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.


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