eReader vs Tablet comparison – Which is right for you?

In his CES Keynote today Steve Ballmer is apparently going to introduce an HP/Microsoft Tablet which might be a real-life implementation of the Microsoft Courier prototype leaked last year. It has ‘ereader functions’.

This is going to give rise to endless articles about how the Apple iSlate and the Microsoft Courier will annihilate the eReader, broker peace talks in the Middle East and babysit your kids on date night.

However – The eReader Vs Tablet contest probably doesn’t even exist.

  1. If you read a lot you should ALMOST ALWAYS get an eReader. A good clue is if you spend too much on books or read too much. An eReader is also a good fit if you really, really want to read more than you do.
  2. If you read once in a while you should ALMOST ALWAYS get a Tablet. If you read less than one book a month the Tablet is the right fit.

That really is the answer – The rest of the post is a long explanation of the simple solution to eReader Vs Tablet i.e. if you read a lot or really, really want to read a lot then get an eReader (perhaps the Kindle). In every other case – get a Tablet or better yet get a netbook.

eReader Vs Tablet – Which is right for you?

An eReader is the answer if reading is the most important thing you’ll do with the device and/or reading is the thing that you’ll do most often on the device.

Is reading the single most important thing you’ll do with the device?

Consider all the forms of reading we do daily –

  1. Obvious reading – Books, Newspapers, Magazines.
  2. Online reading – Blogs, websites, email, news.
  3. Necessary Reading – Work, School.

How important is this reading to you? How often do you read?

  1. If reading is very important to you.
  2. If you’ll be reading 50% or more of the time on the device.
  3. If the amount of reading you do is more than 1 hour a day.

Then perhaps you should get a device built for reading – get an eReader.

Is Reading just something you’d like the device to be capable of?

There are various cases in which an eReader is obviously a bad choice –

  1. If you read very little.
  2. If you want something complex and/or technically very cutting edge.
  3. If you can handle reading on LCD screens all the time. There is a huge difference between eInk and LCD – However, a small portion of people don’t feel it.
  4. If you want a device that specializes in something else, but also lets you read.
  5. If you want to be able to say your device can read without really needing to read on it.

In all these cases – get a Tablet or better yet an iPhone or a netbook. 

There is a very huge divide between an eReader and a Tablet

If you’re trying to decide between a Tablet and an eReader –

  1. Chances are very, very high you should get a Tablet.

If reading is the #1 priority and a great reading experience is the #1 feature then an eReader is perfect.

An eReader is for reading. No other device (not phones, not laptops, not netbooks, not Tablets) comes close to an eReader.

In every other case i.e. if reading is the #2 priority or you’ll read only 1 hour for every 5 hours of watching YouTube, get a tablet.

Here are some additional thoughts that might help you get more clarity on which device is better for you.  

eReader Vs Tablet – Completely different purposes and philosophies

Let’s assume

  1. Purpose = the intent behind an object existing or being made or used. Courtesy Wikipedia.
  2. Paradigm = World View or the model of reality you have. Courtesy Wikipedia

    Another use of the word paradigm is in the sense of Weltanschauung (German for world view). For example, in social science, the term is used to describe the set of experiences, beliefs and values that affect the way an individual perceives reality and responds to that perception.

Consider the differences –

eReader Vs Tablet on Purpose

A rough comparison –

  1. An eReader’s purpose is to let you read easily and well.  
  2. A Tablet’s purpose is to make computers portable and personal and bring all the abilities of a PC into your hand.

These are very, very different purposes.

eReader vs Tablet on Paradigm 

Another rough comparison –

  1. The eReader paradigm is that people would like to be able to read on a screen akin to a real book, with extremely long battery life, and would want a device committed to reading.  
  2. It involves words and phrases like – reading, readable, portable, like print on paper, cheap, convenient, unitasking, dead simple, intuitive, keyboard, book replacement.
  3. The Tablet paradigm is that people want a PC that has all the power and still fits in the palm of their hand.
  4. It involves words like – multimedia, camera, dual screen, multitasking, photo, video, games, music, portable, cool, flashy, multi-touch, computer replacement, pretty.

