Home Tech E-book readers: Doomed or what?

E-book readers: Doomed or what?

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You only have to look around you in cafes and on public transport to see that real books, not e-books, are the norm. Despite all the frenzied activity and the dozens, if not hundreds, of look-alike e-ink readers, it is still unusual to see someone with a Kindle or a Sony in their hands. But I believe this is changing gradually and the change is accelerating. By the end of the year reading of electronic books will be commonplace.

Manufacturers are thrashing around in all directions and producing weird and wonderful variations on the e-ink theme. We have double, hinged screens to simulate a paper book (why?) and additional colour, backlit screens for doing the things you cannot do on the current e-ink technology. In short, the market lacks focus and, all the while, the new iPad is hovering above like some dark cloud and it hasn't yet hit the shelves.

Devin Coldewey's comprehensive review of the e-book market in CrunchGear today contains a few surprises and is a must-read for anyone interested in the genre. While Devin concludes that he will stick with real books for the time being, I am already a committed e-book reader and don't see a time when I will return to buying books. And after two years of struggling with e-ink, I am now firmly committed to back-lit technology as found on the iPhone and iPad. Synchronisation of bookmarks across devices (e-book reader, smartphone, desktop or laptop) is now a must-have feature. Kindle offers this; Apple will surely offer it. So, for my money, all the rest are out in the cold. 

One thing no one seems to consider, and this is as much a problem with the iPad as it is with all existing e-ink readers, is that you cannot put them in your pocket (unless, of course, you have voluminous pockets). So if you want to read while out and about you are more or less obliged to carry a bag. You can often stuff a small paperback into a coat pocket or you can happily carry a book in your hand because it doesn't get damaged if you drop it. 

All e-readers need a carrying bag and this is precisely why synchronisation over the net is absolutely essential. If I don't want to carry a bag, I can continue reading on a device that is always in my pocket: my iPhone. And, as I've said many times, the iPhone itself is a very respectable e-reader. Anyone wishing to put their toe in the e-book market is recommended to start with a free iPhone app and see how it goes. Nothing lost if you don't like it.

Interestingly, yesterday Sony asked me to complete a questionnaire on the future of e-books. One of the questions was whether synchronisation across platforms (citing the iPhone in particular) was important to me. Darn right. Could it be that Sony is considering entering the market with synchronisation facilities and an iPhone application? If they don't want to be sidelined and lose their existing market share this seems to be inevitable.

1 COMMENT

  1. There seems to be a developing schism in the world of ereaders just now, which is a pity. We seem to be losing sight of the primary function of an ereader…. it is to be used as a book, not as part of the burgeoning world of multi-functional devices.I fail to see what is wrong with having a device that performs one task brilliantly and nothing more.Currently I use a Sony 505, which is about as basic an ereader as you could find. And I love the thing. It fits in my pocket OK, it can carry as many books as I want, I can get books from thousands of websites, both paid for and free, it is a delight to use as a book, no eye strain, and no hype. Just a simple, honest book, no more, no less.I always have it with me, so no need to try and use a mobile phone to read with (a horrid idea)it cant synchronise with anything, but what the hell does that matter?

    The iPad, as we all know is basically a rather stripped down computer in a different box, and as such is not an ereader, nor will it ever be one, at least never be a good one. It is yet again an example of hype being believed simply because Job tells us it is so. I am bemused by the fuss around this device, what is its point?

    I review all manner of new ereaders for my blog about the things, and I am intrigued by the advances that “real” ereaders are making, and how versatile they are becoming, and whilst personally I have no desire for one of these multi-functional devices, I see that they fulfill a real need that a large number of people out there have, so ereaders with e-paper screens will be with us for a long time yet I am sure, as will iPads and all other such devices, the world is large, and there is room for them all.

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