Tag Archives: ebook

Tablets and E-readers will be killed off by Notebooks

4607c57e4b473460400x1You heard it here first: despite the fact that they were all the buzz at CES this year, tablets and e-readers are destined for obsolescence.  Sadly, the fax machine may outlive them.

Here’s why:

E-readers:

The only reason e-readers exist is because it’s hard on the eyes to read text on a computer screen for long periods of time. You could argue that e-readers were invented to save paper or reduce printing and distribution costs, but if that were the main reason, then people would have been reading their books, magazines, and newspapers on their computer a long time ago.  You could go read War and Peace right now, but you won’t because it would make you feel like someone is hammering rusty nails into your eyes after the first hour.

So e-readers exist because they have cool e-ink screens that are easy on your e-eyes.  Great.  But what is an e-reader really, besides a tablet PC with a nice e-ink screen and no web-browsing?  In time, tablets will be developed with screens that are similar to e-ink, or perhaps with an “e-ink mode” that can be turned on if you want to read for a while.  And then after you’re done with War and Peace you can go back to watching the latest Lady Gaga video.  Cool.  If I had a tablet like this, I wouldn’t have a need for an e-reader.

So, looking into my crystal ball, I see a tablet with e-ink mode killing off e-readers…so how does the tablet get killed off?

Well, let’s look at the problem that tablets solve – tablets exist because people want something small, portable, and comfortable for casual use while sitting on the couch.  Yes, that’s pretty much it.  The PC industry has been trying to make tablets for years, but they’ve always failed for two main reasons:

  1. The reason everyone acknowledges is that fully-functional PCs have always been too heavy.  Only recently have we started seeing small PCs with enough horsepower to run regular old Windows, Office, Outlook, and have a few web browsers open at the same time
  2. The reason everyone has been ignoring (particularly on the CES show floor) is that the tablet form factor just isn’t all that functional.  If you’re sitting on your couch, it’s okay to use your touchscreen tablet to web browse a little, play MP3s, watch your videos, or use Facebook.  But if you’re doing any serious work on your PC like writing a letter, manipulating files, configuring complex software, using Photoshop…you will want a keyboard and mouse.  The tablet form factor is great for fun stuff, not for serious stuff.

And yes, the device that solves both of these problems is the notebook.  Notebooks have keyboards, pointing devices, and are getting lighter, smaller, cheaper, and more powerful by the minute.

We are already seeing people merge notebooks with tablets – HP has a pretty cool notebook called the TouchSmart tm2 (that’s right, I said “HP has a cool notebook”), which features a foldaway screen.  (Not a new idea, but theirs is very slick.)  Lenovo (formerly IBM) unveiled at CES a notebook with a detachable touchscreen (shown above.)  The writing is on the wall, guys – notebook/tablet combos will make pure-play tablets pointless.  And notebook-tablets with e-ink screens will make e-readers pointless.

The only question is how long this will take.  I give it 3 years.  I think the fax machine will still be around by then.

Kindle will be history within a year

As sick as I am of hearing about the underwhelming Wolfram Alpha, I’m even more sick of hearing about the product-that-shouldn’t-be, Amazon’s Kindle.  This machine is destined to be obsolete within a year, so Amazon should quick-like get back to ecommerce and leave hardware to companies that know something about it.

Here’s my problem with the Kindle: when I look at it, I think “that’d be cool if I could also browse the web on it, watch movies on it, play music on it, or use it as a digital picture frame,” but despite it being essentially a small computer, it won’t do any of those things.  A netbook can do all of these things, and it costs less.  

For a few laughs, let’s look at Amazon’s pitch for their latest model, the Kindle DX:

  • Holds up to 3,500 books, periodicals, and documents – Amazon downplays the fact that this is only 4GB of storage, a pathetic number for any modern netbook.
  • Beautiful Large Display: 9.7″ diagonal e-ink screen reads like real paper; boasts 16 shades of gray for clear text and sharp images – Are you kidding me?  16 shades of gray?  Sure, that’s better than the Newton, but this isn’t 1992, guys.  Any modern netbook offers 32 bit color, giving millions of colors.  If I want to read a text book or a blog post on my Kindle DX, you better believe I want color.
  • Auto-Rotating Screen: Display auto-rotates from portrait to landscape as you turn the device so you can view full-width maps, graphs, tables, and Web pages – We’re only down to the third bullet point, and this is the best you can do?  This is truly trivial, and easy to do on a netbook
  • Built-In PDF Reader: Native PDF support allows you to carry and read all of your personal and professional documents on the go – PDF readers are free to download on any PC.  Just because this is better than the original Kindle doesn’t make it cool.
  • Wireless: 3G wireless lets you download books right from your Kindle DX, anytime, anywhere; no monthly fees, no annual contracts, and no hunting for Wi-Fi hotspots – if you really need to download a book while you’re outside of wi-fi range, apparently this is the device for you.  If you don’t have a Kindle, just download the book to your smartphone, then transfer it to your PC.  
  • Books In Under 60 Seconds: You get free wireless delivery of books in less than 60 seconds; no PC required – You can also download an ebook to your netbook in less than 60 seconds, no Kindle required.  Fail.
  • Long Battery Life: Read for days without recharging – Who reads for more than a couple hours at a time, anyway?  Non-problem solved.
  • Read-to-Me: With the text-to-speech feature, Kindle DX can read newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books out loud to you, unless the book’s rights holder made the feature unavailable – Now you can have A Brief History of Time read to you in the author’s own voice.  Awesome! 
  • Big Selection, Low Prices: Over 275,000 books; New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases are only $9.99, unless marked otherwise – This has nothing to do with the device and will surely be available on any PC very soon.
  • More Than Books: U.S. and international newspapers including the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, magazines including The New Yorker and Time, plus popular blogs, all auto-delivered wirelessly – Again, I have a PC and a cool new thing called a “web browser” for this. 
The only things that make the Kindle superior to a PC for the purpose of reading are:
  • It’s lightweight with a super-compact form factor
  • Um…that’s about it.  I guess this isn’t much of a bulleted list.

And Amazon wants $489 for this piece of…technology.  For that kind of money I can almost get two netbooks, each of which have 9″ full color screens, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive, built-in webcams and mics, wifi, memory card slots, 3 USB ports,  and weigh in at 2.5 lbs (2 times the weight of the Kindle DX.)  With the Kindle, I can read an ebook.  With two netbooks, my wife and I could video conference with the in-laws, watch movies (chick flick for her, dude flick for me), organize our photos, play online games against each other, or…we could read ebooks.  Where to spend the money is pretty obvious to me.

 

Asus Eee Top PC with 15 touchscreen

Asus Eee Top PC with 15" touchscreen

So, I’m calling it: within one year, someone else will have an ebook platform that will be far more robust and versatile, and it will be cheaper, and Amazon will exit the game to focus on selling ebooks.  Perhaps the Kindle-killer will be Apple’s rumored iPad, perhaps Microsoft will get their Tablet PC act together, or perhaps Asus will mate their Eee PC with their Top PC to create a Kindle-beating love child.  I don’t know who’s going to do it, but the PC industry is going to put the Kindle out of our misery, and the sooner the better.