How best could an eReader use touch?

The Kindle doesn’t have a touchscreen, the Nook has a 3.5″ navigation touchscreen at the bottom, and Sony Reader has touch implemented via Infra-red sensors. We also have Nook Color, a reading tablet, and iPad, a tablet, using full LCD touch screens.

It’s 5 different ways of using touch with reading devices.

There are also different reading apps for the iPhone, and they use the iPhone’s touchscreen in different ways.

All of this makes one wonder – How best could companies use touch with eReaders and reading devices?

Ways not to use Touch in an eReader

It’s easy to start by pointing out things that don’t work -

  1. Having separate modes for different actions. Sony Readers force users to switch modes for every function – one mode to highlight, another to turn pages, etc.
  2. Having a LCD touchscreen in parallel with an eInk screen. The two screens are so different in nature and speed, that the combination doesn’t work. The Nook felt sluggish and slow partly because the LCD and eInk combination wasn’t working. We don’t even know if such a combination can ever work.
  3. Having confusing touch gestures. Currently, most iPad reading apps make a mess of highlighting versus getting the menu to appear. They are also a bit difficult in terms of turning pages versus highlighting.
  4. Not allowing easy highlighting across pages. Most reading apps just ignore the possibility that you might want to make a highlight across pages.
  5. Keeping the size of pressable areas very small. The bars to extend a highlight are way too small. The options after you tap and hold a word are pretty small too. If a user has tapped a word – he doesn’t need the rest of the screen, and you can make the touchable areas a little bigger, and easier to touch.
  6. Making the on-screen menus small, and keeping very little separation between the items in the menu. If the user is changing the font size or type, there’s little point in restricting the menu to 1/5th of the screen size. Give it a little space, and let there be some separation between the choices.
  7. Ignoring the fact that fingers get in the way. The iPad’s keyboard has this feature where, when you type, it shows the word you’ve pressed – right above where you’ve touched it (and inadvertently hidden it). That’s a good touch, and reading apps need to figure out how they can use a similar feature.

There are quite a few other things we could go into – However, the most needed changes mostly revolve around two aspects.

  1. Making touch actions easy and quick.
  2. Making the various touch actions as distinct from each other as possible.

We’re still looking at the first generation of reading devices with touch screens (except Sony Readers) so we can expect a lot of improvements with time.

Let’s continue by looking at some of the things that do work.

Intelligent ways of using Touch

These are all things that have been done already -

  1. Using pinch and zoom to change text size.
  2. Using a double tap to start or stop automatic scrolling. Then using tilting to change the speed of scrolling.
  3. Using a touch in the top right corner to create a bookmark. This has a downside too – it takes some amount of effort. However, it does make intuitive sense.
  4. Using a single tap at the edge of the screen to turn pages – In parallel with allowing swipes to turn pages. Both are easy intuitive gestures.
  5. Dividing the screen into three vertical portions – Left Page Turn, Menu, Right Page Turn.
  6. A little unsure of whether tap and hold on a word is good, or a bit inefficient. Perhaps it’s both.
  7. After tap and hold, those little bars you can stretch to create a highlight of as much of the page as you want to highlight.
  8. iPad’s keyboard preview feature – which shows what you’re currently touching.
  9. Use of double taps, and specific gestures.

There are a lot of dimensions of touch that can be used to differentiate between different gestures, and to allow for more gestures – number of touches, type of gesture, tilting, placement on the screen, placement relative to words, order of gestures, and so forth.

It makes you wonder what will be done in the coming years.

Suggestions for making the most out of a touchscreen

A few suggestions -

  1. The most often used actions should be the simplest. Which would suggest finding the simplest way to do page turns – A single tap at the edge and/or a swipe work quite well. Perhaps supplement them with an auto-scroll timer, and a scrolling feature.
  2. The different actions should be as distinct from each other as possible.
  3. Keep it to the bare minimum set of actions – Add an advanced mode for power users.
  4. Multiple steps should be avoided as much as possible. Users would much rather use a double tap than navigate a two-step action menu.
  5. There should be an option for personalization – so users can use actions they are comfortable with.
  6. For advanced users there should be the option to unlock an advanced set of gestures.
  7. Any pressable area should be large enough. So it doesn’t take a ton of focus to get it right.
  8. The cost of a wrong touch should be small – For example, if you highlight the wrong phrase – There should be an easy way to undo it or edit it.
  9. When there are multiple options – they should have both large pressable buttons and separation. Having them right next to each other puts stress on the user.
  10. Use all the touch options available. Why not replace tap and hold with – circle a word for the meaning, highlight a phrase using your finger as a highlighter, draw a question mark to search on Google. The finger highlighting has potential to interfere with page turns – perhaps it’s double tap and then highlight.
  11. Use the various touch dimensions available to make gestures as distinct from each other as possible. We have tilting (for devices with accelerometers), voice commands (for devices with microphones), different shapes, different screen areas, and a lot more.
  12. Improve the touch screen quality – how well it catches where the touch was, how fast it responds, and so forth.

