New eReaders, Kindle Killers & iPad Killers

It’s been fashionable for the last two years to label every new device a Kindle Killer or an eReader Killer – Now, journalists and bloggers all over the world are overcome with euphoria at the realization that the new breed of Tablets can be called Kindle Killers, eReader Killers, and also iPad Killers. No more need to waste time thinking up good headlines. 

Asus Eee Tablet anointed Kindle Killer, iPad Killer

Gizmodo demonstrate their ingenuity by devising a painfully inaccurate headline  – Asus Eee Tablet: Call It a Kindle-Slayer, Not an iPad Killer.

  • Number of Times iPad is mentioned in the article: 0.
  • Number of times the Kindle is mentioned in the article: 0.
  • Number of comparisons with either Kindle or iPad: 0.

Yet Gizmodo is so in love with the concepts of kindle killer and iPad killer it finds a way to stuff them into the headline.

Let’s take a look at this new device, the Asus Eee Tablet, which seems to have such violent tendencies – 

  1. 2540 dpi screen. That seems impossibly high. Let’s see what it looks like with that sort of richness.
  2. A 8″ black/white passive TFT LCD screen with 1024 by 768 resolution and 64 levels of gray.
  3. Fast 0.1 second page turns.
  4. Will be between $200 and $299.
  5. Take notes with a stylus – highly sensitive touchscreen. There are a variety of notepad templates to choose from.
  6. A 2 MP camera. Take pictures and write on them.
  7. WiFi.
  8. MicroSD card slot and USB port to connect with PCs. 
  9. Will arrive in September.
  10. There is no backlight and Asus promises up to 10 hours of battery life.
  11. Asus is billing it as electronic notepad + eReader + media player.

Some of the above details are courtesy Hot HardwareTech in Style has lots of nice Asus Eee Tablet photos.

Asus Eee Tablet Details

From the photos it’s clear that –

  1. When reading a book you have Page Numbers and a tempting Full Screen option.
  2. There are buttons for table of contents, zoom in, zoom out, Settings, Highlighter, Pen, Bookmark, and what seems to be a full screen icon.
  3. Apps include Calendar, Calculator, Notebooks, Photo Albums, Sticky Notes, To Do List, and Voice Memo. The Apps are presented in a cover flow type view.
  4. There’s a search functionality and you seem to be able to search within a single notebook (and presumably a single book).
  5. It says you can store, sort, tag, and organize your notes.

Whoever provided the photos didn’t do a thorough job because the page that shows the list of Apps also claims to be Page 134. It’s rather unlikely that there are 134 pages of Apps.

Asus is targeting students and mobile businessmen and it’s going to be a pretty good fit for both – although you have to wonder about the gap between what is the best device for these two demographics and what device these two groups find the most appealing. Surely a device that would let them watch movies or surf the Net or play games while pretending to be working or playing would be much more attractive than the Asus Eee Tablet. 

Does the Asus Eee Tablet measure up?

Well, it’s an easy question to answer –  

  • The Asus Eee Tablet is obviously not an iPad killer. It’s not a do-everything device so there’s no way it can compete with the iWhatever.
  • The Asus Eee Tablet is probably not a Kindle killer either. It doesn’t use eInk and apart from writing functionality and the high screen resolution there aren’t any strong points.

In a way the Asus Eee Tablet tries to take the best of LCD screens and the best of eInk screens without realizing it’s also taking some of the disadvantages of both. The net result is that it isn’t really a huge threat to either the iPad or the Kindle.

eReader invasion from the East

Asus isn’t the only Asian company looking to capture a chunk of the exploding eReader market. There are three other very interested companies.

Acer LumiRead eReader takes on Kindle

The LA Times reports on the Acer LumiRead –

  1. The LumiRead has a 6″ eInk screen.  
  2. It has a camera that lets a user scan a book’s bar code and then compare the ebook price or add the book to a wishlist.
  3. Acer is set to release it in USA, China, and Germany in Q3, 2010 (perhaps even as soon as July). 

There’s a lot more on the LumiRead at my Kindle vs Acer Lumiread comparison post.

