Back in 2004 when Sony pioneered the impending gigantic, yet partial, shift from physical books to electronic ones by adopting, for the first time, e-ink technology in its LIBRIÃ© reader, the premise was simple: this was a device that you could take anywhere, read anywhere just like a normal book, yet consolidate your entire collection onto a microchip. It’s much the same principle as the iPod or any other portable media player.
Whilst Sony was the first to adopt the electronic paper tech, it was Amazon who certainly made great strides with eBooks in its Kindle e-reader device and service, and since then the market has never looked back and eBooks are now outselling their physical counterparts on Amazon.
For the past few years, this notion has been kept relatively straightforward. The core technology behind the devices has always been the same, despite a few aesthetic changes or enhancements here and there, not really having a dramatic impact on day to day usage of eBook readers. Now, though, the industry is changing phenomenally quickly, and more and more manufacturers are attempting to converge eReaders with tablets. And it’s wrong.
There are devices that were seemingly always meant to be married, such as the iPod and the iPhone, the TV and the monitor, because at the core concepts of each work in harmony. I fear that the same cannot be said of an eReader and a tablet. My best guess is that manufacturers have taken one look at a tablet, followed by a fleeting glance at an eReader and decided that the form factor alone warrants their unity. The purpose of each device, though, requires very different interaction between device and user. Whilst both may inevitably be rectangular in form and sport a display that dominates the front panel, but they are, at their core, two very different devices.
The LCD displays found on tablets are great, the majority of the time, for a general purpose. They allow for touch interaction and mesmerising colour and clarity. Imperative if the user is going to enjoy a good experience browsing the web, watching videos etc. All of the common uses of a tablet.
You need not do anything like that with an eReader, only read, and this single use brings the benefit of allowing a manufacturer to tailor the device to that one specific requirement, as Amazon has done with the Kindle. It’s lightweight, it can be read in direct sunlight (you know, a lot of people like to read outside) and its fairly durable. That’s all it is required to be, but it is absolutely imperative that these requirements are met, or it’s immediately placed as a substandard product.
I’ve tried to read on the iPad 2, and it’s unpleasant to say the least. The weight is the first issue, it’s actually quite painful to hold upright for any length of time, let alone an hour or two you might spend reading. The second issue is the display, as mentioned above. Take it outside, and you will find yourself squinting uncontrollably, constantly adjusting into a position where you can catch a glance of the screen, even with sunglasses relaxation is unattainable. I can only assume that other tablets are the same, if not worse.
So the big question is cost. People want to read. The same people might want a tablet, and integrating the two is cost saving to both manufacturer and consumer. But it’s quite frankly out of order. Deploying eBooks on a tablet destroys the point of an eReader. It destroys the reason behind the innovations made early last decade and I would even go as far as it could cause health issues, reading on a tablet. Basic guidelines suggest, if not enforce, that you should stare at backlit screens for only short periods without taking a break, however short. It’s easy to get engrossed in a book, and squinting for hours upon hours at a typical tablet display is nothing short of damaging.
Yet, millions of people have bought into the Nook Colour, the Kindle tablet apps, even some for iPhone and Android (even more absurd), as well as Apple and Google’s own eBook stores. It seems a transition that is irreversible, and it certainly isn’t for the better.