It really does feel like we’re in the First Generation of touchscreen devices when it comes to reading.

Some of the best uses of touch are being implemented in iPhone reading apps. Nook Color has done a pretty good job too. Sony Reader makes a royal mess. iPad reading apps make decent use of touch.

It gives Amazon an opportunity – when it releases a touch Kindle, it can take the best of what’s been done so far.

What about Multi-Touch?

Reading Apps, for the most part, don’t really use Multi-touch.

  1. Imagine if you could touch with one finger where you wanted your highlight to start, and touch with your other finger the ending point.
  2. Another good use would be for editing highlights, and for moving notes around.
  3. One multi-touch gesture that’s already been implemented well is using pinch and zoom for changing text size.
  4. We could use multi-touch to do quick screen orientation changes – for when the auto-orientation is turned off.
  5. For search results, multi-touch would allow choosing of more than one search result. It would also allow for traversing search results in interesting ways.

Will have to think more about this. Hardly anyone is using multi-touch capabilities in reading devices. There might be some really useful things that can be done.

It really does feel like eReader makers don’t really realize all the things they can do with their touch screens. The company that figures it out first will have a big advantage. Of course, given that iPhone and iPad allow reading apps, there’s a good chance they’ll be the first ones to get reading apps that use touch in really great new ways.

Are we going to see any new eReader companies in 2011?

The Kindle, the Nook, and the Sony Reader are the Big 3 eReaders in the US.

It’s surprising that Amazon, B&N, and Sony are the only big companies selling eReaders in the US. For a market where the #1 eReader is supposedly selling 8 million units a year, there’s a surprising lack of competition.

Will that change in 2011? Are we going to see any new eReader companies enter the market?

Well, let’s list out the usual and unusual suspects, and see which, if any, are likely to release an eReader in the US in 2011.

Companies that might release an eReader in 2011

As it turns out, there are a surprisingly large number of companies that might enter the eReader market. Perhaps Amazon is right to hide Kindle sales figures.

Google – A Google eReader is inevitable

This is a company that’s buying its own fiber, bidding for wireless spectrum, building undersea cables, releasing its own phones, and releasing its own laptops. Any market that seems worth a shot seems to get an offering from Google.

Add on the fact that books are one of the few markets where Google has shown a very un-Google like focus – It’s digitized millions of books, been in and out of Court more than O.J., and launched both Google Books and Google eBooks. If a company like Google, that tends to kill off most product experiments in a few years, has stuck with books for this long, there’s a very high chance it’ll go all-out and build an eReader. 

It’s almost inevitable that Google releases its own eReader. At worst, it’ll get HTC or Sony to release an eReader for it. It might try to buy Sony’s eReader division – Perhaps it even attempts to buy Nook and Kobo.

A Google eReader is inevitable – We just don’t know whether it’s going to release one itself, have HTC release one for it, or buy the eReader divisions of one or more of Sony, B&N, and Kobo.

Apple – Steve Jobs might decide that he wants tens of millions of eReader sales a year

Killing off the Kindle, or at least slowing it down, is strategically very important for Apple.

Amazon causes problems – it got rid of DRM in mp3 files and forced Apple to match, it sells digital games and digital movies and books (direct competition with iTunes), and it’s even threatening to make its own Android Store and Tablet.

Steve Jobs might decide he wants to cut off the threat before it grows too big, and might release a dedicated reading device. It would probably be closer to Nook Color than to Kindle, but it would be a device dedicated to reading.

Of course, you could argue that an Apple iReader isn’t going to kill the Kindle. It might, however, slow it down.

Is the eReader market big enough for Microsoft?

If the threshold for Apple is tens of millions of units sold per year, for Microsoft its 50 million units sold per year.

It’s highly unlikely the eReader market will be big enough in 2011 to draw more than a few cursory glances from the biggest tech company in Seattle. It is worth noting that it has a lot of the elements in place already – its Research division has shown off ePaper, it  has a decent Cloud Computing offering, it has done some book digitization work, and it won’t have a problem with software.

This might be the company Amazon is most afraid of. You have to look at the ridiculous amounts invested into Xbox and Search – Would Amazon really want to take on a company that is willing to lose a billion or more dollars a year to win over a market? A company that is willing to keep losing billions of dollars year after year until it finally wins?

Qualcomm – Why does it have a 3-screen reading tablet patent?

Last year Qualcomm got a patent for a 3 screen device that contorts into various things – movie player, tablet, book reader. Combine that with the hottest ePaper technology, Mirasol color ePaper, and you have the makings of a very decent reading tablet.

