Book readers: Dedicated devices face uncertain future

Posted on by Mike Evans

My friend Tony Cole of discusses the future of the dedicated e-ink book reader and concludes that there will always be a place for these one-trick devices. I agree with him up to a point. If a device is cheap enough it will survive, particularly if it offers a unique feature such as a restful paper-like screen. Yet Amazon’s decision to disrupt its successful Kindle line with a tablet shows that even the master has doubts.

Admittedly, my view is skewed by my preference for reading on a backlit screen. But many, perhaps a majority, take an opposing view.

I cannot predict the outcome of this little war. We are living in a word of divergence where multi-function devices overtake the less versatile. Two examples underline this trend. Last week, TomTom, the leader in the field of satellite navigation, had to retrench in the face of a sustained attack by the smartphone. And the smartphone, with its always-available camera, has already won the battle at the lower end of the point-and-shoot market. This disruption will intensify.

If the dedicated reader is eventually saved from extinction, except perhaps in the bargain basement, it will be thanks to the qualities of low-power, static e-ink pages. We can expect developments such as colour, and, perhaps, flexible displays to mimic the appearance of paper. Despite these improvements, the outlook remains murky as the Fire and other cheap variety acts continue to out-perform and to tempt consumers by their versatility.

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