Apparently eReaders are not as endangered as the iPod Touch

We have another survey of questionable origins being used as evidence to support the supposed demise of eReaders. This one however cuts both ways. It’s a Morgan Stanley/Alphawise survey from March 2010.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Surveys

This is a survey that questioned customers and collated results from consumers who planned on buying an iPad. Note that these are customers ‘planning on buying an iPad’ so it’s even more unreliable than normal surveys.

The results were -

  1. 44% of US consumers who were planning on buying an iPad were buying it instead of a notebook computer or a netbook. Of those over half (24% chunk out of 44% chunk) were going to buy an iPad instead of an Apple Macbook.  
  2. 41% of US consumers planning on buying an iPad chose it instead of an iPod Touch. 
  3. 28% of US consumers planning on buying an iPad chose an iPad instead of an eReader. 
  4. 27% of US consumers were planning on buying an iPad instead of a desktop. Of those over half (14% chunk) were going to buy an iPad instead of a Mac.

Those figures add up to more than 100% (140% to be precise) because consumers probably considered 2 or 3 choices. This is interesting because it means people were even less serious about reading – If you want a device to read on and you’re deciding between a laptop, a Kindle, and an iPad you’re less likely to be the typical eReader owner.

Is this survey correct?

To be frank it’s a bit of a joke. Customers who are planning to buy something can’t really be used as an accurate measure. We also don’t know how many people were surveyed – How convenient to not mention that or any other details such as the wording of the questions.  

You also have the fact that the numbers add up to much more than 100% because customers were deciding between multiple choices.

If this survey is an accurate gauge of user behavior

We get some fascinating things -

  1. There’s a lot of cannibalization. People planning to buy an iPad chose it over Macbooks (24%), iPod Touches (41%), and Macs (14%). There’s overlap – However, at least 41% of the time these are sales that would probably go to other Apple devices.  
  2. Only 28% of people planning to buy an iPad were considering eReaders. Plus there’s no guarantee they wouldn’t have gotten an iPod touch or a netbook instead of an eReader if the iPad wasn’t available (and they haven’t bought anything yet). 
  3. Only 17% of people planning to buy an iPad were considering handheld video games.
  4. Only 20% were considering notebooks and netbooks.

Isn’t it interesting that the three categories of devices supposed to be most endangered by the iPad (handheld video games, eReaders, netbooks) have such low figures (17%, 28%, and some portion of 20%) while Apple’s own products have much higher figures. 

Not only is the iPad a giant iPod Touch it’s also a giant iPod Touch killer.

The rumored death of Netbooks

Netbooks had a year over year growth rate varying between 180% and 641% in the last 6 months of 2009. The growth rate is now rather low – it fell to just 5% in April 2010, and was never above 68% (January). 

This is being attributed to the iPad. However, it’s worth considering a few things -

  1. It’s probably the unknown i.e. not knowing what’s coming out, that caused a lot of the drop.
  2. If you’re selling 20 million plus netbooks a year it’s unrealistic to expect another year of growth rates between 180% and 641%.
  3. You have to compare total netbook sales with total iPad sales. Since iPad is starting from zero comparing growth rates is rather unfair.  

It’s typical Apple marketing to take a figure like declining growth rate and focus on that. It’d be much less fun to point out that Netbooks outsold the iPad even after all the hype and publicity.

While the iPad did take away a chunk of the netbook market we have to wait and see how big that chunk was and  whether it was the promise of the iPad that stalled sales as opposed to the actual device stealing sales.  

What devices do people who love reading consider?

We’re getting quite a list in the survey – iPod Touches, netbooks, notebooks, eReaders, iPads, desktop PCs.

Do people who read books really consider all of those devices as reading devices?

That’s a good question and it hints at why Apple is pushing the iPad as an eReader. Since it’s a very new market, is not very well-defined, and eInk hasn’t evolved in years, the eReader market is ripe for taking over. All you have to do is change the concept of what an eReader is from ‘a device built for reading’ to ‘a device you can read on’.

