E-Readers such as the Kindle, Nook and Kobo have all been popular models to read eBooks since 2007. International expansion into hundreds of markets has fueled device sales, but they have been on the wane in the last two years. The main problem with dedicated e-ink readers is they are only good for one thing, reading books. This simple fact has prompted the rise of tablets running Android. How can e-Readers make a comeback?
The trend away from dedicated e-readers stems, in part, from their more-limited capabilities, which often include greyscale screens that make for great battery life, but lack compared to tablets. They also have rudimentary Web surfing, due to the refresh issues with e-Ink. Tablet computers, such as Apple iPad, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and other devices using the Android operating system, have color displays, full Web browsing.
The price gap for many tablets has also narrowed, making them even more attractive to consumers. Google, for instance, sells a version of its Nexus 7 tablet for just $299, and Amazon now offers a $159 model of its Fire device, which is $20 less than the most expensive Kindle e-reader and $40 more than the priciest Nook.The iPad Mini recently brought the entry price of Apple tablets to $329, down from $499 at the original iPad size. The new Kindle Voyage is $199, which makes it around the same price as a solid mid-range tablet.
The main problems with e-readers is that they were designed for one thing, reading books. Sometimes companies like Amazon would issue an SDK for developers to make Kindle Games. In other cases companies like Kobo would sign an agreement with Pocket, to bring a custom read it later app over. What about alternative reading apps, or social media networks? Sadly, none of the large reader companies have made any moves.
Europe is a different story when it comes to the evolution of e-reader software. Companies such as Icarus and Onyx have released a series of dedicated e-ink readers that run a modern version of Android. This allows customers to not be locked into dealing with a specific ecosystem, but the freedom to deal with who they want. This has fueled a mini boom period with hardcore digital readers, who have seen this trend and become enamored with the ideal that they can install any Android app they want. Most have upgraded their e-reader for the first time in years, to make the move.
Being able to craft your own e-reading experience on a 6 and 9.7 inch e-reader with the option to install whatever e-Reading, manga magazine, comic or read it later app is strangely compelling. After having a full open version of Android, why don’t companies like Amazon, Kobo, Nook or Sony Japan develop a mini app market?
A very small curated app market with apps that don’t compete with your core business would be the right move for the big 4. It could give customers the ability to borrow eBooks from the library via Overdrive, 3M or Axis 360. There are thousands of apps out there such as Twitter, Facebook, or Snapchat that would be really suitable for e-ink.
e-Reader owners are notorious for hardly ever upgrading their hardware. There simply aren’t huge leaps in innovation to give you a reason to spend a few hundred dollars for the latest and greatest. The ability to access a small app store might BE the reason to upgrade. Amazon and Barnes and Noble already own their own app market, so porting over the best apps that work on e-ink would be simple. Amazon doesn’t even have a SD card, so they could likely lock it down to prevent sideloading.
The future of e-readers is not a tool for nobility, to carry thousands of books in your pocket, while the masses play Angry Birds on their tablets. The future is freedom, the future is Android, the future is apps.
Michael Kozlowski is the Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader. He has been writing about audiobooks and e-readers for the past ten years. His articles have been picked up by major and local news sources and websites such as the CBC, CNET, Engadget, Huffington Post and the New York Times.