With the release date of the iPad nearing, and a dozen different e-ink-based e-book readers exploding onto the market, the e-book device field is more confused than ever. Are pretty color tablets going to spell the end of black-and-white e-ink readers?

Not likely, says Priya Ganapati on Wired’s “Gadget Lab” blog. Ganapati notes that e-ink readers and tablets will likely serve different segments of the market with different needs and tastes.

Less-expensive e-ink readers will be more suited to reading books, and will attract a somewhat older demographic, says Ganapati. More-expensive tablets will be used by younger readers, and their color screens are better suited to newspapers, magazines, web, and multimedia. It is possible that publishers may end up supporting two different lines of digital media in the future, much as they support hardcover and paperback print media today.

And speaking of all those readers and tablets, there are quite a number of them, aren’t there? With so many different devices to choose from, some devices are resorting to secondary features to differentiate themselves from the rest—some of them rather odd.

Devin Coldewey at TechCrunch has a piece looking at all the different secondary features, including secondary screens, color screens, touchscreens, special form factors, and Android and/or apps in general.

He finds secondary screens too distracting to be worthwhile, color screens promising when some of the new display technology comes in, touchscreens enough of a necessity that most e-book readers either already have them or will soon, special form factors somewhat unnecessary or wasteful depending on the device, and Android and apps potentially reasonable, again depending on the device.

And as for the Kindle-clone devices without differentiating features at all, Coldewey says, expect them to disappear as newer devices draw attention away from the Kindle form factor. But like Gapati, Coldewey expects tablets and e-readers to co-exist for some time.


  1. “Are pretty color tablets going to spell the end of black-and-white e-ink readers? Not likely, says Priya Ganapati.”
    And I bet he has a black-and-white TV, too! Quite simply, color provides information. I couldn’t have passed Anatomy or Physiology with just a black-and-white text. The lack of color functionality is an unacceptable deficiency in the current generation of ebook readers and renders them non-players in the textbook market.

  2. @fradiavolo: So, you think everyone is using textbooks? Most of my reading is fiction which works just fine on the Kindle. Am I getting an iPad? Absolutely! And I can even foresee buying a few books on it but not those for sustained reading. Cookbooks, craft books, and textbooks are a natural for the iPad. Why are so many making this an either/or proposition? Can’t I have both? And why does it upset them that I will be happy with both devices?

  3. What does color have to offer fiction readers?
    Pretty covers?
    Color-coded dialog?
    At what *price*?
    If the differential were minimal, maybe. But at 100% price differential B&W will endure for a while, especially for fiction reading.
    As long as color is only available via backlit LCD screens there will be room for B&W eink.
    This debate is seriously old and last seen in the PalmPilot vs PocketPC war of the y2k era. B&W Palms outlasted pretty much all other Palms because, given equivalent functionality, the cheaper price of the B&W model was a better *value*.
    In the tech arena there is a tendency to do a lot of specsheet engineering (and marketting), assuming that more features will *always* result in a better value, regardless of the added cost of those features. This persists, even though history has conclusively shown it not to be so.
    Will color screens displaace B&W eink from the market?
    Starting with the day color displays offer the exact same battery life, same resolution, same price, same form factor.
    (After all, stuffing 20lbs of battery into a box would let today’s LCD dispkays run two weeks on a charge but that’s not an ebook reader anybody would buy, right?) 😉

    Until then, there will be a place for B&W readers for people who actually care what they do with their money.

  4. For me (a younger reader), the reflective screen is the most important differentiating factor when it comes to reading on a tablet versus reading on a reader, and size is a major consideration too. If I could have a device with a screen as easy to read from as an e-ink screen, around the size of the Kindle or Nook, that also has the extra features a tablet would offer, that would be great. But I don’t need the extra features; they aren’t nearly as important to me as having a comfortable reading experience. So if the only tablet options are large and have backlit screens, I’ll pass.

  5. Actually, why can’t we have an open platform on the iPad with a Pixel Qi screen?

    Then we would be able to *choose* our ebook source/drm free/ebook reader using a battery friendly mode for fiction while still being able to switch to media friendly colour for movies or textbooks.

  6. PixelQi screens are a great idea, but even at their best (5X battery life) you’re still not going to get hundreds of hours of battery life. The best they can do is going to be comparable to the old reflective B&W LCDs used in the Rb-1100/Ebookwise 1150. Say 20-40 hours.

    Also lost in the debate is that eink is moving to non-glass substrates which should result in lighter weights and better durability.

    Finally, everybody is forgetting the key difference between tablets (as defined by Apple) and eink readers: Tablets are about communications first and foremost and media second. Reading comes third, at best.

    Eink readers are about books first, second, and last.
    That is why tablets skew larger and heavier than ebook readers and likely will remain so indefinitely.

    The overlap between the two is minor, especially compared to the overlap between the iPad and netbooks. Ultimately their is room for both, but if I had to bet against one, I wouldn’t be betting against the eink readers.

  7. The logic of an all-function device is not really there. Most people still have both a phone and television. As a comic remark, I mentioned that there will soon be as many hand-held reading devices as there are book titles. But the germ of truth here is that even the dedicated reading devices are distinctive.

    There is another factor trending toward device use dedication. This is the rate of replacement of electronics. Here the comic comment is that one year is four computer years. But this churn of replacement, change-out and cut-over will also influence device dedication as owners wish refinement of a specific, habituated use. This is a typical consumer motivation.

    Device use must also follow service provision and ever more divided enclaves are favored. On-line book club enclaves and increase in specialty publishers both suggest diversity in reading devices. In a final comic remark (with its own germ of truth) the paper book is beginning to look like the ultimate dedicated device of a post-digital era.

  8. Myself, I’d get both. I’d love to get a tablet, but even if the tablet allows me to read ebooks via some sort of special software, I’d still feel more confortable reading from a device which was especially designed for reading, even from the physical point of view.

    I think there’s still a lot of space for dedicated reading devices, as there’s plenty of people like me, who are so interested in technology as to use a tablet but who view books and the whole reading experience as unique enough to pay for a device which is specially designed, not only from the software point, but physically, for reading.

    Bottom line: As soon as I can afford (even though it won’t be so soon) I’m getting both a tablet and an ereader.

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