of an opportunity to cut prices. Note that there is no version of Android optimized for eReaders.

Whatever the reason, it’s pretty clear that companies have moved on from eReaders, and are fully focused on tablets in 2011.

Comparative sizes of eReader and Tablet markets

Apple supposedly sold 10 to 12 million Tablets in 2010. There weren’t really any other Tablets in the market.

Sales of 10 million or so iPads in 2010 might mean a lot of different things -

  1. That Apple got most of the market, and the actual market is 15 million Tablets sold a year.
  2. That Apple could barely produce enough to meet demand (as is claimed), and the actual market is 30 million tablets a year.
  3. 10 million iPads sold is just the tip of the iceberg, and the Tablet market is actually 100 million tablets a year.

Companies jumping into the Tablet market seem to believe one of the latter two possibilities.

In the eReader market, Amazon supposedly sold 5 to 8 million Kindles. B&N and Sony sold a million or more eReaders each. B&N sold a million reading tablets. Other eReader makers probably sold 1 or 2 million eReaders.

What might ’10 million eReaders sold in 2010′ mean?

  1. That the eReader market is already stable, and will stay at around 10 million eReaders sold per year.
  2. That the eReader market jumped from 4 million eReaders sold in 2009, to 10 million eReaders sold in 2010. That it will continue to boom, and will reach 20 to 30 million eReaders sold per year before it stabilizes.
  3. That 2010 eReader sales are just the tip of the iceberg, and that the eventual market will be one hundred million eReaders sold per year.

Most companies seem to believe the first possibility. Perhaps they believe 2. but feel they have no chance.

So, for some indecipherable reason, every company dabbling in eReaders has either assumed that eReaders will stop growing, or it has assumed that Amazon and B&N are unbeatable.

That seems rather defeatist.

It makes very little sense – In a year when every eReader company is claiming record sales, all other companies are running away from the eReader market, instead of towards it.

Top 5 eReader events of 2011 (candidates)

The Kindle, the Nook, and all of us await what 2011 might bring.

2010 was a very interesting year. We had a lot of interesting eReader related events - CES 2010 was full of eReaders, we had the advent of $150 eReaders, the iPad arrived, Kindle DX 2 arrived, we got Nook WiFi, we had Kindle WiFi and Kindle 3, the Nook color was released, Sony brought touch to eReaders.

2011 promises to be just as interesting. Let’s look at the eReader events and happenings that are candidates to be the Top 5 eReader events of 2011.

Things left unfinished

There are a lot of things left over from 2010 -

  1. Arrival of color eReaders. eInk, Qualcomm, and Pixel Qi all promised or hinted at color eReaders in 2010. In 2011 they get to deliver on their unfulfilled promises.
  2. iPad 2 to destroy eReaders. Lots of people thought iPad would kill eReaders. Steve Jobs gets to try to get that done in 2011 with iPad 2. We all know this is rather unlikely – still, it’s fun to let non-readers, who hardly ever buy books, remain delusional and believe they are going to determine the future of books and reading.
  3. Google to deliver the most dangerous Kindle competitor. Google eBooks has a lot of potential but it seems rushed – In 2011 Google should have enough time to deliver a full solution.
  4. Sony Reader finally adds wireless support? Sony refuses to add wireless support to its Pocket and Touch models. In 2011 we might finally see it change its mind. Kobo took 5-6 months to realize lack of wireless was a deal breaker – Why can’t Sony see this after 3+ years?
  5. Plastic Logic to release Que. Plastic Logic delayed its Que proReader after the iPad was launched. In 2011 it should have something out, and we’ll find out if there’s a market for ‘business eReaders’.

A lot of the biggest events of 2011 might be the outcome of things started in 2009 and 2010.

The Reading Tablet Wars

Nook Color has carved out a new market. It’s also managed to capture the dual crowns of best Android tablet and best Tablet under $400.

A few of the top events of 2011 might be events related to the Reading Tablet Wars -

  1. Release of a Kindle Reading Tablet.
  2. Release of Nook Color 2.
  3. Nook Color becoming a major force and hitting the 5 million units sold mark.