In the Tablet paradigm reading is NOT important.

  • Reading is one out of 20 things you can do.
  • Tablets devote neither planning and design time nor actual resources to reading.   
  • They want to drum up its eReader functionality because eReaders are hot.

The Real Paradigm battle for Tablets

It’s worth pointing out that Tablets have failed to break through for decades (since 1982). Before they can beak through and kill eReaders and netbooks they need to create several paradigm shifts i.e.

  1. Users have shown an amazing amount of affinity for the plain old physical keyboard. This by itself might be enough to stall Tablets.
  2. Below a certain screen size productivity and ease of use is just too low. 10″ Tablets might just be impossible to work on.  
  3. The niche for a mix of portability and functionality is already occupied by Netbooks which fit nicely into people’s understanding of computers i.e. people do not have to take big, huge conceptual leaps and figure out something completely new – which they would have to do with Tablets.

In a sense the Tablet is the perfect example of companies taking two existing booming niches i.e. netbooks and eReaders and extrapolating –

  1. How could eReaders be successful? How could Netbooks be successful?
  2. There must be a market for portable devices.
  3. What would we want as an ideal portable device – Perhaps a mix of the eReader and the Netbook.
  4. That’s not cool – let’s add something cool like multi-touch and a new design and a cool new concept.

Tablets are the perfect example of a technology that is so cool it should have already succeeded.

That leaves just two possibilities –

  1. Tablets weren’t fulfilling users’ needs well enough. 
  2. There isn’t any fundamental user need that Tablets actually address.

The latter is a question well worth asking – Could it be that typing is just a better, easier option than writing? Could multi-touch and touch be a step backwards from keyboards?

Closing Thought – eReader Vs Tablet is about Marketing

Tablet makers bring eReaders and reading features into the picture for one of two reasons –

  1. To steal some of the buzz that eReaders are getting.  
  2. They can’t make the paradigm shift that people might care so much about reading that they want a dedicated device.

eReaders (and even Netbooks) are frustrating to tech experts because they are marvels of fulfilling a user need while being terrible at impressing tech experts.

In many ways Tablets are the sort of product tech experts wish would sell – they are cool, they are a new design paradigm, they look like they should be easy to use, and they look like they are the future.

They are so perfect that they have been ‘the next big thing’ since 1982 – at some point a company will get Tablets right and the decades of failure will be justified.

We don’t know if and when Tablets will succeed. We do know that Tablets are not the best device for reading – they aren’t even close.

If you really want something to read on get an eReader.

More than an hour of reading a day (or one or more books a month) means an eReader is the right choice.

Is Amazon justified in not having a Kindle App Store?

Amazon’s decision to not allow third party apps for the Kindle doesn’t seem quite as strange if you consider –

  1. The ongoing FCC investigation of Apple because they didn’t let the Google Voice App into the iPhone App Store.
  2. The ‘about to become a fiasco’ attempt by Rhapsody to add an iTunes competitor app.

We suddenly have a situation where Apple is supposed to let competitors and would be usurpers into their walled garden. To profit off their hard work and exploit their users as they see fit.  

Does Political Correctness dictate that Apple and Amazon turn their platforms into dumb pipes?

Take a company that invests hundreds of millions of dollars and builds up its platform or service – Apple with its iPhone, Amazon with the Kindle.

The message seems to be –

Great for you that you built up the #1 spot.

You have to be polite though, and buy the politically correct ‘be open’ nonsense your competitors are selling.

So, guess you’ll just have to turn yourself into dumb pipes and let other companies make all the money.

Oh, by the way, if you’re not stupid enough to buy this ‘altruism’ nonsense, we’ll just step in and make sure you have no choice.

We seem to be forgetting that –

  1. Every company is in it to make money.
  2. Altruism and openness are just strategies.

By buying this ‘be open’ message we’re negating the platform owners’ advantages while doing nothing to counter the advantages their opponents have.

Who in their right mind would develop platforms and infrastructure if all platforms were dumbed down and socialized? 