That’s exactly what Apple is doing and its smart strategy. It is going to lead to less reading because people with dedicated readers will read more books (it’s not like you can watch a movie instead). However, it sells iPads so Apple will obviously paint it as the best eReader available.

Kindle 3 and Nook 2 and the next generation of Sony Readers have to ramp up their offerings or they might end up losing sales to a device that isn’t even an eReader.

Perfect example of the chasm between Press and Readers

At Techmeme there is a small amount of buzz about the new Kindle 2.5 upgrade. It’s revealing to see how the Press interpret the upcoming upgrade. 

The titles of the articles talking about Kindle 2.5 tell a story -

Kindle Software Update Adds Twitter, PDF Zoom, Sharper Fonts

Kindle jumps onto social network bandwagon with Twitter and Facebook updates

Kindle firmware 2.5 imminent: Twitter/Facebook Integration, ebook Collections, more

Amazon goes social with new Kindle update

Kindle Update adds Facebook and Twitter Interaction, Password …

Amazon Kindle gets Facebook and Twitter updates

The articlesthemselves reveal even more.

The Press fixate on what they think are important features

Kindle owners are ecstatic about folders and yet most of the articles only mention Folders in passing. One article even manages to avoid mentioning Folders completely.

It was the first line item and it’s the most crucial addition – How can you miss it?

Only a few talk about sharper fonts and better readability. Similarly, the improvement in PDF support is only mentioned in passing. It’s as if the Press can’t wait to talk about what they feel is the only real improvement.

The Press is fixated on the Facebook and Twitter updates feature because that’s what they understand.

Basically, none of the bloggers took the time to figure out what the update means to readers and people who own the device. They just wrote it from their own perspective.

Wired finds it hard to accept Kindle’s improving

Gadget Lab at Wired writes -

Amazon has updated the Kindle’s software to v2.5 and added both useful and questionable new features

The new features fall into two categories: social, and not-stupid.

These seem to spoil the very reason I use the Kindle to read: lack of distraction. When I read on my iPod I’m all, like, ADD?

Wired manage to take a very good Kindle 2.5 upgrade and make it seem bad.

Perfect Example of the Press not understanding eReaders or readers

Not a single writer made the effort to see what the upgrade is like – Yet they pass judgement on it.

This is Charlie Sorrel’s defence for criticizing the upgrade without even taking a look at it -

I can’t test anything yet, as the Lady has made off with my Kindle today …

I’ll bring you a full report as soon as I have the update in my hands

So you mean to tell us you wrote off the Kindle 2.5 upgrade without even taking a look at it? That you have no idea of how the features work and what the social features are like and yet you classified the social features as distracting and the other features as not-stupid.

Wow.

We have 6 articles about the Kindle 2.5 upgrade and not a single one of them has actually tried it out. 6 articles written by people who haven’t taken the 5 seconds needed to adjust their perspective and look at things through the eyes of a reader or an eReader owner.

This sort of crucification of the Kindle and of eReaders has been happening since 2007. Some things never change.

eReader stories and how they morph

It’s really interesting to see two recent eReader related stories and how the Press and Blogs take liberties with them and morph them into almost unrecognizable forms.

Nook selling more than Kindle?

DigiTimes wrote about how manufacturers shipped more Nooks out than Kindles in March. While there could be lots of reasons for that, DigiTimes chose to assume it was demand picking up.

Here is what more shipments might mean -

  1. Demand for nook was more. 
  2. B&N had to stock all its stores.
  3. B&N anticipated more demand due to its TV, print, and radio advertising campaign.
  4. B&N expected the new update with browser to cause more demand. 

Notice that it’s not guaranteed that Nook was selling more or will sell more than Kindle. Even DigiTimes cleverly manage to talk only about shipments while implying that Nook sold more than Kindle (in their title and by talking about demand).

Personally I fell for it. So did a lot of the Press.

Here are the types of articles being written -

  1. Nook outsells Kindle in First Month of Sale. This is an obviously wrong title. You’d expect better from Fast Company.
  2. Nook outsells Kindle in March. A more accurate title would be – Analyst says more shipments of Nook (Nook might be selling more).  
  3. eBook war heating up – Nook passes Kindle.
  4. Nook outsold Kindle in March, forcing Amazon to change tactics. From an Apple Blog. 