The Nook Color and other Reading Tablets will have a major impact in 2011. People still don’t realize that a lot of what they really love about dedicated eReaders is the dedication to readers. A reading tablet that is dedicated to readers and reading will have a lot more impact than people realize.

New eReaders and Color eReaders

This ties in with the ‘Unfinished Business of 2010′ list.

  1. We will see a color screen PocketBook eReader powered by Qualcomm Mirasol in Q3, 2011.
  2. We will find out which company was the motivation for Qualcomm’s $2 billion investment in Mirasol production facilities.
  3. We’ll see Hanvon release their color eReader. Perhaps even in the US.
  4. We might see a Color Kindle.
  5. One out of Sony Reader and Nook might take a gamble on a color screen eReader.

We also have eReaders we don’t know about yet – a possible GReader, Pixel Qi powered tablets sold as eReaders, perhaps a dedicated reading device from Apple (actually, it’s rather unlikely). Kobo is likely to release a new Kobo Reader.

There are also a few new eReaders being shown off at CES 2011, including the iRiver Story HD which has 1024 by 800 screen resolution.

Kindle 4 and Nook 2 and Sony Reader 675

The Big 3 eReaders of 2009 and 2010 (Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader) are all likely to see new versions released this year -

  1. Kindle 4 might be an improved Kindle with a color screen or a touch screen.
  2. Nook 2 has to compete against Kindle 3 – you have to wonder what surprises it might spring.
  3. Sony Readers have consistently been the best reading devices. They have also been consistently let down by poor infrastructure and by a terrible ebook store. Will 2011 be different?

Nook 2 is the biggest release here – It sets the tone for Kindle vs Nook for all of 2011. Nook Color is gorgeous, but it’s in a different segment - B&N really, really needs a solid Nook 2 to compete effectively in the dedicated eReader space.

The new Sony Reader releases are important – especially if Sony ties up with Google, and lets the ‘Do No Evil’ Empire provide infrastructure and ebooks.

Could Kobo produce a couple of the most significant events of 2011?

Kobo is threatening on multiple fronts. If it manages to release a killer eReader it might end up with an eReader+Store combo that’s as good as Kindle.

Could Kobo produce something exquisite in 2011?

eReader Wars of 2011 – Strategy Wars

There’s a lot that might happen in terms of strategy -

  1. A Tablet might convince people it’s an eReader.
  2. Reading tablets might overtake dedicated eReaders.
  3. Perhaps we see $100 eReaders and $75 eReaders.
  4. There might be a real Kindle DX competitor.
  5. Perhaps eReaders make serious headway in education.
  6. 2011 might be the year we get eReaders that are subsidized by a subscription plan or a contract of some sort.
  7. We might see a great eReader feature that massively increases adoption.
  8. An eReader+eWriter combination like the Asus Memo might start stealing eReader market share.
  9. Advertising supported books might arrive.

There will be a lot of new strategies implemented in the eReader market this year. A couple of them might prove to be the decisive events of 2011.

Will the Kindle App Store and the Nook App Store take off?

Kindle Apps for Kindles. Nook Apps for the Nook Color.

What impact might they have? Will we see any true killer eReader apps?

Apps that make eReaders even more of a value proposition. Apps that make more people choose an eReader over a Tablet. Apps that make more people buy an eReader.

This is a wildcard. No one knows what apps we might see, or what impact those apps might have. We just know that there’s a lot of potential here.

Could there be developments that take eReaders in a completely different direction?

What if there’s an eReader released that changes the direction eReaders are evolving in – an eReader for kids, an education-focused eReader, an eReader that replaces both the reading and writing aspects of paper.

There is a chance that something is released in 2011 which proves to be a lot more meaningful than color or touch. A development as important as eInk and wireless delivery of books.

There’s a slight chance Nook Color is exactly such a development. We’ll find out this year.

