There’s been a lot of talk about the Kindle’s potential death at the hands of the near-mythical Apple Tablet. But it looks like the real threat may not be what people were expecting. Microsoft has just unveiled the Courier, which is essentially their version of a tablet PC.
I have to say that, at the very least, it looks very cool. Whether or not it will be part of a wave of change that destroys the eReader industry is yet to be seen. As much as you may want to get your hands on one (I suggest you check out the video at the link above), the device only exists in prototype. By time there’s a version of the Courier that you can actually buy, Apple will have probably gotten a foothold with their tablet. Also, the technology Microsoft is demoing won’t be as whiz-bang amazing in the year or so it will probably take Microsoft to go to production. By then all devices will be a little more fantastic then now, including eReaders. This is like if Amazon demoed prototypes for a full color Kindle 3 before they could actually manufacture them at a feasible low cost.
On the other hand, Microsoft’s demo does demonstrate the idea that a multipurpose device would make an excellent eReader. While the Courier is hardly designed to specifically read books, it does replace manage to replace lots of book like media. The video shows the use of ‘journals’ you would write in and a daily planner analogy that somewhat mimics a traditional book planner. The device is even shaped like a book, with two screens and a hinge in the middle. It’s every pen and paper organizational tool you’ve ever used, only better. This includes double screened eReading that very much resembles a traditional book.
Either Jobs is right, and eReaders will be replaced by devices like this, or eReaders will find a way to innovate and stay alive. My guess is that the Kindle won’t die so easily. Each generation will slowly pile on new features and at a price cheaper than a tablet. This won’t work forever, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Kindle someday evolves into some sort of Amazon owned tablet computer itself.
Steve Jobs had some harsh words to say about the Kindle, and eReaders in general, in a recent interview with David Pogue. Jobs had previously stated his view that eReaders weren’t a viable product, but this was before the success Amazon has had. Yet, even with the profit the Kindle has made, Jobs’ view is the same now as it has always been:
I’m sure there will always be dedicated devices, and they may have a few advantages in doing just one thing … But I think the general-purpose devices will win the day. Because I think people just probably aren’t willing to pay for a dedicated device.
Jobs also goes on to imply that since Amazon doesn’t release exact sales figures, the Kindle hasn’t been as successful as people believe. Of course, this is just marketing bravado on the part of Jobs. Sure, there aren’t as many Kindles out there as iPods, but no one would truly believe that Amazon hasn’t benefited from the eReader market. Besides the devices themselves, Amazon takes a huge share of the profits from everything people buy to read on it (So huge that some publishers have started to complain).
It’s also pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that Jobs is hinting at the fabled Apple tablet. While still existing mainly in the form of rumor, the tablet is nonetheless expected to have a huge impact. Since its a portable device which will, among many other things, be able to read books, it’s expected to be the killer eReader device. Some have even gone so far as to preemptively call it the Kindle-killer or attempt to forecast its effects on Amazon’s sales.
Both Jobs’ statement and they hype around the tablet come down to the same question of design philosophy: dedicated vs general-purpose devices. While Jobs may be right that general-purpose devices have the long term advantage, the Kindle won’t be in any real danger unless the tablet can pull in enough customers from across the board. Someone who likes the idea of an eReader, but already bought a tablet for other reasons, will likely keep the tablet. Someone specifically shopping for a reader could still be swayed by the Kindle’s advantages, however.