We have smart phones, cell phones, netbooks, tablets, laptops, desktops, game consoles, GPS devices, and many other tech gizmos that serve specific use cases for the consumer, but do we need a dedicated e-book reader as well? Better yet, does it make sense to have such functionality, which already exists in current technology, separated into a dedicated product?
If we take a look at Amazon's stock price, it tells one side of the story; however, I am going to play devil's advocate here and attempt to ignore consumer behavior, which has always been a mystery to me.
What is an e-book reader? It is a device that is used to read text-intensive content.
What is a computer? It is a device that can be used to do remarkable things, including the reading of text-intensive content.
Hm. Well that is fairly telling, right?
Okay, so there is a difference, primarily in the way the screen is rendered and how we acquire e-books. With the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader Digital Book, Barnes & Noble Nook, and all the rest, the display utilizes e-ink technology to render content to the screen. Or, in other words, we get a technology that is slower and is not backlit (so no potential for reading in the dark).
But, when it comes down to it, a laptop is an e-book reader and an e-book reader is a dumbed down computer. Yeah, I said it: an e-book reader is essentially a calculator with words and a few extra buttons.
But there is always a differing opinion. "It is easier to read," they say.
Yeah, but how many hours do we sit in front of a computer screen reading? Let's be honest here. I'm willing to bet — if someone is even remotely like me — that it is quite a lot of time. If a person can read through the endless amounts of Twitter updates, RSS feeds, and news about Tiger Woods, people can surely put up with reading an e-book on their computer screen. Punching up the font size might help.
I'm sure the screen is easier to read. I'm not denying that. But I have looked at several e-book readers and have had the chance to read with one for an extended period of time. The difference wasn't that noticeable. Sure, it is a pain to hold a laptop like a book, but the iPad and its tablet friends are going to change all that anyways.
But all that pales to the biggest problem of all: the major killer here is the lock-in and DRM. I'm not sure how any amount of savings through cheaper e-book pricing (which is also no longer certain) can justify the fact that you are locked into an ecosystem, and I don't intend on finding out. If it isn't open, it isn't right — especially when it comes to books.
Honestly, I believe the whole intent behind the creation of the e-book reader was to create a closed, locked-down ecosystem. It's now about consumers buying into an ecosystem and being unable to escape, similar to what Apple has going on with iTunes. Hell, it's a smart play. If I was the guy running the show at Amazon, that is exactly what I would want to do; however, it doesn't seem to work in the favor of the consumer when that person wants to switch to another device.
Consumers are getting smarter, and hopefully openness will win out. It's up to them to ensure that.