E-readers are being bandied about left, right and centre, and indeed there always seems to be one that will be better/faster/prettier/smaller/smarter just around the corner. As far as I can tell, e-readers haven’t really taken off in Australia beyond the novelty factor (in all my commuting, I’ve only ever seen one used on the train, and even then it could have just been a very big palm pilot). But all that may change, particularly with the Apple Tablet looming.
Jonathan Strahan also makes an interesting point that the arrival of e-books does not necessarily mean the death of the paperback. Rather, they can exist in conjunction for two different purposes. He seconds Bob Stein’s observation that e-readers are largely being used to negate waiting-time (eg. on trains, in shopping queues, before the movies) and argues that this signifies a gradual shift in our reading habits:
My own feeling is that e-books and printed books do not make some kind of either/or equation. You can have both… I’ve used the Reader on planes, in airports, in cafes, restaurants and wherever. In fact, mostly I use it when I’m away from home. When I look back, I used to get on to planes with an absurd amount of carry-on. I’d have CD players, cds, headphones, magazines, printed manuscripts and at least three or four books. My carry-on was heavy. Now it’s not. I’ve got an iPod, a pair of noise reducing headphones, and the Reader.
In light of this discussion, I thought it’d be good to do a quick roundup of some of the contenders. Much of what’s below is thanks to Warren Broom and Christine Bell from Central Book Services, who gave a great summary at MWF’s Digital Publishing day the other week.
The Apple Tablet
This one has a lot of people frothing at the mouth. Given that Apple have such a foothold here, what with iPods, Macs and iPhones, this probably has a good chance of making e-books take off in the Australian market. And from the looks of it, no wonder. This is more than just an e-reader with wireless capabilities, a touch-sensitive keyboard, and the ability to download music, movies etc. According to the Guardian the Tablet ‘would be billed as a solution for people who work a lot on the move but don’t want to carry a laptop’. No word on the official features or a release date yet, but here are some healthy rumours.
- Size: somewhere between an iPhone and a Mac, diagonally about 10 inches/25cm
- Touchscreen (much like the iPhone)
- Wireless: Yes
- Cost: Around $700-800AUD
- Colour: Black
- Release date: possibly late 2009.
Touted as the ‘cute’ e-reader by Jacket Copy, it comes in two models – a pocket-sized reader and a larger touchscreen. Cheapest of the lot.
- Size: Pocket-sized reader is about 5 inches/12.7cm
- Clickwheel (much like iPod)
- Wireless: No
- Cost: around $230AUD
- Capacity: 350 book limit
- Colour: Pink, Silver, Blue
That old chestnut, and the most successful reader to date (at least in the US anyway). Revamped this year as the Kindle 2. In a follow-up to the question of whether e-readers are better for the environment, the Cleantech Group published a report last month which concluded that Kindle was green friendlier by far. However, as Daily Finance points out, the result relies on the assumption that users will keep their Kindles for at least four years.
- Size: 6 inches/15 cm
- Standard keypad
- Wireless: yes (but I think this is tied to Sprint in the US and doesn’t work in Aus)
- Cost: around $420AUD
- Capacity: 1500 books
- Colour: white
The iLiad was released from iRex, a spin-off from Phillips. Larger and heavier than Kindle or the Sony device. Allows users to add notes or sketches to downloaded documents.
- Size: 8.1 inches/20.6cm
- E-Ink screen, controlled via stylus
- Wireless: yes
- Cost: $1200AUD
- Capacity: 300 books
- Colour: Black
For other models, including the ECO Reader, HanLin and Cybook, see the Central Book Service’s e-Reader page.
10 Sep 09 at 11:28
I’m curious to see if people will buy another device to read on or if they’ll squint away at Stanza on the iPhone. The tablet is interesting, because it’s almost a netbook – allowing for mobile computing while the others seem limited to be book readers (though iLiad’s notes function sounds interesting).
10 Sep 09 at 11:57
I have always been baffled by the prediction that e-books will kill off the printed books. I know I would love to have all my reference books, dictionaries, thick uni readers and textbooks stored on a e-reader, but still prefer to read a paperback novel because I like the smell of the paper/ink. MP3 players didn’t kill off mini-disc players, we (the market) did because we decide with our purchases that MP3 players are superior to mini-disc players. On the other hand, we can still buy CDs.
