Kindle’s death sentence commuted: Why the iPad will fail as an eReader

Apple grants the Kindle a stay of execution

It’s a question that we’ve pondered for quite some time. What will happen to eReaders when Apple releases their long awaited tablet? After all, why buy a dedicated device for eReading when you have a multi-function device that offers color, a larger screen and everything else? Of course the answers to those questions rested on a few variables. Namely, how much would the iPad cost, would it use new color screen technologies and what format or method of buying eBooks would it provide.

Now that we have those answers we can safely say to traditional EPD eReaders like the Kindle, Nook and Sony Readers that their execution has been commuted… for now.

The Apple iPad is not going to replace eReaders. Sure, it will be used as an eReader. Plenty of people will have no problem reading their favorite eBooks on it’s large, 9.7-inch screen. They’ll enjoy going to iBooks and downloading newspapers, magazines and other reading material, placing the blockish and heavy device in their lap and staring into the bright screen for up to 10 hours. They’ll be comforted to know that an Apple logo rests upon their khakis or jeans while they’re doing this.

But there will be more people — many more people — who desire an eReader platform and see the iPad as a weak offering. It has no reflective display to offer. It uses no new color screen technology that would have really excited some people (ourselves included). It’s heavy and bulky. It has a battery life that lasts 2/5ths of a day. You’ll need a murse (if a man) to carry it around.

The iPad will be a success (mostly due to the diluted price). It just won’t be a success when it comes to reading. Out of our three criteria it solidly hits the price element, fouls off on the eBook delivery method and disastrously strikes out on the display. It’s like The Natural (the book version, not the uplifting movie). It swings for eReader fences but comes up short.

Apple was pretty ingenious in the pricing of this thing. They’ve fooled everyone into thinking that the iPad is a cheap device and affordable by all. But that’s only because they’ve introduced a very limited 16GB version with no 3G at a tasty price point. If you want a meatier storage capacity and 3G connection you’re now looking at a not-so-reasonable $829. While the no contract AT&T 3G service is a masterful stroke, you’re still looking at paying $360 a year for an unlimited 3G connection. That means you’ll be paying $1,200 for the Apple iPad you really want during the first year. Still, Apple can wisely claim their iPad is only $500 and that’s what people will remember when they associate price with the device.

With the introduction of iBooks, Apple has given iPad owners an iTunes for eBooks. It uses ePub but it appears that Apple haven’t learned their lesson from the proprietary iTunes days. Apple’s ePub is still DRM controlled and can’t be used on anything but other Apple products. Still, the main problem with the iPad’s eBook strategy is a good one for consumers — they leave the door open for other eBook marketplaces. Having iPhone/iPod Touch application compatibility means there’s nothing stopping a user from downloading the free Kindle or B&N eBook marketplace applications and “double pixeling” (the stupidest term to come from yesterday’s announcement in our opinion) it to full screen for reading. In effect, it’s allowing users to go shop at another store while using your shopping cart. It’s also something that Amazon will latch onto. Now you can read your Kindle books on your iPad. Good for Kindle users, bad for Apple strategy.

Yes Kindle, you are safe. You have been granted a stay of execution and Apple will not be flipping the switch on you or your other E-Ink deathrow inmates. In fact, this may give the Kindle enough time to introduce its 3rd generation Kindle. One with a Mirasol or Pixel Qi screen that is capable of supporting a high framerate and reflective color. Apple had a chance to do away with the E-Ink generation but they’ve failed quite substantially. It’s a reprieve that Amazon and Sony are sure to take advantage of.

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5 Responses to “Kindle’s death sentence commuted: Why the iPad will fail as an eReader”

  1. Excellent assessment, thank you!

    The question I have now is, will Amazon cut the price on the Kindle DX before the public can order the iPad?

  2. Very interesting post and I do see your point.

    Difficult to say whether it´s valid at this stage though. My guess is that we have two groups of consumers:

    One that finds the color plus extremely user friendly Apple experience a much bigger pro than the con represented by the screen tech.

    Then we also have the other group: Those who think that the screen tech and battery time is what matters. Those that are not that into other activities than reading. They will probably continue to go Kindle.

  3. I think the question to ask (vs. the “Kindle killer” question) is will the iPad limit the growth potential for the Kindle. With the exception of Sony, thus far Amazon has enjoyed a near monopoly on eInk based readers. An exciting number of new eInk based players offered some interesting alternatives, but I would guess that Amazon felt some comfort competing in that tightly defined space given their current success.

    Apple’s iPad will impact that comfort zone. It introduces color, multi-media and frankly a “cool factor” at a price point that will clearly impact Kindle sales. Like the Kindle, Apple will evolve this product and we should expect in time all the known deficiencies (with the possible exception of the name ;>) to be addressed: multi-tasking, oled, camera, default gps, and 16:9 and HDMI for the movie set. Flash support will require an acquisition of either Apple or Adobe of each other ;>

    Kindle will need to move to color and other formats, and that hill has for now been claimed by Apple. So I think it’s easier for iPad to evolve to be a better Kindle than a Kindle to become a better iPad. If consumers move to a new device at the current price points, all but the hard-core reader will choose iPad or other multi-media device.

    Kindle could still have a place, but not at the current price point. I expect they know that and we’ll see a rapid decline of price for all eInk based readers in the near future. Even Kindle lovers should thank Apple for that.

  4. I disagree and don’t expect eReader prices to drop. The entire industry has invested a lot in this and they wish to see profits. Even if they drop the price, there are several out there who are not comfortable with ebooks at all and resist this technology. Hence, dropping the price will not result in increased sales or any other benefit for the suppliers. I don’t see them doing this for the next 2 years atleast.

  5. Another, it will fail because I say so article. How original.