You 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.
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:
- 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
- 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.