The claims some of these articles make are ridiculous. Fast Company take the cake by mistakenly calling it the Nook’s first month of sales.

The iPad might be bad for sleeping story

This is a weaker but still interesting example.

It’s amusing that it’s the exact opposite of the ‘eInk and LCD are equally good for reading’ story that the Press were drumming up a little while back. One article in the LA Times and in the Press’ mind the iPad goes from ‘as good as eInk readers’ to ’causes insomnia’.

It started with an LA Times article that said Reading on the iPad before bedtime can affect sleep habits. While it did quote sleep disorder experts it didn’t quote any studies or scientific evidence.

Here are some of the things it said -

Light-emitting devices, including cellphones and yep, the iPad, tell the brain to stay alert.

Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with, say, a TV across the room …

The take-home lesson is that insomnia and electronics gadgets emitting light should not [be] mixed before bedtime

Kindle is better for your sleep.

The articles basically took the ‘Reading on the iPad can affect sleep habits’ theme and morphed it into ‘iPad is going to kill your sleep’. Articles and themes included -

  1. iPad might cause insomnia.
  2. iPad kills sleeping hormone.
  3. iPad definitely causes insomnia.  
  4. Are you sleep deprived? Turn off your iPad.  You have to admit it’s quite a jump to go from ‘iPad might cause insomnia’ to ‘if you have insomnia the iPad caused it’.

While it’s a relief to find any articles that don’t worship the JesusTablet it’s getting a bit unfair when the iPad is suddenly portrayed as the main cause of insomnia.

Why does the Press like extremes?

Think about the eInk vs LCD storylines.

The Press either want to play up stories that claim LCD is just as good as eInk and the iPad’s screen destroys eReader advantages or they want to write about how the iPad will kill your sleep and should be avoided at all costs.

Then look at all the eReader coverage – It’s always about one eReader killing another or some non-reading device killing eReaders.

In their quest to find and write interesting eReader stories the Press are cheating by spicing up the stories themselves. To make things worse they aren’t eReader experts and they make lots of fundamental mistakes.

Dissecting an attack on the new Alex eReader

Wired have an article about the Alex eReader that is a typical irrational attack on eReaders -

Alex, the Frankenstein’s Monster of e-readers which sews the head of the Kindle onto the tiny, mismatched body of an Android mini-tablet, is available for pre-order.

We have trouble seeing any kind of market for this.

The plain e-reader will continue to succeed, a simple one-purpose device with almost complete independence of battery-life worries.

Who will buy this mongrel, the poor Alex with its lack of functionality, its short battery life (just six hours with the color screen in use) and its almost-iPad price-tag?

Wired attack the dual screen design, the fact that the LCD cuts battery life to 6 hours if on, and the price. It instead recommends a simple one-purpose device.

Now take a look at what the same author at Wired wrote about the Nook (which has an identical design) in a post titled B&N unveils Kindle-Killing Dual-Screen ‘Nook’ eReader -

If you just ordered a Kindle, stop reading now or you’re in for a giant dose of buyer’s remorse. Barnes and Noble unveiled a new e-book reader called ‘Nook’, and it is hot, both inside and out

Nook looks a lot like Amazon’s white plastic e-book reader, only instead of the chiclet-keyboard there is a color multi-touch screen, to be used as a keyboard or to browse books, cover-flow style.

So let’s get this straight - the Alex and the Nook have the exact same design. With the Nook Wired call it a ‘kindle killing design’ and applaud the multi-touch screen. With Alex they call the design Frankenstein’s monster.

Wired are making fools of someone

It’s either us or them.

When the Nook first came out Wired thought its multi-touch screen (which couldn’t be used for browsing the Internet) meant it would kill the Kindle. When the Alex comes out with its more functional LCD screen (that allows Internet browsing) Wired call it a monster.

