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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.

Categories
Computers Writing

Can eReaders replace books?

Several years ago (possibly even before the turn of the millennium), my brother told me that books would soon be a thing of the past and that everyone would be reading eBooks. Is it possible? Could eReaders and eBooks replace paperbacks and hardcovers the way cars replaced the horse and buggy, the way portable audio players (iPods, for those of you who don’t know alternatives to Apple exist) have replaced CDs and tapes, and the way email has replaced letters?

I use the word replace rather loosely, of course. In some rural areas, horses and buggies are still around. CDs are still available for purchase in stores, and some used music stores have old tapes, which people will still purchase occasionally. And the post office still delivers letters, mostly from businesses to other businesses. Nevertheless, the primary way for even the most affluent of people to read books is still to read paperback or hardcover books. I know no one who owns a Kindle. The first Kindle I ever saw I saw only once from far away on a bus. I haven’t seen horse-buggy combos outside of Pennsylvania, most people I know use portable audio players, and almost all communication I get from family and friends is electronic.

Will we give up our books for eBooks? I may end up regretting these words in ten years, but I don’t think I ever will. Yes, I’ve heard the Kindle can store hundreds of books. Yes, I’ve heard it doesn’t have a backlight, so it won’t be a strain on your eyes. Still, I don’t believe I’ll ever use an eBook Reader in place of reading real books. Of course, back in the mid-1990s I didn’t think I would ever email instead of writing letters to friends.

I wasn’t around when cars started replacing other modes of transportation, but I do very much remember switching from records to tapes to CDs and, eventually, to MP3s. I do have a bit of nostalgia for exchanging mix tapes with my friends, and I love the sound of a crisp record being gentle stroked by a turntable’s needle. All the letters people wrote me back in high school I have kept and will probably at some point, unlike the emails they’ve sent me over the years, re-read them. Why won’t I give up books for eBooks?

A few reasons:

  • Even though I like having hundreds of songs at my fingertips in a small device (because I can actually listen to many of them, if not all, in a week), rarely do I read more than two books at a time—usually only one.
  • When I have an electronic device, I have to make sure it’s charged, make sure it doesn’t get damaged. I have to take care of it. Now—I don’t throw any of my books against the wall, spill pizza sauce on them, or rip the pages out, but I like that I can just throw them in a bag, read them in the bath, and even leave them around (without worry they’ll be stolen).
  • The idea that Amazon can remotely erase an eBook I bought is ridiculous (as came out in the whole 1984 scandal recently). No book store is ever going to break into my apartment and take a book back that I bought just because they realized they didn’t have the rights to sell that book to me in the first place.

Go ahead, Amazon (or Sony), try to make me eat my words! I think the only way I’d switch to eReaders is if everyone else does and the only bookstores still left around are used book stores…