My prediction for Top 5 eReader events of 2011

Here are the 5 things likely to cause the most impact -

  1. Kindle Reading Tablet. If this is released, and it looks increasingly likely, it’ll be huge.
  2. Google and Sony teaming up. It’s possible, and if it happens it’ll instantly make the Go-ony combination the #2 eReader+eBook solution.
  3. $100 and cheaper eReaders. At $100 people start buying for the love of buying – especially if Amazon and B&N learn from Kobo, and start bundling in 1,000 free public domain books. Public domain books that make people feel they instantly got their money’s worth.
  4. Nook Color. The significance of the Nook Color isn’t clear yet. The key turning point would be people realizing what the Nook Color is capable of, and the outcome would be Reading Tablets becoming a tens of millions of units a year market.
  5. One out of Kindle App Store and Nook App Store taking off. The 1-year head-start of the Kindle App Store versus the army of Android developers the Nook App Store can tap into. One of these is going to result in killer apps, which in turn would have a huge impact on the adoption rate of eReaders and Reading Tablets.

The wild cards are Nook 2, the new Kobo reader, and possibly a strategy shift that throws off everyone - It’s likely to be a subscription/subsidy based eReader. It’ll be a strategy shift that changes how eReaders are sold.

Google is another wildcard. It’s just that it’s so scattered in its focus - Will it be interested in the unsexy world of providing great ebook and eReader services, or will it prefer to make cars that drive themselves?

There are a few events that will get a lot of hype. Here are my reasons why they aren’t very significant -

  1. Arrival of the iPad 2. Well, since iPad completely destroyed eReaders - to the point that only 10 million or so eReaders were sold in 2010 – we know that iPad 2 couldn’t possibly have any impact. After all, eReaders are already dead and buried.
  2. Release of Color eReaders. Firstly, it’s been a year since they were announced, and 6 months since they were supposed to arrive. They are still being announced, and now are being promised for Q3, 2011. They might not arrive, and they might be released by the wrong companies – companies other than Amazon and B&N. Unless Amazon releases a color Kindle 4, or B&N releases a color Nook 2, we won’t see color eReaders do much.
  3. The new Sony Readers. If Sony doesn’t partner with Google it just doesn’t have the store or infrastructure to provide a great experience.
  4. eReaders + eWriters. The current solutions are based on touchscreens and styluses and are tacky. The real way to do this is with keyboards and software – usable keyboards and really excellent software.
  5. New eReaders. The battle is being fought by ecosystems and pure eReaders will have an incredibly tough time. To win, or to do well, a company has to provide an eReader, a store, and infrastructure – It’s very, very tough to get all three right.

There’s a pretty big disconnect. People who don’t read books think that color screens and the iPad 2 and being able to do more than just read are the real events that will shape the future of books. The truth is that it’s going to be remarkably boring things that shape the future of eReaders – providing more value for money, releasing a device that is EVEN BETTER for reading books, replacing paper, eReader apps, tablets that are focused on reading, expanding to reading of all types.

Paltry eReader lineup at CES 2011, eReaders vs Tablets

The Kindle and Nook Color have little to fear so far.

Mirasol’s Color eReader is mighty impressive – and not scheduled to release until Q3, 2011. Pixel Qi is pretty impressive too – except the lowest priced version of the Pixel Qi screen Adam tablet is $499.

Which means that until Q3, 2011, iPad 2 is the only real threat to Nook Color, and Nook 2 is the only real threat to Kindle 3. Apart from those two potential giants, there are just a couple of minor threats.

The Paltry line-up of eReaders at CES 2011

As compared to CES 2010, when there were dozens of eReaders being shown off, there are just a few eReaders being shown at CES 2011 -

  • The Eee Pad Memo is a very impressive eReader + eWriter – Except, it uses a LCD instead of eInk and is priced between $499 and $699.
  • iRiver has the new Story HD eReader – a 6″ eReader with 1024 by 768 screen resolution. It supports WiFi, and also supports ePub and PDF with Adobe DRM. It has 3 weeks of battery life. It’ll be available in Q2, 2011. Not really much of a threat.
  • Aluratek has its Libre Air eReader – an eReader with a 5″ reflective TFT LCD screen, WiFi, and a $130 price point. Hardly a threat.

If you’re counting, that’s 5 eReaders and eReader-threatening tablets in all of CES 2011. Two of those, Eee Pad Memo and Notion Ink Adam, are closer to Tablets than to eReaders, and priced at $499. Another 2 of those, iRiver Story HD and Aluratek Libre Air, aren’t much of a threat.

That means we have just one new eReader which is a danger to existing eReaders and Reading Tablets. That eReader, Mirasol, doesn’t arrive until Q3, 2011, and might turn out to be the Kindle 4 – which means Kindle would be in zero danger.

