Interesting story in this week's Economist featuring Steve Haber, head of Sony's e-reader business. He welcomes the hype surrounding the iPad and believes the iPad's much-vaunted book reading capabilities will benefit the whole industry, including Sony, by drawing attention to the concept. According to Mr. Haber, Sony's plan is to focus on dedicated (he prefers the term "immersive") reading devices: "Our focus is immersive reading, so that you forget you have a device in your hand." He also seems to believe that the iPad is too large and too heavy to be a regular companion.
Similar arguments are used by fellow blogger Tony Cole of eBookanoid.com. He also believes that you don't need distractions – such as incoming SMS messgages, phone calls – when reading. I can understand the reasoning, but I also prefer not to carry around too many devices. That's why the iPhone, despite a number of arguments against it as a book reader, is actually my device of choice. It does everything in one compact, pocketable package.
I certainly do not rule out lightweight e-ink devices. I could argue, for instance, that Sony's Pocket Edition reader – which is smaller than the Touch Edition – is the perfect size and form for carrying and holding while reading. Sony's problem, as I have said before, is that they have no Kindle-style eco-system. Buying books is a pain and requires a computer and some ability; and, once bought, these books are stuck on the one device.
Tony Cole has pointed out that books for the Sony can be bought from many retailers and not just from the Sony store (which is available only in the USA in any case) and that free books can be imported without problem. You can even, he says, export your books to another format if you change to another brand of reader. This is all well and good, but it is fiddly and doesn't appeal to the thousands of people who are coming to book readers with absolutely no computer knowledge. In stark contrast, Amazon makes book buying a simple, quick and easy process. There's no need ever to worry about converting the books because Amazon is rushing to introduce compatible reader applications for just about any device out there (except, of course, for the Sony and other directly competing e-ink readers).
Apple's iBookStore, although currently restricted to the iPad, makes buying and installing books just as easy as adding an iPhone app. And Barnes & Noble's new system promises to be a direct competitor for the Kindle system when more apps are introduced. The current trend is clear and I believe keen readers will soon demand the ability to read and synchronise their books over all popular devices, whether they be dedicated e-ink readers (such as the Kindle) or multi-function phones and computers.