The question is – Would Qualcomm prefer to sell Mirasol screens, or would it prefer to sell Mirasol screens and also its own eReader?

It is the largest fabless chip supplier in the world, has total assets of around $30 billion, and makes around $3 billion a year in profits (courtesy Wikipedia).

It’s also invested $2 billion into a Mirasol screen production facility, and claims to have won a major eReader client. If it decides to make an eReader of its own, it could definitely shake things up.

Samsung – Will Samsung bring its eReaders to the US?

Samsung is selling a pretty decent, albeit expensive, eReader in the UK and Europe. It also has another eReader in the works.

Will it bring one or both of these to the US?

Samsung had $117 billion in revenue in 2009, with $8.33 billion in profit. It isn’t exactly the type of company you want jumping into your market.

It’s already shown it isn’t scared of challenging a market leader by releasing the Samsung Galaxy Tab to take on the iPad. It’s sold over a million of those. Samsung’s also got the #1 spot in TVs, and the #2 spot in smartphones. It’s interesting how Samsung isn’t on anyone’s radar.

Hitachi – Is Hitachi’s ePaper ready for an eReader?

Hitachi is another company that is on no one’s radar. It makes TVs and camcorders and computer hard drives. What’s interesting is that it’s working on ePaper. Given its focus on electronics, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that if it succeeds in its ePaper endeavors, it’ll move on to making eReaders.

Hitachi has $95 billion in assets, had revenue of around $96 billion in 2010, and profits of $1.145 billion (which is quite close to Amazon’s $902 million profit in 2009).

It’s shown solid intent by working on ePaper – While it’s unlikely it’ll be ready to release an eReader in 2011, it might eventually play a part in the eReader wars.

Toshiba Biblio Leaf Solar-powered eReader set to arrive in 2011

Toshiba was supposed to launch its solar-powered Biblio Lead eReader in Japan on Christmas. There’s a chance it makes it to the US in 2011 itself.

Toshiba had $19.7 billion in profits in 2010. That’s almost as much profit as total 2009 revenue for Google ($23.65 billion, $6.5 billion profit) and Amazon ($24.5 billion, $902 million profit).

If their eReaders are as good as their laptops, Toshiba will be a dangerous, dangerous competitor.

Fujitsu – Will the Fujitsu Color eReader make it to the US?

Fujitsu has released two generations of its FLEPia color eReader in Japan. Nothing in the US.

It’s quite likely that Fujitsu will make its way to the US. Its first generation color eReader was a large screen one for over $1,000 – However, you have to imagine it’s figured out how to cut costs, and it might be the first company to bring a reasonably priced color eReader to market.

Fujitsu is a pretty big company – $32 billion in assets, $46 billion in revenue, and $824 million in profits for 2009.

Sharp’s Galapagos Reading Tablet reaches US in 2011

Sharp has already released its Reading Tablet in Japan, and promises to bring it to the US soon. There’s a 5.5″ variant and a 10.8″ variant – both use LCD screens.

This list of Global Tech Companies with the Highest Revenue at Wikipedia is fascinating, and Sharp is at the 18th spot – right between Intel and Motorola. We’re talking about $34 billion in assets and $33.6 billion in revenue in 2010.

Sharp makes everything from TVs to smartphones – it’ll have a lot of experience to draw on as it fights in the eReader wars.

Asus should be releasing its eReaders in the US in 2011

Asus made a lot of noise at CES 2010, and then changed its plan of introducing two low-priced eReaders in early 2010. It finally started shipping the Asus DR900 eReader in December. Not sure when it gets to the US.

The Asus DR900 has a 9″ screen, and would end up being one of the few Kindle DX competitors. Asus also has a smaller eReader in its lineup.

Asus has been having a bit of a rough patch as the netbook market has stalled. However, it’s still a monster – $21.2 billion in revenue in 2009 and $520 million in profits. It’s also very good at cutting costs, and isn’t the type of company you want to be competing with very often.

Acer Lumiread set to arrive in 2011

Acer talked about its eReader plans in early 2010, then said it’s backing off, and now is saying it’ll be releasing the Acer Lumiread eReader soon. The Acer Lumiread has already reached the FCC – hopefully we’ll be seeing it in early 2011.

Acer itself is a solid company – $17.9 billion in revenue in 2009, with $384 million in profits. It’s also the second biggest notebook manufacturer in the world (unconfirmed).

Additionally, it stole the netbook market from Asus – So it has some experience of dethroning a market leader.

A lot more new eReader Possibilities than expected

Have to say it’s a little surprising to find out that so many tech giants, from all over the world, are looking to release their eReaders in the US in 2011.

