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Where are dedicated eReaders headed?

For a long time I was skeptical of the whole eReader phenomenon. I like my books. I like flipping through the pages quickly, taking one book at a time to the couch, to bed, to the bath, to the airport. Bent pages and ratty covers aren’t pretty to look at, but they still leave the book usable and lendable. Well, recently my wife got a Nook, and she is just glued to that thing. She is a voracious reader and has just been reading book after book (either for free or for purchase) on that thing day and night. Even though there are some refinements that could come to the Nook’s interface, she still loves that thing. The good thing is that Barnes & Noble actually seems committed to improving the Nook. It’s received four updates since its launch back in December, and every update has improved it considerably (usually the performance in terms of turning pages, but also some other features).

The other day, I had the opportunity to read a book on her Nook, and it was quite a pleasurable experience. It was a lot better than I thought it would be. I know she prefers clicking the hard button on the side to turn pages. I found I liked turning pages by lightly flicking to the right or left on the touchscreen (after it has dimmed—before it dims, a touch will select a menu item). Even though the Kindle gets a lot more press, the Nook looks a lot better (my wife had some random person on the bus ask her if the Nook was an Apple product) and it supports the ePub format.

What will happen with dedicated eReaders, though? My guess is, unfortunately, they will remain a relatively niche product. I don’t think there is a huge percentage of the populace who reads a novel a day. I think most people read only a little bit at a time. So the eye strain issue of a backlit screen is moot. I don’t agree with people who say “Lots of people stare at backlit screens at work all the time and don’t have eye strain.” I actually know quite a lot of people who do have eye strain from staring at laptop screens. In any case, a lot of laptop users at work are using their laptops to do various small tasks instead of just staring at it reading one long manuscript. And, really, that is how most people will be reading eBooks—a few pages at a time on an iPhone, an Android phone, or an iPad or other touchscreen tablet.

The bright colors and touchscreen appeal will definitely beat out the pragmatic eInk technology on dedicated eReaders… at least for most people. I think my wife can read sometimes two or three novels a day. For her, eInk makes a lot of sense. I don’t read nearly as much as she does, but I think eInk may make sense for me, too.

Tell you what, though—if they can make an eInk screen that is in full color and touchscreen enabled, that would kick some serious electronic book butt.