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.

Where will the next big eReader advance come from?

The Kindle and the Sony Reader represented a big advance – the first generation of eReaders. They effectively validated the market.

iPad represented an advance of sorts – Using marketing, rather than features, to turn a Tablet into an eReader.

Nook Color might represent a big advance – It’s a ‘Reading Tablet’, and does make an effort to focus on reading. In fact, it’s taken the ‘focus on reading’ theme to such an extent, it’s locked away the Nook Color’s potential as a general Android Tablet.

There aren’t really any big eReader advances on the horizon. We have one long shot – the hope that Nook Color represents an advance – and that’s it.

Where is the next big eReader advance going to come from?

Let’s start by listing all possible sources, and writing down how much of a shot each has of advancing the state of eReaders.

  1. A smaller eReader company. That’s got to be a fantasy given how competitive the eReader market has become. 
  2. A new ePaper technology. Perhaps. Mirasol and Pixel Qi are promising advances.
  3. A software OS company. Not really a possibility as all the eReaders are closed. 
  4. An app company. It’s a very narrow window of opportunity – There are lots of restrictions, and apps are basically in a sandbox. It’s very unlikely an app will create the next big eReader advance.
  5. An App Store – Could a collection of apps that don’t do much individually, combine to create something big. Perhaps – that’s probably what Amazon and B&N are hoping.
  6. Amazon and B&N. B&N is trying something with Nook Color. Amazon will try something to fight back. At the same time, both companies are very comfortable as they are.
  7. Apple. Just seeing if you’re paying attention. There is a very slight chance that Apple makes a great iPad 2, and kills eReaders and Reading Tablets. According to the Press, it’s already happened. In Reality, it’s a 2% chance.
  8. Google. It might do something – in fact, it’s bound to do something. 
  9. Kobo. Well, after the Blue Button eReader, it’s hard to imagine Kobo can create a revolution. A very slight chance.
  10. An eReader company from the East. Chinese, Japanese, and Korean companies have been trying out a lot of things. A chance – no idea how much of a chance.
  11. Readers. It’s not inconceivable that readers get together, and do something. A very slight chance.
  12. A website. It’s possible that a website, such as Groupon or Facebook, does something that ends up playing a big part in the next big eReader advance. Low possibility.
  13. An off-eReader software program. Calibre might add a feature, or a brand new software program might spring-up, that pushes eReaders forward. This is the wild card.
  14. Publishers. Could Publishers do something huge like force everyone to use one format. Very low chance as Publishers might not realize what it would result in.
  15. Regulators. If Amazon and B&N get comfortable in their positions, rival companies might get regulators involved. This is quite likely if one of Amazon or B&N wins the eReader market.

The 5 most likely sources, of the next big advances in eReaders, probably are – A new ePaper company, the Amazon vs B&N competition, Google, an eReader App Store, Regulators. The 2 wild cards are – Sony, off-eReader software.

What are the roadblocks?

There are a few roadblocks that make it difficult for anyone other than Amazon and B&N to create innovation.

  1. Closed ecosystems.
  2. DRM.
  3. An all-on-one solution. Basically, Amazon and B&N provide almost everything. If it were different companies, providing different parts of the ecosystem, we would lose some of the convenience – but we’d also see brutal competition in every area. Rather than complete ecosystems competing, and keeping out all smaller companies, we’d see a huge variety of companies competing.
  4. The ebook revenue stream. There’s just too much ebook money on the table for companies to take risks.
  5. The huge investment required to produce an eReader.
  6. Publishers. They control most of the quality content which means that, in addition to technological and financial hurdles, any new eReader company would have to negotiate successfully with Publishers.
  7. General Purpose Tablets – These seem to many to be the end-game for eReaders. A lot of people, who would otherwise take a shot, assume that eReaders can’t survive.
  8. The perception that people don’t read any more. It seems to be a remarkably wide-spread belief that people have stopped reading, and that all the bookstores and ebook stores are selling to a grand total of 51 people.
  9. Brutal competition. You can take on Amazon with its huge capacity to cut prices, or you can take on B&N with its army of stores. If that weren’t bad enough, both have tens of millions of customers.
  10. Misconceptions and Blissful Ignorance. No one knows what the profits are, what number of eReaders have been sold so far, how much money is made per ebook, or the costs of selling ebooks and eReaders.

