Sunday, December 20, 2009

Apples and oranges

Okay, this will probably be the last eReader related post for 2009 (at least, I hope...) so I have to think extra hard about how to go at it. Things to keep in mind are that I've got a Sony Reader Touch Edition (and I like it), am not a fan of closed formats, DRM and all that fun stuff, and that I'm one heck of a nervous consumer who bought a Sony for a reason - it's called "I didn't want a Kindle" syndrome and this concept exists. All right, let's go.

We'll start with the Nook. A few weeks ago I casually noted the growing obsession with Barnes & Noble's new eReader device. It's gotten a bit out of hand. There have been very few early reviews and even those have not actually said much. Or have said not much to flatter B&N. It's a new device and consumers need to understand this. Sure, it's appealing on paper but with so little information, how can people seriously think that this is a game-changer?

As for the few reviews, the NYTimes was not impressed, calling it a Kindle ripoff and noting that almost every charming pro that made consumers drool came with a downside. The color touchscreen is random and unrelated, the page-flip time is long, the touchscreen is unresponsive, and a whole list of hardware issues that seemed to the reviewer to make the Nook "a mess". Which is unsurprising, given that this is a new product. There's still this assumption that any new product will be the game changer. I've seen articles referring to almost any non-Kindle device as precisely that, whether or not it even makes sense. Everyone wants the Nook to change the eReader realms because current non-Amazon guys (Sony?) aren't doing much, and a lot of folks don't want Amazon to monopolize the market so quickly and, shall we say, evilly? Actually, that's wrong. Sony has some great products, the problem is that they don't care enough to enter the battle seriously and loudly. Irony, right?

And then there's Apple. The mythical Tablet has been talked about for so long that it's turned into the publishing world's obsession. People have honestly said, "I'm not buying an eReader until I don't see what Apple comes out with." So this needs to be said once, clearly and loudly:

Apple's Tablet will not be an eReader!

Apple will, as usual, provide consumers with a cheerfully convenient device. They'll have some spiffy "Amazon-killer" eBook store (with their own personal DRM, I'm sure...), a huge marketing campaign, and hundreds of automatic customers just because it's got Apple stamped on it. Except it's not going to be a proper eReader like what we've come to imagine. It won't have eInk screen technology, it won't focus on books, and it won't be tailor made for readers (like the Reader, Kindle, Nook, iLiad, etc.). What it will be is a giant iPod Touch, which is really not the same thing.

All right. I recognize that for some consumers this is exactly what they want. They want an all-purpose shiny, glossy device that connects to the internet, surfs the web, lets them read, write and type, and do just about anything with Apple's trademark style. Fine, legit. But to hear publishers and serious readers try to compare a Tablet to a Kindle (or any competitor, etc.) is stupid. It's like saying an iPod Nano is comparable to a computer because they can both play music and show color things on their screens.

Yes, I am certain the Tablet will be shiny and awesome and will look amazing. I'm sure when (...if) it ever comes out, many tech lovers will drool over it in delight. I'm sure that some readers will find this a suitable device for reading and will forgo purchasing actual eInk eReaders (which was kind of the whole point, but all right...). Those considering buying eReaders for their crisp, comfortable screen quality should understand this, though. A giant iPod Touch sounds like fun but it's not the same thing. It's not what I'm looking for in an eReader, at least.


  1. Oh, I totally agree. I'm going to be drooling over the mystical Apple tablet too, but I know I'm not going to want to read books on an LCD screen, just like I already don't want to read them on my iPhone or iPod Touch. And it frustrates me that people somehow look at it as an e-reader because it might mean no one ever bothers making a better and nicer-looking actual e-reader.

  2. YES! It's all I can say: YES YES YES. Sing it, sister.


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