An article on Apple Insider shows data that indicates that iPads are starting to outsell Kindles as e-book readers. I’m not sure that this should come as a big surprise: the trend in portable devices has typically been for people to favour the general over the specific, the multipurpose over the specialized. When you look at it, a tablet like the iPad or the Samsung Galaxy Tab is more likely to become the platform of choice for many people as an e-book reader, despite costing significantly more (the cheapest Kindle is the WiFi-only version at $139, the cheapest iPad is the 16GB WiFi-only model at $499, the 16GB Samsung Galaxy Tab is US$649.99 with a pay-as-you-go AT&T contract via Amazon.com). But why would people be willing to spend triple or more? First, let’s consider the advantages of the tablets:
- They have colour screens. Most e-book readers are only black-and-white.
- Their screens are backlit, allowing use in low-light conditions.
- They can display video like TV shows and movies. Most e-book readers do not support video.
- They can be used to browse the web (with Flash support in the case of the Samsung). For most e-book readers, browsing is quite primitive.
- They support a range of applications for social networking and personal communications, games and entertainment, news and information, and for business or personal productivity, The dedicated e-book reader’s primary job is for reading books.
As a book reader, some e-book readers do have some advantages:
- The devices are generally smaller and lighter than the current crop of tablets
- The battery in most will last orders of magnitude longer
- The matte-finish screen allows for reading in brighter lighting conditions.
The so-called “advantage” of e-Ink on eyestrain has not been supported by any controlled studies or hard evidence. The only “evidence” is anecdotal evidence or guesses from people assuming it is better. The few ad-hoc studies I’ve heard about that looked at LCD vs. e-Ink were either inconclusive, or couldn’t find a meaningful difference.
In the end, though, the tablets fulfill the e-book reading function well enough for most people, with the added benefit of a general-purpose computing device that offers more functionality than just reading books. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Look at the PDA market: there basically aren’t any PDA’s anymore. The closest thing to a PDA is an iPod Touch. The PDA was essentially replaced by the smartphone, since the smartphone offered what most people wanted out of a PDA (contacts, notes, maybe a few apps) but with the added benefit of wireless data for e-mail and the ability to make phone calls. The PDA was, in many ways, something of a specialized device. The smartphone that replaced it became less specialized and more general purpose.
The other factor, in my mind, is that people who are looking tablets as e-book readers are also looking the money they would spend on a netbook as part of the budget equation. I don’t have hard evidence, this is basically a guess. What I see is the potential for people look at the cost of a netbook (in the $300-$500 range) and the cost of a Kindle (in the $140 range), and then they look at their combined price of $440-$640, and realize that for the price of 2 devices, you can get one device that does most of what the 2 can do, but in a single machine. Tablets may be larger and heavier than a Kindle, but they are lighter than a netbook. The tablet battery may not last nearly as long as a Kindle’s, but it lasts longer than most netbooks. Add to this the benefit of simpler maintenance for the non-technical customer: installing an app from an app store is far easier than having to install a Windows application on a netbook either via download or from a disc. Then there is transportation: rather than carrying 2 devices (each with a charger), the can reduce it down to 1 device with 1 charger.
In the end, it isn’t (or shouldn’t be) surprising that tablets are taking a piece of the e-reader market. As a stated above, people will typically favour the multipurpose device over the specialized one. As for the cost, I don’t think this is purely a tablet-vs-eReader situation, but a tablet-vs-eReader+netbook consideration.