The last roadblock is particularly interesting.

Three years in, we still have no idea how much money Amazon and B&N are making on eReaders, and how much money they are making on eBooks. Which makes it easy for companies to give in to their ‘there’s no money in books’ mentality. That means a lot of companies that could compete, and which would probably force eReaders to advance, just aren’t jumping in.

Closing Thought – Kindle vs Nook might not be the best thing for eReaders

Instead of vibrant competition, it’s beginning to look like we’ll see Amazon and B&N doing their best Coke and Pepsi impersonation.

None of the bigger companies want to jump into eReaders. The smaller ones have been squeezed out. We’re left with a few companies that might light a fire under Amazon and B&N – Sony, Kobo, and … no one else.

It’s a strange situation – We have an incredibly promising new market, with devices that promise to replace paper, and the only two companies interested are ones that sell books.

What's the 1 best thing for Kindle, eReaders?

With the Kindle 3 already here, the Sony 650’s details leaked, and Nook 2 waiting to pounce in September we have a pretty good idea of where we stand.

Where we stand with Kindle, eReaders

Here’s a quick list –

  1. Price – We’re doing very well on price with $189 to $200 prices for the 6″ eReaders and $130 to $150 prices for the 3G less 6″ eReaders. The larger screen models are still rather expensive at $379 for the Kindle DX.
  2. Technology – eInk Pearl makes the screen contrast excellent and Sony 650 supposedly pulls off touch without hurting readability. Apart from that we’re doing pretty poorly – No flexibility and no rollable screens, no unbreakable screens, and the best bet for color (Qualcomm Mirasol) just announced a facility that’ll mass-produce screens only in 2012.
  3. User Friendliness – This is going amazingly well. eReaders are still easy to use and getting easier. They are also expanding to low vision readers (super size fonts in Kindle and Nook), blind readers (voice guide and text to speech in Kindle), and other demographics.
  4. eBooks – This is a mixed bag. We’re at 8.5% market share for ebooks and we’re also saddled with the Agency Model. It’s very encouraging but there are still threats including vague hints of advertising in books.
  5. Killer Features – Well, across the various eReaders we have Library Books, Accessibility, eInk Pearl, Read to Me, Lend Me, Amazing battery life, much improved page turn speeds, changeable font sizes, respectable PDF support, good browsers (Nook and Kindle), support for more and more languages, touch and free hand drawing, great size, low weight, and a few other killer features. Doing pretty well here.
  6. Formats and Interoperability – This is a royal mess. Even the ePub companies can’t work well with each other and when they do they make it incredibly complicated to use ePub. You’ve got to love how ‘open’ ePub requires Adobe Digital Editions, PC to eReader transfers, and all sorts of 20th century mechanisms.
  7. Survival – Everything’s good here. eReaders are alive and kicking. They haven’t been eaten up by or morphed into great-for-nothing, good-for-everything devices.
  8. Market – The market continues to expand with predictions that 10 million eReaders will be sold in 2010 though it’s disconcerting that over 70% of those sales are expected in the last 5 months of the year.
  9. School and College – Not much progress here. The lack of touch makes eReaders irrelevant (except for English majors and perhaps a few others). Sony has touch but no large screen eReader. It’s hard to get excited by Blio and NookStudy – they’re not eReaders and they involve reading on LCD screens.

All in all some things are going very well (price, killer features, survival, market size, user friendliness) and some are bumbling along with ups and downs (interoperability, school+college, technology, ebooks).

Which brings us to the point of this post – Figuring out the 1 thing that would have the most impact and the most positive impact on eReaders.