Alex’s price might be much higher at $400 and that’s a weakness – However, Wired are attacking the design and claiming that people want a device that is single purpose. That’s the exact opposite of what they wrote when the Nook came out.

Android and LCD screen - Good on Nook, Terrible on Alex

It gets better. The Alex gets blasted on its Android credibility -

It is even an outsider in the Android world, the lack of a cellphone spec excluding it from the Android Marketplace, although I’m sure it’ll get hacked soon enough.

However, Nook had the exact same Android capability (actually less as there was no browser) and it got applauded. In fact, another wired reporter wrote an article on Top 5 Nook capabilities and listed Nook’s support for Android at 2. -

2. Android OS: The Nook is the first e-book reader to run Android,

The double standards extend to the LCD displays. At 3. on the list of Top 5 Nook capabilities was the dual screen feature -

3. Color touchscreen: In the world of e-readers, Nook’s dual display feature is unique. Nook has the usual black-and-white E Ink screen for reading books, but it also has a color capacitive touchscreen

… Though the idea strikes us a bit of a gimmick, it is still interesting, because it is a step out of the rut that current e-readers seem stuck in: a single black-and-white display in an 8-inch frame

The exact same idea (a second LCD screen) is no longer stepping out of a rut - When the Alex has it its monstrous.

Closing Thought – Could eReader critics at least be consistent?

It’s completely OK if you hate eReaders or the Kindle or both. Please – at least use the same arguments.

While the unintentional comedy is a nice bonus for people who actually own eReaders there are people who’re going to decide whether or not to buy an eReader based on what you write.

Perhaps most importantly Alex have, if the videos are to be trusted, done the dual screen design right. The second screen can be used for surfing the Internet and then an article can be switched over to the eInk screen for reading. The execution of the idea is to be applauded. The Nook got credit for badly executing the dual screen design and for the ‘promise’ of Android. Alex are getting roasted for executing the same idea the right way – How is that fair?

eReaders getting delayed, eReaders getting panned

We will inevitably end up talking about the iPad so let’s start with some general eReader news items first.

Plastic Logic release delayed till Summer 2010

The New York Times point out that the 10-year-old Plastic Logic have delayed the release of the Que ereader. It’s not much of a surprise since releasing a $799 professional eReader in the same month as the $499 iPad would be suicide.

We have various Plastic Logic people adding their thoughts -

Richard Archuleta, Plastic Logic’s chief executive, said the company needed to “fine-tune the features and enhance the overall product experience,”

Betty Taylor, a Plastic Logic spokeswoman, said in an e-mail message that the company was “confident Que is going to remain on the most-wanted list of mobile business professionals — and that there’s still ample room in the nascent e-reader market to compete.”

if Plastic Logic hadn’t delayed their release to early this year they could have come out at a time when there was no iPad and established some sort of foothold in the business market. Well, perhaps even that was unlikely given their Que eReader models are priced at $649 and $799. At least they would have had a better chance than they have now.

Entourage Edge gets reviewed and panned by Engadget

Joanna Stern at Engadget reviews the Entourage Edge and by ‘reviews’ we mean beats it up with a baseball bat -

Yes, the Edge is a combination e-reader and an Android tablet — it just doesn’t quite work well as either. For $499 there are just too many issues with it, including its chunky body, skimpy e-book selection, frustrating touchscreen, poor battery life and lack of Android apps.

While promised software updates may yet fix enough issues and enable enough features to perhaps make it a decent textbook replacement for some students, we just can’t say that its worth the cash right now.

We have a device that has an eInk screen you can write on, a LCD screen that runs Android, and a $499 price tag - It still gets treated like Rodney Dangerfield.

The review starts with Look and Feel (always a bad sign – Why would you start an ereader/tablet review with looks?) and apparently the Edge belongs in a sterile hotel room.

The Reading Experience of the Entourage is rated quite strong -

…  we really found the overall reading experience to be pleasant.

Speaking of the touch, it’s pretty nice: you can underline/highlight text and jot down notes in the margin or in a separate journal page with the included stylus, and you also can save a marked up page or journal document as a PDF and then easily transfer it to the LCD screen and email it to a friend

But then again the review starts panning the Edge for not having the eBook range of Amazon or B&N.