Delta’s Color eReader named eMagazine

This is a rather interesting new eReader that somehow managed to escape my attention (well, until now) –

  1. eMagazine is a Color eReader that uses particle-based technologies Delta and Bridgestone have jointly developed. 
  2. Its 13″ display shows complete magazine pages one at a time – no need for scrolling and zooming.
  3. It’s half the weight of the iPad. 

Go to love how Delta contrast screen size with 6″ eReaders and weight with the iPad.  

Delta also drum up quite a strong argument against LCDs –

Apple’s iPad and some e-readers sport LCD displays, which can show color. But those are harder to see in sunlight, cause eye-fatigue and consume much more power than the e-paper displays used in other e-readers.

Very valid points.

There are also two interesting snippets on their future plans –

Delta’s Lee said the company hopes to develop in two to three years particle-based displays that can display sharper colors like magazine pages, instead of the more shady colors its e-Magazine now displays.

No price tag was given for e-Magazine.

Lee said publishers may offer the e-readers free with a two or three years magazine subscription.

Really? Sign me up right now.

If Delta do deliver a 13″ color eReader that’s comparable to eInk in readability – then they will be very well placed. They’re promising to have something out by December 2010.

Hanwang plans to dominate the Chinese market and become world’s #1 eReader maker

Hanwang keep coming up and we now have both LA Times and Financial Times writing about them –

  1. Hanwang sold 266,000 eReaders in 2009.  
  2. They plan to sell over 1 million eReaders this year. 
  3. They released a 6″ eInk based eReader just last month.
  4. The founder, Mr. Liu Yingjian, wants to make Hanwang a Fortune 500 company.
  5. The founder also thinks that Tablets will not replace eReaders and that within 3 years there would no longer be any confusion between the two.

Hanwang’s Founder is pretty confident and went as far as to claim that by 2012 Hanwang would be the biggest eReader company in the world –

 “By the year after next at the latest, we will be the biggest in the world. Why? Because China is the world’s biggest market,” Mr Liu said.

He brings up the fact that US companies struggle with localization and Chinese character recognition. Wonder how much of a factor that is and how much of a factor is the uncertainty of doing business in China.

A tale of 4 kindle competitors

By a strange coincidence there were 4 posts discussing 4 different Kindle rivals open on my browser this morning. It’s surreal to see the wide variety of approaches, strengths, and flaws exhibited by the Kindle’s rivals.

Let’s take a look. 

The Nook – Perennially Late

If there was any doubt that B&N have a huge problem sticking to deadlines it should be removed completely by the list of improvements in their Mega-Update (courtesy CNet) –

  1. Their Read in Store feature which didn’t make it to release and then missed the promised January arrival is here. It’s only 4 months late (from the originally promised data – the November release).
  2. Bug Fixes – addressing freezing problems with the Nook. These again have been complained about since release. My Nook has frozen both times it tried to get the current update.
  3. User interface and Performance Tweaks – Wasn’t this in the magical update that arrived one or two weeks after the Nook was released? What about the January update that was supposed to fix this?

If all Barnes & Noble performance improvement upgrades really worked as claimed Nook would be faster than LCD screens by now.

To be fair there is one solid addition and one useful addition in this upgrade –

  1. Nook added a web browser so users can take advantage of the WiFi. 
  2. Two Android games – Chess and Sudoku.

This release is a microcosm of Nook’s strengths and weaknesses –

  1. The Read in Store feature highlights B&N’s retail presence.  
  2. The Browser with WiFi represents the WiFi capabilities and the promise of Android. 
  3. The fact that they still have to fix freezing problems and speed problems says a lot about their lack of software expertise.
  4. The fact that Read in Store was advertised at launch and has made it out only 4 months later shows just how much overselling B&N do – calling their eReader a ‘color’ eReader and promising Lending of Books without explaining that Publishers could turn it off.

If half of winning is showing up then Nook has been losing half the battle even before it gets started.

Consider this snippet –

It’s also important to note that because the device can now access the Web, you can log in to Wi-Fi networks that require authentication via a Web page.

Nook owners have been asking for the ability to access more public Wi-Fi hot spots since the e-reader’s launch.

B&N actually launched a WiFi capable device that couldn’t handle log-in pages. That’s just amazing.