We started with Google, Apple, and Microsoft – but they are all a bit unlikely to actually produce and release a dedicated eReader in 2011.

A lot of the remaining companies, however, are very solid bets. These are companies that already have eReaders in production, in most cases have an eReader out in another country, and are very likely to actually release eReaders in the US in 2011.

It’s a surprise that there are so many of them (at least 6 sure bets), and it’s a surprise that they have such rich pedigree.

eReaders are already a hot market – It doesn’t matter whether Amazon and B&N hide sales figures or not

If you look at the Wikipedia link above (Top Global Tech Companies by revenue), you realize something startling -

  1. Samsung, which is 1st on the list with $117 billion in 2009 revenue, is releasing an eReader in the US soon. Samsung’s E6 eReader is already out in Europe.
  2. Hitachi, which is 3rd on the list with $99 billion in 2009 revenue, has an ePaper product, and might have an eReader in the works. 
  3. Sony, which is 5th on the list with $79 billion in 2009 revenue, started the whole eReader fire. It’s continued to invest in eReaders.
  4. Toshiba, which is 6th on the list with $76 billion revenue in 2009, has its Toshiba Biblio eReader out in Japan. It’s promised to bring its eReader to the US soon.
  5. Fujitsu, which is 12th on the list with $46 billion in revenue in 2009, has had a color eReader out in Japan since 2008.
  6. Apple, which is 14th on the list with $42.9 billion in revenue (please note that its 2010 revenue is around $65 billion), already has the iPad out and is attacking the eReader market with it. There’s talk that the iPad 2 will focus on reading and will include a screen that minimizes glare.
  7. Sharp, which is 18th on the list with $33.6 billion in revenue in 2009, has a reading tablet out in Japan, and is bringing its reading tablet to the US in 2011. 
  8. Google, which is 23rd on the list with $22 billion in revenue in 2009 and $6.5 billion in profit, might be working on an eReader. It’s already jumped into ebooks.
  9. Asus, which is 24th on the list with $21 billion in revenue in 2009, has a large screen eReader arriving in Taiwan very soon. Asus delayed its US release after the iPad came out, but might bring its eReaders to the US in 2011.
  10. Acer, which is 25th on the list with $17.9 billion in revenue in 2009, has the Acer Lumiread eReader. It should be out in 2011.

7 out of the 25 highest revenue tech companies in the world already have eReaders. Only 1 of those is currently available in the US – the other 6 will almost certainly arrive in 2011.

Another 3 companies (Hitachi, Apple, Google) might jump in with an eReader or a reading tablet. Apple has been trying to pass off the iPad as an eReader all through 2010, and will probably paint the iPad 2 as an eReader all through 2011.

2010 was the Year of the eReader. 2011 might be the Year of the eReader Wars.

Not sure which competitor Amazon is fooling by not releasing sales numbers. You can bet it’s costing Samsung, Asus, and all the other companies on the list just a few thousand dollars to send recon workers into Foxconn, and get full details on how many Kindles and Nooks are being produced, shipped, and sold.

Which are the most important countries for eReaders?

The Kindle has managed to do very well in both the US and the UK this holiday season. B&N’s Nook and Nook Color also seem to have done very well in the US.

One of the interesting decisions by Amazon was to block sales to countries other than the US and the UK for the last two months of the year. It makes you wonder – Why do eReader companies consider certain countries more important than others? Are certain countries really more important than others?

What makes a country a good market for eReaders?

There are lots of factors we have to consider – Let’s start with whether a market exists.

Is there a Market for eReaders in a Particular Country?

You have to start by figuring out whether readers in the country are ‘willing and able’ to buy eReaders.

  1. Do the people in the country have enough money to buy eReaders and eBooks?
  2. Will the people be interested in eReaders? Will they buy a device dedicated to reading books?
  3. How attached are the people to physical books? Will they be willing to shift to ebooks?
  4. What prices will people expect for ebooks?
  5. Is there a culture of ‘buying books’ or are books usually pirated?

There are a lot of countries where people just can’t afford $139 eReaders and $10 ebooks. There are also a lot of countries where people can afford these prices, but just aren’t interested.

That gives us a short but promising list of countries.

Note that Amazon disregards this first step, to an extent, and sells to 100+ countries. Amazon is probably doing this to figure out which countries have strong demand – those will get dedicated Kindle stores over time.

How big is the eReader Market in that Country?

After we have established a market exists, we have to figure out what ‘volume of sales’ a country will generate -

  1. How many people would be interested in an eReader, and also be able to afford it? 
  2. How many books would they buy?
  3. Are books available to sell in that country? The whole territorial rights nonsense. 
  4. What are the primary languages, and are books available in the primary languages?
  5. What sort of protectionism and price-fixing exists in the market?

