e-Book Readers: the case for simplicity and single-function

Posted on by Mike Evans

FOR SEVERAL WEEKS fellow blogger Tony Cole of eBookAnoid and I have had a healthy exchange of views on the future of e-book readers. I've done a guest post for Tony arguing my case of multi-function readers such as the iPad and he has penned the following defence of the single-function device such as the Sony or the Kindle.


By Tony Cole

Michael and I have been exchanging emails for the last few weeks, in which we have argued the pros and cons of simple eBook reading devices over the more complex multi-functional devices out there, such as the Que 2, the about to be released iPad and other such devices.  Michael then suggested that it might be interesting for us each to write a post for the other’s Blog, in which we would defend our positions.  He to defend multi-functional devices, me to defend simpler ones.

I rather think I got the sticky end of the deal here………..

I should state at once that I am not against multi-functionality per se, but feel there is a need to meet the very varied requirements of all of us, which should include simple, more or less single function eReaders as well as devices that are capable of performing all manner of tasks.

Michael glories in the fact that he can use any of the various devices he owns to read his books with, which is a perfectly reasonable way to be, but this doesn’t address the level of multi-functionality of these devices really.  It simply means that he can transfer his eBooks easily from one or another device, one of which could perfectly well be a dedicated eBook reader, without in any way removing his ability to read the same book on his Apple computer, his iPhone or indeed any other device.  I obviously support any system that allows us to move our eBooks from device to device, and once the thorny problem of DRM is finally solved, we should be able to do this with any eBooks we buy.

Sony Reader
I was given my Sony PRS-505 about a year ago by my wife, as we travel all over the world a lot, and tend to find ourselves living in countries where it is hard or impossible to buy books in English,  thus I always carried kilos of paper books with me wherever I went, as I am a fervent reader, so this eReader was a perfect solution to this problem for me.  My wife has since bought herself a Sony 600, and is very happy with it.  

There are many thousands of people in this situation around the world, most of whom would love to have this solution to their reading problems while traveling and working in far flung places.

In passing I would remark that you are allowed to use an eReader on a plane, but normally not a mobile phone and on a long flight, the batteries of most laptops and tablets give up the ghost …eReaders carry on happily for hours and days……. 

My Sony is about as basic an eReader as you can find, I can organize my library in it to a degree, I can “dog-ear” pages, it remembers which page I was on when I turn it off, and that is about all it does.   And this is all I require of it too.  I see it simply as a convenient alternative to a paper book, no more and no less.

As almost all eReaders, however simple or complex use e-ink screens, the comfort of reading with such a screen isn’t really a point in this argument, but it is if one is thinking of using a computer to read your books on.   Also, who wants to go to bed with a laptop?

There are many people who are not really interested in filling their devices with hundreds of Apps or having the capability to write, word search or synchronize their eReaders with their computers and all of those wonders, but simply to have the ability to carry a large number of books around with them easily and comfortably.  As an example of this, I currently have about 90 books on mine, a number of which I have yet to read, these are my reserve books, and all in one paper-back sized eReader…..   And not an App in sight too.

As I review all manner of eReaders for my Blog, I find myself becoming concerned as the manufacturers add more and more functions to their eReaders, which has the inevitable knock on effect of increasing the price we have to pay and adding to the complexity of the devices.  In my view an eReader should be no more complicated to use than a “real” paper book.  This is something that Amazon have realized and their system for selling books for the Kindle range of eReaders is exactly the way all manufacturers should go, and interestingly more are attempting this approach.

Basically my feeling is that in an ideal world, manufacturers will produce simple eReaders, such as my old Sony 505 for those who only wish to use them as books, and  much more sophisticated and multi-functional devices for those who want or need those extra functions for whatever reason.

Obviously this simplicity needs to be reflected in the price we are expected to pay for such eReaders.  They must be markedly cheaper than their more complex cousins in order to be attractive to potential buyers, which means, as Michael has remarked, they need to be less than 100 USD.  The price of many eReaders currently range from the slightly too expensive to ludicrously high (as much as 900 USD!).  For the most part, the price for a reasonable eReader is currently in the range 190 – 300 USD  – partly caused by the cost of the e-ink screens of course.   This means that generally they are cheaper than devices such as the iPad and other PC/Apple based devices, but the differential is not great enough to encourage buyers to go for a simple eReader rather than a more complex device.

I hope I have managed to present some sort of a case for simple, basic, no frills eReaders as a useful alternative to multi-functional devices.  I believe that eReaders such as my Sony, are good devices for those of us who simply read for pleasure, and are not concerned with computers, astoundingly versatile mobile phones or any other such complex device – or equally, those of us who hate the idea of carrying all of our stuff around with us in one device… I need to get away from my computer, and my Sony allows me to do that, and doesn’t tempt me to get on with any overdue emails, sort out my finances and all of those worrisome daily things… it simply allows me to escape into other worlds, with no distracting pop ups telling me I have an email, or whatever.


See all Tony's posts on e-book readers at

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