B&N’s tardiness actually gets worse – B&N’s eReader for the iPad doesn’t arrive until May. They are giving Kindle for iPad and iBooks a whole month plus to gobble up iPad readers.

The Generic Low-Value Low-Price eReaders

In this case it’s the Aluratek Libre eBook Reader Pro and the Kobo Reader – both reviewed at ZDNet review.

Here’s the cookie-cutter formula for budget eReaders –

  1. 6″ eInk screen.  
  2. $150 price.
  3. Go with either openness (support for ePub, PDF, library books) or value for money as the primary draw.
  4. Do your best to make it look indistinguishable from every other eReader.
  5. Make sure the feature set makes it even more indistinguishable from every other eReader.

Aluratek sticks to it with the minor deviation of using a 5″ black and white reflective LCD display. They manage to take away the single biggest advantage of eReaders, eInk, while embracing one of eInk’s biggest negatives (lack of color). ZDNet think the Kobo is better and from the images and features it certainly seems that way.

Kobo stick to the formula too – except they add a big blue button in the front that looks completely out-of-place. The review is very favorable and Kobo’s service and store are both beginning to impress.

It’s interesting that the review is based on 15 minutes of playing around with a Kobo eReader and that the reviewer thinks that Kobo Reader sets the bar for low-priced eReaders.

Yup – it’s now half a feet off the ground.

It’s insignificant carbon copies and the Press still claims they are Kindle Killers

The Press keep making the mistake of thinking that because they don’t think eReaders are worth $259 people who actually buy eReaders also think the same.

In the Press’ mind every sub-standard $150 clone ereader seem closer to what an eReader should be than a decent eReader like the Kindle or the Sony Reader Touch Edition or the Nook.

The iPad – It looks so good it must be good for something

This iPad review from Concordiensis is impressive in that the reviewer does three very interesting things –

  1. In an area he’s qualified to talk about (college and education) he says it’s not usable because it doesn’t have a keyboard (and the keyboard dock takes away whatever mobility advantage it has). 
  2. In an area he’s not as qualified to talk about (reading books) he offers up the possibility that the iPad is a good option.
  3. Not mention what the iPad is meant for.

The second and third paragraphs sum up this paradox of looking great and not being very useful perfectly –

The most impressive feature of the iPad is undoubtedly the beautiful touchscreen … Equally impressive is the design of the device; it’s clear that aesthetic design didn’t take a backseat to performance.

That said, the rest of it isn’t nearly as impressive. One can’t help but feel that you’re using an iPod Touch that was simply scaled up to the size of a netbook … typing anything substantial on the screen gets old fast.

There’s this strong sense of potential about the iPad – It has so much potential. It looks so pretty. It feels so good to touch. It’s so well designed.

It MUST be usable for something.

The grand assumption is that someone is going to invent a ‘killer app’ that makes the iPad absolutely necessary. Until then let’s keep pretending it’s a dedicated reading device and a dedicated work device and a netbook and a hundred other things.

At some level no one’s really trying hard enough to make a better eReader

B&N’s Nook team keeps delaying things. Sony’s Reader Team seem not to care about providing a service or selling books. Apple wants an App to do what hardware usually does.

Plus a thousand smaller companies want to feed off the edges of the market.  

Which company is actually creating a Kindle competitor?

None.

  1. The iPad is a reading killer – it’s trying to kill reading, not the Kindle. Ditto for tablets.
  2. The Generic $150 eReaders are just trying to trap uninformed customers.
  3. Nook and Sony Reader just aren’t solving the problems of reading.

It’s the ultimate irony that we have tens of thousands of Kindle Killer articles but not a single true Kindle competitor.

Contrasting two reviews discussing rumored death of the Kindle

For your viewing pleasure we have two reviews this morning. If you’re bored to death of the JesusTablet feel free to skip this post.

BusinessWeek crucifies the Kindle

BusinessWeek just woke up to the fact that they’re Press and thus obligated to predict the death of the Kindle.

First they have analyst Charlie Wolf offer his opinion –

“It’s not a compelling product,” he says of the Kindle, because Apple’s iPad offers more features, such as the ability to play video, plus a more compelling design.