The last is pretty critical – If you can’t go in with low ebook prices, you can’t sell eReaders. So you have to start off by picking countries where you can use $5 books and $10 books and free books to seduce readers into buying somewhat expensive eReaders.

How much competition is there in that Country?

A country might be very promising. However, you have to figure out whether it’s worth the fight -

  1. Is another eReader company already entrenched?
  2. Has another eReader company already put down roots?
  3. Is there a book store chain that has a very strong association with reading?
  4. Are a lot of other eReader companies looking to target the country?
  5. Are there Government regulations, or other restrictions, that impede your ability to compete?

It’s pretty pointless to go into a market that’s got strong competitors, or an existing leader, if there’s another market that is much more welcoming, and just as lucrative.

What Strengths can a company leverage in that Country?

This is a big, big factor.

  1. Does an eReader company have a strong brand in the country?
  2. Does an eReader company own stores and have retail partnerships in the country?
  3. Perhaps an eReader company understands a country and its culture very well.

Sometimes, having strong advantages in a country can be enough reason to enter the eReader market in that country.

Perhaps an eReader company happens to be the most trusted online company, and the biggest online retailer – as Amazon is in the UK. In that case, it would be stupid for it to not enter the market immediately.

Another example is Kobo – Kobo has strong retail presence in Canada thanks to the backing of Indigo, which is one of Canada’s biggest book store chains. That makes it an easy decision for Kobo to enter Canada.

Assorted Factors specific to a country?

Finally, we have a variety of factors to consider -

  1. Would the government ban companies from outside the country? That’s what’s beginning to happen in China – Skype was just made illegal.
  2. Is the Government very strict? A lot of Muslim countries are very strict about the type of books that are allowed in.
  3. Is there a cultural aspect that helps ebooks, or hinders them?
  4. What are the import duties?
  5. Can companies own 100% of a subsidiary?
  6. What are the laws and legalities?
  7. What sort of Publishers are there? Will they let in an eReader company?

There are a lot of factors to consider.

On top of all that is the opportunity cost – Not only should the market be good, it should be better than all the other markets the eReader company could possibly focus on.

Which brings us to the question that most people outside the US would love an answer for.

Why does US get all the love?

Pure profit motive. Mixed with US being the path of least resistance.

The US has a lot of readers, who happen to buy a lot of devices, in addition to buying books. The US is a huge country with predominantly English speakers. There is very little obvious protectionism. A lot of people buy books, and don’t pirate them – in comparison to other countries.

Amazon already has a very strong brand in the US. It already sells books to a lot of people in the US. Given that there was little eReader competition, in any country, when the Kindle first came out – It made sense for Amazon to start with the biggest market. A market which just happened to be a market Amazon understood very well, and which it had a lot of existing book-buying customers in.

Just those reasons were enough to focus solely on the US. However, it gets better.

People in the US were buying a lot of books, and if presented with reasonable prices, were likely to buy a lot more books. Amazon already had relationships (if you can call them that) with US Publishers. Amazon had a lot of competitive advantages – things like customer trust, which it would take other companies years to build up.

Amazon had everything set up for it to dominate.

It’s like being told that every house on your lane has sacks of gold buried in the backyard. And your backyard just happens to be the largest, and the most easily accessible, and the one where digging won’t be interfered with by the house owner.

There are other things we could go into – US as a starter of trends, US as an exporter of cultural trends, the social proof of a product being a hit in the US. However, those are contentious topics.

No one can dispute that the US was the largest possible market for the Kindle, and also the easiest market for Amazon to win.

Why does UK get picked second?

Similar reasons to why US got picked first – large market, geographically close, English as predominant language, path of least resistance.

On top of that add these factors – Amazon UK and Amazon US are two of the three most trusted online retailers in the UK, Amazon was already selling books to readers in the UK, Amazon dominates online sales in the UK, nearly all UK residents are online shoppers.

So UK was ripe for plunder. Amazon’s attempts in the UK eReader market make for a great case study. Sony Reader was available there, and was really struggling. Kindle 2 wasn’t doing very well either – at least last year it wasn’t. This year, Amazon went crazy with discounts. We are talking about book prices that were beyond ridiculous – 2 pounds, 3 pounds.

In 2009, and in early 2010, UK readers were averse to eReaders, and in love with physical books. Then Amazon released a 109 pound Kindle WiFi, started pricing bestsellers at 2 pounds and 3 pounds, and started offering lots and lots of deals and free books. It’s almost as if it gave readers no choice – How can you turn away when a retailer is offering books for a couple of pounds each?

The low prices are what turned the UK market into a success for Amazon.

The US and UK just happened to be -

  1. The largest book markets for English language books.
  2. Countries where Amazon dominates online retail.
  3. Countries where Amazon dominates online book selling.
  4. Countries that have very few restrictions.
  5. The easiest countries for Amazon to sell in.