Can Amazon be blamed for not even considering a Kindle App Store?

Here are the benefits for Amazon if it opens up a Kindle App Store –

  1. Someone codes a good Folders app. 
  2. We get a few crosswords apps. 
  3. Someone taps into the hidden GPS abilities and creates a local search and maps feature.

The upside is completely drowned out by the huge risks –

  1. Google submits an app that takes over the browser and the kindle store and then pulls in the FCC if the app isn’t approved.
  2. starts running an app to buy things from them via the Kindle.
  3. WalMart builds an app that price-matches every Amazon purchase and offers Kindle owners free shipping if they choose WalMart.
  4. Gambling companies try to co-opt the Kindle into being an on the go casino.
  5. Virtual Goods companies start selling ‘virtual gifts’ and exploiting trusting Kindle owners.

Basically, the message the FCC’s investigation is giving companies is –

Its not ‘correct’ to be really, really good and beat your competition.

Its so evil to make money off of your hard work and your #1 position.

Why build a platform when you can just con your way into exploiting the platform.

Opening up your platform even a little is inviting total disaster. Apple did and see what they’re left with –

  1. Google owns search. 
  2. Google owns Maps. 
  3. Google wants to own making phone calls.
  4. Rhapsody and Palm want to subvert iTunes.

Amazon has to be looking at this and thanking their lucky stars they didn’t start opening up the Kindle.

Why not let the Customers Decide?

There’s no love lost between Apple and me. However, I’m firmly on Apple’s side here as this ‘government stepping in to right wrongs’ approach is too socialistic –  

  1. Customer have free choice – they won’t buy an iPhone or Kindle if they don’t want to. 
  2. Who decides what’s important to customers? Some company with ulterior motives? The Government?
  3. The US is a capitalist country, is it not?

This FCC stepping in to ‘open up’ the Apple Store is rather reminiscent of ‘Financial Bailouts to prevent an Economic Disaster’ in that the people being saved are not you and me – it’s big, huge corporations that are already making billions.

Surely, if the customers were so dismayed by Apple’s lack of openness and Kindle’s lack of support for ‘open’ formats, they would stop buying iPhones and Kindles – would they not?

Perhaps we’re not dumb idiots who have to be ‘saved’ from ‘evil, closed systems’. Perhaps the reality is that we just don’t care about being fooled by an altruistic strategy into making some company undeservedly rich.

Do Apple outlook downgrades also apply to Amazon Kindle sales?

In the midst of the Monday 777.7 point decline AAPL had a horrid fall – losing as much as 20%, before coming back a bit Monday itself and rising a further 8% today. The exceptional fall was partly due to stock downgrades by Morgan Stanely and RBC. There were two main reasons stated –

  1. RBC’s Mike Abramsky said –  40% of people plan on spending less money on electronics in the next 90 days — “the weakest outlook ever seen.”
  2. Morgan Stanley’s Kathryn Huberty – the remaining source of growth in the PC market is in the sub-$1,000 market, where Apple currently sells no laptops.

Let’s look at the Kindle – If people plan on spending less, and laptops over $1000 are no longer a source of growth, then an expensive $359 ebook reader ought to get hit pretty hard too.

The coupon code definitely had a positive impact on Kindle sales – it’s obvious from the sheer fact that hundreds of websites were writing about it or highlighting the offer. However, it’s going to be rough going in the coming months.

The truth is that the Kindle needs a lot of favourable factors to be able to experience exponential growth and become anything resembling the iPod of books. The current economic environment means that isn’t going to happen – Mr. Bezos and Amazon’s committment to the Kindle will be put to the test because the environment for a device like the Kindle to take off just isn’t present any more. And it might not be back for 6-24 months.

On the positive side, Amazon’s huge faux pas of missing this Christmas Season (if their claims are true that Kindle V2.0 comes out next year) becomes much less of an issue.

As for its competitors – Sony is Sony, and PaperLogic has $150 million of funding – which means 2 of the major competitors will be able to hold out and last until the end of the current economic depression.