Basically it’s a review assuming it’s the third generation of a device and it should have gotten everything right. It’s sad to see someone bring an innovative dual screen device to market at a very reasonable price point and then get crucified because they aren’t better than every other product (and specifically in each product’s speciality).

Is there an unrealistic bar for eReaders?

Reading the Engadget review makes it apparent that the main-stream technical blogs have a very precise picture of what they want in an eReader -

  1. They don’t really care about the reading experience – That’s why the Entourage with its pleasant reading experience and pretty nice note-taking still gets blasted.
  2. They care the most about looks and whether it’s pretty and cool and will impress everyone around you.
  3. It has to have Android and come with lots of Android Apps. It has to be an eco-system that lets people pirate and steal and lets other companies make money off of it.
  4. It has to have as much range as the Kindle Store and have cheaper book prices.
  5. It has to be fast and responsive and have a great color screen – all while having a really low price.
  6. It can’t have DRM and it should let readers read library books.
  7. It should support Flash and HTML5 and should come with a webkit browser.
  8. It should have WiFi and lots of USB ports and expandability.

There’s just one problem with this ‘ideal eReader image’ that the tech blogs are creating - It’s impossible.

There’s never going to be a device that beats Apple on looks and Kindle on simplicity and prices and Linux on openness.

  • Apple is making a ton of profit and that’s why it can afford to lovingly and painfully handcraft its products.
  • Amazon is building for a future stream of revenue and that’s why Kindle Store books are so cheap.
  • Android has a ton of search revenue supporting it and it can afford to not make any money.

Every eReader review by the main-stream press is overly critical – It’s like they’re just waiting to talk about how it’s not as pretty as the iPhone and not as fast as their desktop and how it’s priced too high.

You’d think they would be happy that Nook and the Edge both have Android – they’re not. There are a million complaints -

Android isn’t implemented right. It’s not open enough. There aren’t enough apps. It’s not fast enough. 

Perhaps eReader companies should just realize that they can’t win over the main-stream press. No matter what they do they’re never going to get a decent review. Might as well focus on people who love books and read books and who are actually going to buy eReaders.

Lab 126 Jobs keep growing

The Careers Page at Lab 126 is like the never-ending story. They now have 68 open jobs – including 3 jobs added 3 days ago and 9 added in March itself.  

The Press have been starved for news and when they found that Amazon were hiring a browser engineer they naturally ran with a story on how Amazon was going to improve its browser to compete with the iPad.

In typical Press style they ran a February 8th job posting as a news item around March 8th. No wonder they’re dying.

It’s disappointing that they didn’t go with the other big story -

Kindle releases new line of Kindle Teddy Bears that read bedtime stories to your kids.

That’s the only possibility given that Lab126 were hiring a Soft Goods Designer with some very specific requirements -

Extensive knowledge of and experience with a range of soft good materials including: nylon, leather, and natural fabrics.

Knowledge of manufacturing and assembly techniques including tooling, injection molding, textiles, pattern making, stitching/sewing and related production methods.

Speaking of speculation we have some iPad speculation.

Apple aficionados try to estimate iPad sales figures

Someone bought two iPads half an hour apart and subtracted the order numbers and is now running around claiming 25,000 iPads an hour were being sold.

At an Apple forum there are people actually tallying up the order numbers and trying to estimate sales and getting happier and happier.

The articles are getting a bit much -

Business Insider: 

… that means Apple is selling $10MM/hour. Of course that is not sustainable, but if they did it for a year, it would be $87.6B.

The iPad may very well be a huge hit. However, the estimate of 25,000 iPads being sold an hour is based on two rather undependable sources -

  1. A blogger who bought two iPads a half hour apart and compared order numbers.
  2. A forum’s members who compared 15 orders in the span of 2.5 hours.

It’s a little too early to be saying that the iPad is going to be a bigger success than the iPhone (yes, an Apple fan site actually said that) - Especially when it’s based on assumptions and a few random data points.

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