If there’s anything readers in other countries can accuse Amazon of, it’s being smart and choosing the most profitable markets.

Are there important countries being ignored?

Yes. Of course there are.

However, consider the roadblocks -

  1. If a country uses other languages, such as French or Italian, then Amazon has to build up a portfolio of books. That means endless negotiations with Publishers.
  2. Countries like Germany have restrictions on discounting books. So there’s no incentive to spend a lot on an eReader.
  3. Countries like Spain have Publishers banding together. No room for an eReader plus eBook company to come in and steal the market.
  4. Certain countries, including Germany and China, have telecom providers trying to sell books themselves.
  5. Countries like China and Iran have very strong censorship.
  6. China has a lot of knock-off eReaders, and very weak copyright protection. It also favors Chinese companies.
  7. India is a huge market, but most people there can’t afford expensive eReaders. There’s also an almost total lack of respect for copyright.
  8. Muslim countries are out. Imagine the consequences if an inappropriate book were sold by mistake in a Muslim country.
  9. Canada is complicated. Amazon finally got permission this year, to build a warehouse in Canada. It took them years to be allowed to build a warehouse. How can it ever compete against Indigo, which has all these book stores and strong branding?

A lot of the time, readers in a particular country will disregard factors that make it almost impossible for Amazon to function in their country.

Which brings us to, arguably, the biggest reason why US and UK are getting all the focus – They are the markets that have to prove the viability of eReaders.

eReaders have to prove their viability first – then they can spread worldwide

The US has done 90% of the work – There are enough sales in the US, to make it obvious that a real market for eReaders exists. The UK has begun to chip in. Together, the US and the UK have shown that eReaders can survive and thrive.

Now, gradually, other countries will begin to see eReaders arrive in greater numbers.

We’re getting economies of scale now. We are getting better features, more value for money, a better range of books, and better prices. Now eReaders become compelling for people in a lot more countries.

Like it or hate it – You need a big market to validate a product, and to help achieve economies of scale. The free-spending consumer culture that got the US into big trouble, is the same culture that makes the US a great market to introduce new, risky products in.

The US was, and still is, the most important country for eReaders. There are definitely other very important countries – However, there’s no point in complaining that the US gets treated better. It’s the most important market – It is going to get treated better. Sales of $399 Kindles in the US, are the reason people worldwide are getting $139 Kindle WiFis. Even now – It’s sales in the US that are powering the whole eReader and eBook revolution.

Are Kobo and Pocketbook the dark horses of 2011?

The Kindle and the Nook Color are both on a roll.

Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi are clearly a step ahead of other dedicated eReaders – Unless B&N produces a stellar Nook 2 the majority of hard-core readers are going to end up as Kindle owners.

Nook Color has managed to create a unique niche for itself – the Reading Tablet. It’s going to win over a lot of casual readers. Unless iPad 2 is focused on reading, or a Kindle Reading Tablet materializes, Nook Color is going to dominate the ‘casual reader’ segment.

There are, however, two rather unlikely candidates that promise to give the Kindle and the Nook Color a run for their money – Kobo and Pocketbook.

Kobo as a threat to the Kindle Store, and to the Kindle

Kobo has a few things going for it -

  1. It fights on eReader price. It released the $150 Kobo eReader when other eReaders were around $200. Its Kobo Wireless eReader is currently on sale for $119 at Borders (thanks to a commenter at MobileRead for the tip).
  2. It fights on eBook price. Kobo’s ebook prices are close to prices in Kindle Store and Nook Store. Kobo Store always has offers and coupons.
  3. It has good backing. Borders is almost bankrupt, but it does provide exposure. The other backers are solid, solid companies.
  4. Kobo has extensive international reach. Its backers own a lot of retail stores around the world – which could all end up selling the Kobo Reader. Here’s a post on Kindle vs Kobo strategic advantages which details the ridiculous worldwide retail advantage Kobo has.
  5. It’s very, very persistent. Look at the rate at which it sends out coupons. Or the fact that it realized not having a wireless eReader was an issue, and released a new wireless version of its eReader.
  6. Its ebook store and its apps are well-designed.
  7. It sells in ePub, and it sells internationally. Combine that with the decent prices, and a lot of Nook and Sony Reader owners will choose it. Also, Kobo Reader supports ePub from any store using Adobe DRM.
  8. It’s leveraging existing brands – Borders in the US, Indigo in Canada, REDGroup in Australia, and so forth.

The primary reasons Kobo is a threat to Kindle are – It fights on price, it fights all over the world, it doesn’t give up, it’s been improving regularly, it has good backing, it sells ePub books.

