iPad Closes on Kindle, Google Looms Over Both

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A new ChangeWave survey of some 2,800 consumers suggests single-purpose e-readers are doomed, which isn’t surprising. However, the fact that it’s happening so quickly certainly is. The iPad was launched in April of this year, more than two years after the Kindle. That’s a considerable length of time to establish customer loyalty, and for a while, it looked like the Kindle had that in spades. As August, the Kindle accounted for more than 60 percent of e-reader ownership, compared to 16 percent for the iPad. However, by November, that had changed drastically, with the Kindle at 47 percent and the iPad at 32 percent.

Looking forward, not even prices as low as $89 (the price of the Kindle 2 during a promotion last week) appear enough to keep the Kindle in its position of preference among e-readers. The iPad is now the choice of 42 percent of prospective buyers, versus 32 percent for the Kindle. If there’s any good news for the Kindle, it’s that the iPad is its only real competition among e-readers. The Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader barely register at 4 percent and 1 percent, respectively. More people prefer using software on their smartphone than either of those devices.

Looking into why the Kindle is losing ground so quickly, the ChangeWave survey suggests content is the answer. When asked what types of content owners use their device for, the Kindle was more popular than the iPad for books — 93 percent to 76 percent — but for magazines, newspapers, and other reading, the iPad won handily.

If there’s any downside for the iPad, it’s probably that iBooks has failed as a competitor to the Kindle Store for book buying. Apple has yet to challenge Amazon in book sales or catalog size. For that matter, the iBooks software is, in my opinion, fatally flawed without wireless bookmarking across multiple devices like the Kindle App provides.

Another competitor for both stores looms on the horizon. The Wall Street Journal reports Google is preparing to launch the company’s long-delayed e-bookstore by the end of the year. Unlike Amazon and Apple with their proprietary stores, formats, and applications, Google Editions will be much more open. Consumers will be able to buy books from multiple online retailers, storing books in an online library through an account with Google. Books can be read online using a web browser on a traditional computer, tablet, or handheld device, and will also be available offline. Details of the format are not yet known, but I expect we’ll see an app for that, too.

For Amazon, this is more trouble. Having lost the ability to set book prices because of Apple and iBooks, the online book retailer is now facing in Google a competitor selling books everywhere on any device. For Apple, lets just say it: iBooks is doomed. What possible reason would there be for buying books from Apple now? Google Editions will let you shop around for the best price from many retailers, read your books on any device with a web browser, and bookmark without having to sync to iTunes.

If Apple keeps gaining ground on Amazon at this rate in the hardware battle, it’s bound to come out as the clear winner. Amazon looks to be doing fairly well in the short term in the fight between digital storefronts, but Google Editions will definitely give it a run for its money. No matter which angle you approach it from, Amazon looks to be in for one heck of a fight.

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