Equally baffling to me is the assertion that a e-reader will never kill off the printed books because you can’t take one to bed, beach and bathroom or because it’s too big, too different or too this or too that. That’s akin to looking at a “mobile” phone circa 1982 and concludes mobile phones will not take off because they are too bulky and expensive. One day soon, a e-reader will have all the advantages of a printed book plus more because if that’s what the consumers demand, then that’s what tech companies would eventually invent/supply. The market (we) would then decide what lives and dies.
10 Sep 09 at 12:13
Yes I agree. I’m beginning to see the advantages of having an ebook for ‘bite-sized’ reading – to take on the train, uni etc. But I’d still prefer to read the print version for leisure.
For me the proverbial ‘tipping point’ would be when e-readers become smaller/lighter, cheaper, greener than their printed counterparts. The Apple Tablet is the only one that’s really peaked my interest so far.
10 Sep 09 at 12:14
RE: will people buy another device to read on
I think this is where Apple is clever. It doesn’t sell a mobile phone, it sells a wireless mobile device that lets you watch films, listen to music, play games AND incidentally make phone calls. So people might not buy this new product just to read books, but they would buy it because it can do all these other things (whatever they turn out to be) AND lets you read a book comfortably and annotate, etc, etc. And if all else fails, people would buy it simply because it’s made by Apple and Jobs.
10 Sep 09 at 12:24
I think the availability of a mature hardware device is only one factor in reaching a collective (as opposed to a personal) tipping point. There were and are numerous MP3 players that one can argue are better hardware than iPods, but iPods still dominate. Notice Apple didn’t just invent the hardware, but also iTunes, signed deals with record companies, etc.
10 Sep 09 at 13:23
As an avid reader living overseas, with a job that requires exstensive travel (often to remote areas with intermittent electricity) an e-reader sounds like a complete dream to me! I want! At the moment the prices are still out of my reach, but it’s getting closer and closer … right?
In terms of features, I’d be sold on something which lets me highlight & make notes as I go.
10 Sep 09 at 13:58
The Tablet looks awesome except… the beauty of the Kindle is its screen is readable like paper, using e-ink technology, as do most e-readers. The Tablet looks like it might not. It looks like a regular LCD screen. Tired eyes, massive amounts more battery consumption and inablity to read it ‘anywhere’ (in direct sunlight, for instance). If this is the case, then it really is just a tablet PC, not an effective e-book.
10 Sep 09 at 15:00
We might have the technology but we in Australia still haven’t quite worked out how & from where to get content. Other than Iphone apps, all are largely relying on desktop delivery of files then cable or bluetooth transfer to the e-reader. Or SD cards. Kindle is US continental only – they’ve got a deal with Sprint to deliver files at little cost – given that both News & Fairfax gave Kindle the thanks, but no thanks a couple of weeks ago, and that Aust. mobile phone network is outrageously expensive, it might be quite some time before Kindle operates here. Second problem is ebook providers – not the app with which you read, but the actual e-book itself. Ebook in fact reinforce territorial rights markets and few Aust. distributors or publishers have put content up on e-book provider platforms that can then deliver file formats to hand-held e-readers. Most of what you might want is not available in the Oz market.
10 Sep 09 at 21:57
Sony has a wireless e-reader: http://www.informationweek.com/news/hardware/handheld/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=219401454
11 Sep 09 at 10:01
Simon’s allegory of mp3 players is a good one. Following it on a little, the music industry has clawed back some of its CD sales by creating a physical product that offers something more than the e-product. The ‘deluxe’ edition of a CD (with previously unavailable tracks or rarities) or maxi-vinyl product (such as Radiohead’s In Rainbows which included artwork as well as mp3s in a collector/fetishist box set) has created sales because people want a gift item, something more. Books as physical artefact still have a lot of appeal. I think publishers should be looking at the idea of “The Book+”. What are some things that have sucessfully been added to books to make them a better offering to consumers?
11 Sep 09 at 10:43
McSweeney is very good at producing “The Book+”.