Is the window of opportunity for e-book readers with embedded broadband going to close not long after it just opened? That’s the forecast being made by UK research firm Informa Telecoms & Media — it believes device sales will peak in 2013 and then decline by 7 percent the following year because instead of purchasing dedicated e-book readers, consumers will shift towards other multifunction devices with mobile broadband, such as Apple’s iPad (s aapl) or an anticipated Android (s goog) tablet, to read e-book content.
Indeed, one of the key reasons for the recent success of readers like Amazon’s Kindle (s amzn) or the Barnes & Noble Nook (s bks) is also a limiting factor in terms of multipurpose functionality — today’s E Ink displays that make such devices attractive aren’t as effective for activities like browsing the web or viewing video. New display technologies are needed to support those use cases. Two that come to mind: Qualcomm’s (s qcom) Mirasol low-powered color panel and Pixel Qi’s innovative dual-mode screen, which can use ambient light instead of a power-hungry backlight as needed. With its next-generation “E Ink mode” you can watch a fast-frame movie on the Pixel Qi screen — skip to the 9:30 mark of my CES video to see how well this display works.
As a voracious reader and former Amazon Kindle 2 owner, I see both sides of the page when it comes to dedicated e-book readers. On the one hand, I love the paper-like reading experience a dedicated E Ink reader provides. Combine that with a light device that doesn’t require a battery recharge for weeks and it’s no wonder I took my Kindle everywhere I went. But after just one day with my iPad, I sold my Kindle, mainly because I didn’t want to tote both devices and the Kindle for iPad application provides the same experience as the original. Plus, although everyone’s eyes are different, I don’t buy into the eye-strain argument in favor of E Ink. I’m already looking at an LCD display for 10-12 hours a day on my computers — what’s another hour or two?
In other words, I didn’t wait until 2013 to switch from a dedicated reader to a multifunction device. And with the expected onslaught of slates and tablets this year — by and large, e-book devices use a slate form factor — I imagine I won’t be the only one. One portable device with embedded broadband for web, social networks and other online activities appears to be the future. There’s still a market for standalone e-book devices — folks that prefer E Ink over LCD or people who would rather check email or visit the web on a traditional computer will opt for an e-book — but these consumers will be in the minority as people will opt for converged connected devices. For continued growth and success, e-book readers have to add new functionality in order to compete for consumer dollars.
This market isn’t really about hardware, anyway; it’s about the sale of content — and Amazon is still expected to earn a billion dollars on digital books, even if its Kindle hardware doesn’t continue to sell well. That explains why Amazon created a Kindle for iPad application and why Barnes & Noble today outed its reader software for Apple’s slate: More content on more devices equals more money.
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