Also, it isn’t afraid to compete. It isn’t ‘focusing on quality’ or ‘choosing international over US’. It’s going head to head with Kindle in reading apps, in eInk based eReaders, and in ebook stores.

Kobo is likelier to survive the eReader wars and thrive, than Sony.

PocketBook’s 2011 eReader as a Nook Color rival

Qualcomm has talked about how it has won a major client for its Mirasol color ePaper screens. Apparently, the client is so major that Qualcomm has invested $2 billion in production facilities. This plant is going to begin volume production in the beginning of 2012 – You have to wonder whether that’s when we’ll see a color Kindle 4.

Qualcomm also has a production joint venture with Foxlink which has been producing 5.7″ Mirasol displays in small numbers since April 2010.

This production source is probably what PocketBook will use for a color eReader it will show off at CES 2011, and which it promises to release in the third quarter of next year.

PocketBook’s Qualcomm Mirasol powered Color eReader might be just as big a threat to Nook Color as Kindle Tablet – unless Kindle Tablet uses Mirasol color ePaper.

A few things are worth pointing out -

  1. PocketBook’s color eReader would have much better battery life than Nook Color.
  2. The newness factor can’t be underestimated.
  3. We have no idea what the price would be – At $299, it’d be a big threat to Nook Color. At $400, it’d not be a threat at all.
  4. PocketBook has been making eReaders for quite a while. It’s one of the few smaller companies to not get decimated in 2010. In fact, it’s one of the few companies that has a large screen eReader.
  5. PocketBook has been trying hard – It has a variety of models, including a TFT color screen based 7″ eReader. It has a lot of good experience it can leverage when making its color eReader.
  6. It sells its eReaders in USA, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and Asia.
  7. It’s one of the few smaller eReader companies that makes good-looking eReaders (a few of its eReader models, not all).
  8. PocketBook is being aggressive about pricing – Its 5″ PocketBook 360 eReader is currently available for just $129.
  9. It supports ePub.
  10. It also supports a lot of formats which other eReaders don’t – such as FB2, CHM, and DJVU.

Perhaps the most impressive Pocket Book achievement is surviving 2010. If it can manage to release a Mirasol powered Color eReader by Q3, 2011, it’ll force Amazon and B&N to release color eReaders quicker than they otherwise would.

Kobo and PocketBook might play a bigger role than we realize

Kobo kicked off the race to $100 eReaders with the $150 Kobo Reader. It’s also doing a lot of price-cutting in eBooks. It’s going to continue to play a big role in eReaders in 2011. If it keeps improving at its current rate, it might replace Sony as a member of the Big 3 eReaders.

PocketBook might kick off the entire color eReader movement – If it manages to release a color eReader by Q3, 2011. If it brings Qualcomm’s Mirasol ePaper to market, it’ll force other eReader companies to scramble and release Color eReaders using Mirasol, eInk Triton, or another color ePaper technology. It would be remarkable if PocketBook turns out to be the company that drags eReaders into ‘The Promised Land of Color ePaper Screens’.

At a time when Kindle and Nook Color seem far ahead of the pack, it’s good to have a couple of dark horses competing in the eReader wars.

What are Kindle owners’ concerns as we head into Christmas?

The Kindle 3 and the Kindle WiFi are both in stock, and selling well. Everything seems to be good.

It’s worth taking a look at the official kindle forum, and seeing what concerns Kindle owners have.

Kindle Owners’ Top Concerns before Christmas

With some thoughts thrown in.

  1. Kindles are in stock again. It’s interesting how the official Kindle forum seems to get news faster than any other site. 
  2. Complaints that UK gets better free books than the US. It’s impressive that readers in every single country are upset about country-based restrictions on book offers and books.
  3. The thread on discounted books is going strong. It’s really worth checking. 
  4. Help on converting PDF files to Kindle format. Multiple threads on this topic.
  5. Choosing between WiFi and 3G. A lot of threads discussing this.
  6. Is a Kindle a good gift for a 67-year-old, who is slightly up to date with technology? Depends on how much she reads.
  7. Paul Coleman is running a thread where he’s asking for volunteers – volunteers to be put in as characters that are killed in his next book. Indie authors are finding smarter and smarter ways to promote themselves.
  8. Apparently, the white Kindle 3G is sold out.
  9. Questions about the lack of support for library books.
  10. How to remove books from the Archive. Well, you have to go to the ‘Manage Your Kindle’ page.
  11. Question on how to input numbers when using the Kindle 3. Well, Alt+Q is 1, and so forth. Or, you could use the SYM key.
  12. How to do ebook returns. Email Amazon customer service, or call them up.
  13. Question on how to turn off the Kindle. A lot of people are still uncomfortable with the fact that the default ‘OFF’ behavior for Kindle is sleep mode.
  14. ‘Anonymous’ talking about how iPad will kill Kindle by going to $399. I thought it was going to be Retina Display, or a thousand pint sized assassin dolls.
  15. Question on custom screensavers, and lack thereof.
  16. Creaky Kindle 3 – Something’s moving around inside. That sounds like it would be rather annoying. Multiple threads on this.
  17. Kindle cover problems. It’s interesting how this issue sprang up out of nowhere. It’s been months and months since release – Suddenly, we have Kindle covers causing problems. Is it a recent batch of covers that’s causing the problem? Are people only realizing now, that there’s an issue?
  18. A thread on grammatical errors in Kindle books. Yes, such as the price on Agency Model books.
  19. A few non-US Kindle owners waiting eagerly for their Kindles to arrive.
  20. A thread on the ethics of distributing books caught in the public domain black hole – whatever that means.

