Many of the top e-reader brands from Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Kobo have abandoned manual page turn buttons. There was no clear reason for doing so and it’s not like thousands of people were complaining about it. Why exactly are they a thing of the past?
When the Amazon Kindle first burst on the scene in 2007, touchscreen technology was still in its infancy. There weren’t that many products on the market and tablets did not even exist yet. Instead of a touchscreen, the Kindle had manual page turn buttons and a keyboard in order to buy books, enter payment details and navigate around the UI. It wasn’t until October 2, 2008 when Sony unveiled the PRS-700, which featured the first touch screen and built-in lighting.
Every single Sony e-reader model whether it had a touchscreen or not used physical buttons to navigate around the device, including page turn keys. Sony did it right until they stopped making e-readers in 2013, every model blended the old school with the new school. I know personally thousands of people who loved their Sony’s and continue to use them to this very day.
Barnes and Noble first started making Nook e-readers in 2009 with the Nook 1st generation. This e-reader was a byproduct of stolen product designs from Spring Design, who filed a lawsuit and settled out of court in 2011 for millions for dollars. Nook was always a product that used a touchscreen, but always had manual page turn buttons. When the Nook Glowlight was released in 2013, this was the first modern e-reader to not have page turn buttons at all.
Page turn buttons were mostly abandoned due to then rising success of smartphones and tablets. All of these devices relied solely on touchscreen technology and the e-reader industry wanted their hardware to give the same type of user experience. Why would e-reader companies want customers to still use D-Pads, home buttons and page turn buttons when phone companies abandoned this sort of thing almost six years ago.
There are a few reasons why people love their manual page turn buttons and continue to use older models. If you have ever commuted on the bus, subway or tube, you often are holding the e-reader in one hand. It is very hard to hold the device and use the touchscreen at the same time. Others tend to read as they are balancing a baby or eating, one handed reading is popular.
Some people have said that “Manufacturers rely on “novelty” to sell new models. Touch was a novelty that enticed owners of older page-turn button models. Then Amazon introduced their pressure sensitive buttons on the Kindle Voyage as the next novelty.
Why has page turn buttons been abandoned? Amazon, Kobo and Nook aren’t saying anything, likely it was to save money on unnecessary hardware so e-readers can continue to be offered at lower prices. I have said it before that e-readers are on a race to the bottom, eliminating critical features to sell stuff as cheap as possible.
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.