Thanks to Engadget for covering eReaders at CES 2011.

There’s so little happening with eReaders at CES 2011, we can’t even do an entire post. Let’s look at other eReader news.

B&N is beginning to beat Amazon in the Vagueness Contest

B&N issued a press release, on January 3rd, to announce that it had a great holiday quarter. It gave no specifics, and said that details would be released in a later January 6th press release. Until Amazon releases a press release that does nothing except announce a future press release, B&N’s Vaguest Press Release Crown is intact.

Well, it’s the 6th, and here are the details which unsurprisingly reveal nothing about Nook sales figures -

  1. 67% increase in total sales at BN.com, which were $228.5 million.
  2. 8.2% increase in total store sales, which were $1.1 billion.
  3. It sold ‘virtually its entire inventory’ of Nook Color and Nook devices. Which is 2 steps below ‘actually its entire inventory’, and 1 step below ‘not shipping outside US and UK’.
  4. December 23rd was the biggest sales day in the history of B&N. Probably had to do with last-minute Christmas shopping.
  5. Sales in B&N’s Toys & Games Department increased 48% during the holiday season.

On February 22nd, 2011, B&N will discuss in greater detail how it sold virtually its entire inventory of Nooks. It will also attempt to convincingly match Amazon’s habit of Earnings Call Vagueness by not releasing actual Nook sales figures.

One gem, courtesy Publishers Weekly -

B&N CEO William Lynch stated: “Nookcolor was one of the most sought-after gifts this holiday season and has quickly become the bestselling device at Barnes & Noble. 

… 60% of Nookcolor owners are new customers of our Barnes & Noble digital bookstore.”

That suggests at least 40% of the people buying Nook Colors are either using them as Android Tablets and not reading on them, or using Kobo for books, or are rooting them and using Kindle for Android.

Other B&N developments including B&N vs Borders

B&N released a Nook Kids app for the iPad with 100 interactive children’s books available at launch. It’s certainly covering all the bases when it comes to books for children.

B&N is also complaining about the special terms almost-bankrupt Borders is getting from Publishers. That’s interesting – so it’s suggesting that either Publishers give B&N better terms, or let Borders go bankrupt and make B&N super powerful.

Again, courtesy Publishers Weekly -

“We think the playing field should be even,” the B&N statement says.

“We expect publishers to offer same terms to all other booksellers, including Barnes & Noble and independent booksellers.  We fully expect publisher’s will require Borders to pay their bills on the same basis upon which all other booksellers pay theirs.

B&N is being a bit ruthless here. It sees an opportunity to hasten Borders’ slide  into bankruptcy, and is taking advantage.

Are Tablets a threat to eReaders?

With a million different Tablets being introduced, the question is bound to come up – Are all these Tablets a threat to eReaders?

It’s hard to say.

  1. For readers, an eReader will always come first.
  2. For readers who are LCD compatible, a Reading Tablet like Nook Color is very tempting.
  3. For casual readers, it depends on the Tablet. Nook Color is $249. The only three Tablet that look like serious contenders are iPad/iPad 2, Adam, and BlackBerry PlayBook. None of those are close to Nook Color’s $249 price.

Then you’re left with the old argument – ‘Get a device that does more than just read’. Yes, some people will prefer iPad 2 and the Playbook. However, not as many as you’d think.

Firstly, Kindle and Nook are cutting prices relentlessly. Secondly, Nook Color is capable of a lot.

Tablets might take 25% of the reading market. But dedicated eReaders and reading tablets are well-placed to keep the other 75% for themselves.

What about Tablets being a threat to Reading Tablets?

On the surface, there’s little difference. However, the Nook Color focuses you on reading. If you hack it into an Android Tablet, you’ll instantly realize what you’ve lost – that focus on reading. Which is the whole point of making a reading tablet.

So, again, Tablets aren’t really much of a threat to Reading Tablets. If you consider the target customers for a Reading Tablet to be a subset of the people who read 1 or 2 books a month, then the Nook Color is pretty safe.

The big threat to Nook Color will be a Kindle Tablet and color eReaders. General Tablets are not really a threat.

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