Candidates for the 1 best thing for eReaders and Kindle

Let’s list as many as we can –

  1. Killer feature or breakthrough based on software. Perhaps a company comes up with some software that just revolutionizes reading and ebooks and eReaders.
  2. Killer feature or breakthrough based on hardware. Perhaps eInk makes a major breakthrough, perhaps chip makers make a breakthrough.  
  3. A huge jump in ease of use. This is a bit harder to imagine as eReaders are already pretty simple. However, it’s possible.
  4. Steve Jobs level marketing magic. The major impediment in eReaders’ path to domination is Perception – some people don’t realize it’s just like reading a book, other people don’t realize how much better the reading experience is than on LCD screens, and a few people just can’t get over the touch and feel of books. Add on the 70% of people who have no idea what an eReader is and you suddenly realize the need to market and promote eReaders.
  5. The end of DRM. Since DRM is supposedly the root of all evil perhaps removing it would lead to something magical and revolutionary.
  6. 1 common format. Another thing that is the root of all evil (interesting isn’t it – two roots of evil) is the lack of a common format. Perhaps removing this would lead to amazing things.
  7. 1 eReader winning out. It’s possible though not probable that a dominant eReader would be a good thing.
  8. A permanent tie between 2 or 3 eReaders. This is much likelier to be good for eReaders – constant competition would mean constant improvements. 
  9. Huge cut in prices on large screen eReaders. Hard to make a case for this when the 6″ eReaders are doing so much better. Perhaps the school and college angle.
  10. 6″ eReaders hitting $99. We mean the big three – Kindle, Nook, Sony Reader. We’re already at $139 but the magic $100 figure may very well be the secret.
  11. Death of the Agency Model. Well, it isn’t really hurting eReader sales or eBook sales and $14.99 has morphed into $12.99 so this is unlikely to be the one.
  12. eReader App Store. This is a total wild card. As opposed to Facebook and iPhone which are in some ways blank canvases and where people have a lot of time to waste eReaders already have their killer function – reading.
  13. Arrival of color. Color has so little to do with reading books that this is unlikely to be the most impactful change we could have.
  14. Unbreakable screens. This would help a lot.
  15. Kindle for Kids or Sony Reader for Kids. This has two consequences – a lot more sales, inculcating a love of reading before school work kills the possibility.
  16. Actual Internationalization. eReaders that support all languages and book rights that work across the globe.
  17. Writing capability. This would be huge.

A lot of the items on this list would be impactful. It’d be a fun exercise to run a bunch of readers through the list and have them prioritize these features or cast a yes/no vote on each.

Top 7 Candidates for huge Kindle, eReaders impact

Well, here are the ones that, in my opinion, could have the most impact –

  1. A permanent tie between two or three eReaders. This would be a dream outcome as the companies would always be competing and improving. 3 or 4 would be much better than 2.
  2. $99 prices on eReaders from the Big 3. It’s hard to discount this as casual readers are a pretty important market and the fact that eReaders turn some casual readers into frequent or even hard-core readers is even more important.
  3. Writing Capability. Perhaps the one thing that instantly transforms eReaders from niche devices into devices with incredibly broad appeal (school, college, work, replacing paper).  
  4. Actual Internationalization. The US has almost single-handedly taken eReaders from an idea to millions of sales a year. If we can get the whole world to participate we would transform books and eReaders.  
  5. Huge jump in Awareness. If the rate of increase in awareness could be accelerated things would become much easier. We saw this with Oprah’s Kindle endorsement and you have to wonder if that’s scalable – Surely, every country and every state has its own equivalent of Oprah.
  6. Major hardware breakthrough. Could we get an eInk related breakthrough that changes things massively? Perhaps unbreakable screens.
  7. 1 common format. There’s so much drama around interoperability. You almost feel it’d be worth fixing just to get people to stop complaining about it. If those people then become positive and embrace eReaders whole-heartedly this would be a huge factor. If they just find something else to complain about (books not being free, Amazon and B&N dominating, no free coffee) then the format issue would prove to be a red herring.

These are all very good candidates – My money’s on one out of ‘A permanent tie between two or three eReaders’, ‘Writing Capability’, and ‘Actual Internationalization’. The others are very promising too (especially Awareness) – However, any 1 of the latter three could transform eReaders just by itself.