Notice how his reasons have nothing to do with actually reading ebooks. He’s still predicting 2.5 million to 3 million Kindles sold in 2010.

Next we have noted expert analyst Gene Munster (with his patented technology of using the length of lines outside stores to predict sales) offer up his views –

 “No one in their right mind is going to buy a Kindle DX,” says Munster.

Then we have Business Week use this snippet –

Ten percent of prospective buyers said they had considered a Kindle but decided instead to buy an iPad. And 58% of the respondents who already owned Kindles said they planned to stop using them in light of their iPad purchase.

Notice how they forget to mention that the number of respondents who owned Kindles in their survey was just 58. Predictions based on views of 58 owners (given that there are millions of Kindle owners) are not dependable – Just the number of articles pretending that this survey is hugely significant is more than 58.

BW are so impressed by the survey that they actually have a heading for it – Consumers dumping Kindles for iPads.

Mike Shatzkin’s iPad review from a book reader’s perspective

Mike Shatzkin looks at the iPad from the perspective of an ebook reader and he has this to say –

Here’s a quick review of the iPad. I’ve had it for a few days now and, based on what I know so far, it isn’t going to be a very important part of my life.

Thank goodness there’s at least one person who hasn’t had their life completely transformed by the JesusTablet. Well, two.

Further Heresy

 Mike Shatzkin points out that the on-screen keyboard doesn’t cut it –

The keyboard is miles better than one on a phone, but nowhere near as good as one on a laptop or netbook. So it isn’t a substitute for carrying a full-function computer on a trip …

And then the kiss of death –

But as a straight ereading device, it just doesn’t cut it for me.

The extra weight (over a Kindle or an iPhone) just isn’t sufficient compensation for the extra screen capability.

It isn’t as good as the iPhone for reading in bed in the dark because the much more light it throws off makes it harder to avoid annoying your significant other.

For the past two nights have been reading and surfing on the iPad in bed and the weight really is an issue – the iPhone is actually more convenient.

Pointing out some obvious differences between the two Reviews

Perhaps the biggest difference is –

  1. Mike Shatzkin was looking for a device to read ebooks on. 
  2. BusinessWeek were looking for a catchy story to print.

From the Business Week article it’s apparent that the writer hasn’t had the time to actually read a book on each device and compare – She was busy calling up 4 different analysts (they don’t seem to have read books on the Kindle either) and analyze the survey. Notice how all her information is second-hand information – She never actually writes anything about her personal experience.

It’s a colossal joke – A writer who hasn’t actually tried out the devices is asking analysts who haven’t tried out the devices either and they’re shoring it up by assuming a sample of 58 people buying iPads represent all Kindle owners.

You can take any ‘iPad will kill the Kindle’ review/article and you’ll find the exact same things –

  1. They are almost always written by people who haven’t actually read a book on the Kindle.
  2. Even more amusing is that these people usually haven’t even read a book on the iPad. Walt Mossberg is the sole exception.
  3. The focus is always on things other than reading. The logical flow is: Kindle is an eReader -> iPad is really good for watching movies. You can also read books on it. -> Hence the Kindle is dead.
  4. There’s always a survey or an analyst to lend credibility.
  5. There’s lots of mention of reading in the dark and of color.
  6. There’s never any mention of the things that make iPad non-optimal for reading i.e. lack of portability, heavy weight, unreadable in sunlight, and so forth.  

What if the iPad doesn’t kill the Kindle?

The iPad hasn’t sold tens of millions of units (450K to be precise) and there aren’t dozens of amazing killer apps (perhaps not any) making it absolutely essential. Even Macworld writers are ditching the iPad. So it might not be the second coming of a JesusDevice.

There are just 30,000 non-public domain books in the iBooks store. It’s pretty heavy and it’s not readable in sunlight. So the iPad isn’t a better eReader – Is it really going to kill the Kindle because it’s better for watching movies?

On top of that People aren’t buying very many books from the iBooks store. Nothing like Kindle Store on Christmas.

At this point the whole iPad will kill the Kindle hypothesis is based on factors other than reading. You have to admit that makes it rather undependable.

That would mean it’s not outside the realm of possibility that the iPad fails to destroy Kindle and dedicated eReaders. What happens then?