It’s quite surprising. There isn’t really any issue (except perhaps the cover issue) that is getting a lot of attention.

For the most part, Kindle owners are pretty happy with their Kindles, and have only minor concerns.

There are a few issues that get a decent amount of attention – library books, international availability, choosing between WiFi and 3G, kindle cover problems. At the same time, we don’t have the sort of huge pain points that we had earlier (lack of PDF support, lack of Folders, the Kindle 3 freezing issue).

If you’re outside the US, you might have a legitimate complaint since Kindles are not shipping outside of US and UK, and since book availability and pricing vary wildly. However, US Kindle owners don’t have very much to complain about, and it’s reflected in the forums.

Has Kindle reached a ‘90% of what needs to be done’ stage?

It’s not inconceivable that Amazon has managed to deliver 90% of what Kindle owners in the US want. That, now, all they have to do is keep selling Kindles and Kindle books and keep making money.

It makes things pretty difficult for any company that intends to steal current Kindle owners. If they’re pretty happy, and have their libraries locked into Kindle format – Why would they ever leave?

You also have the problem of Amazon’s excellent customer service.

The only option left, for Kindle rivals, is to create competing devices (like B&N has with Nook and Nook Color), and get to readers before Amazon does.

Is the real war, the war for readers who haven’t yet bought an eReader?

There are two wars that are hyped up -

  1. The eBook Wars – Where various eBook stores use various strategies to compete, and try to win over readers who own different devices.
  2. The eReader Wars – Where competing eReaders try to grab readers, and get them into their ecosystem.

For the first, you have to count out the eReaders. Both Kindle and Nook customers seem pretty content to shop at their own eBook stores. The Kindle makes it even more difficult to steal Kindle owners by not supporting ePub.

That restricts the eBook Wars to devices that are relatively open – such as iPhones and Android phones.

The eReader War becomes even more critical. If a company loses out on a reader – It’s not just the eReader sale. In all probability, it’s every single book that reader will ever buy, from that point onwards.

Should Amazon and B&N drop eReader prices even more?

Perhaps the eReader becomes even more of a customer acquisition tool.

  1. Take a reader who buys 50 books a year. If a company is making $2 per book that equates to $100 per year. Over 3 years, that’s $300. An eReader sale probably means $300 in profit from ebook sales – over the 3 years the customer owns the eReader.
  2. On top of that, you steal a potential customer from your competitor.
  3. You also greatly increase the probability that the customer buys her next eReader from you – thereby guaranteeing another 3 years of $100 per year in profit.

When people talk about selling ebooks to eReader owners they are being unrealistic. Stealing a reader from the company that owns the reader’s eReader isn’t easy.

You have to factor in commitment and consistency -

  1. Kindle owners and Nook owners are inordinately fond of their eReaders. They are also rather averse to the opposite eReader, and to competing eBook stores.
  2. If a reader has been a Kindle owner for 2 years, and has his library on the Kindle, it’s the path of least resistance to stick with the Kindle.
  3. Amazon and B&N are both doing a pretty good job of keeping customers happy.
  4. eReader owners are fighting against the Press, against people who think reading doesn’t merit its own device, and against other factors. That creates a lot of attachment to the eReader.
  5. Every book read on a Kindle, or Nook, increases the owner’s love for the device.

The net result – If you buy a particular eReader, it’s almost impossible for a rival eReader company to prise you away.

Winning over a reader, as an eReader owner, is worth $200 or more to an eReader company

If Amazon and B&N were to sit down and think through this, and you can bet they have, they’d probably figure that each reader they win over is worth $200 or $300.

That’s why the Nook Color is $249, and the Kindle WiFi is $139. That’s why there are 60 second book downloads. It’s also why Amazon and B&N are opening up app stores – shiny, pretty things to attract readers.

The competition is going to get very, very brutal. We’re only seeing the beginnings. Kindle vs Nook is going to turn into a blood-fest – readers will soon be offered $300 devices for $100.

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