I finally decided to address the elephant in the room and write about the tablets that are about to burst forth on to the scene. There has been a lot of talk about whether the tablets are going to kill off the eBook readers and my answer is both yes and no. Yes, I know that’s always and annoying answer to give but that’s the way life works.
To further explain, it will interest the readers of this blog that I don’t the Kindle is in any kind of danger at the moment even if Apple really launches a tablet device this month complete with a full range of content on iTunes. Here’s why.
The Kindle started this whole eBook reader thing, even though it wasn’t the first one at the scene. Amazon hit it on the head with the Whispernet. Then, the Kindle went international, giving Amazon much greater market penetration. It is also a device that has gone through more than one product cycle and that means it is better tuned and more in sync with the demands of the market. This is not true for almost all other readers in the market.
That is why they are easy victims for the tablets to pick off. Tablets will be multimedia devices and hence much more attractive at the onset. They will have full color and everything that a portable computer does today. But they will still lack the paper like display that is easy on the eye and lasts for days on end. The two most important things that made the eBook readers click.
Still, these hurdles will slowly be overcome and we might see a tablet Kindle in the future because convergence is where we are headed and Amazon will surely upgrade the Kindle to counter this threat. So overall, I think it will basically be the survival of the fittest, just like it always has been in a free market economy.
The eInk-LCD hybrid display screen from Pixel Qi will be on display at the upcoming CES event and everyone’s really interested to see it in person. But before it goes up on display, many units of it would probably have been shipped to India for use on a new tablet device called Adam.
Pixel Qi’s hybrid screen gives us what we have been wanting for some time now — the battery life of an eInk display (the one used on the Kindle and other ebook readers) and the usability of an LCD screen. And it gives us the advantages of both in the most literal way possible by combining the two. I my opinion it doesn’t exactly solve everything because it doesn’t look as good as an LCD screen and probably isn’t as easy to read under direct sunlight. But it is still a usable compromise.
So this tablet device called Adam, is currently being developed by an Indian company called Notion Ink. This is most likely the only such start up from that entire continent to have shown up on the radar of the international tech community. While the tablet device is not meant to be only an eBook reader, it is certainly going to capable of doing that. It is basically a Tegra based smartpad that will be targeted at low-cost computing on the go for the Indian masses.
But it is actually very relevant for the eBook reader market because it will become the first device to demonstrate in a rigorous real life scenario whether or not the display technology will hold. The eBook market is pretty demanding when it comes to battery life and readability. They have been spoiled on the eInk and even thought it has pathetically slow frame rates, the extremely low power consumption and the high degree of readability has made it quite popular. But backlight is missing, so is color and video. So newer technology is immediately required.
In regards to the lawsuit against Arizona State University, over the Kindle DX‘s inaccessibility for blind people, a quick search for braille eReaders brought up this prototype design.
Unfortunately, no such device is yet in production, but the basic technology already exists. Braille displays for blind computer users have been around for decades, and it’s only the prohibitive cost that has kept an eReader like this from being developed. As research continues, it can be expected that something like this prototype will one day exist.
A braille device that fell under the Kindle brand, or at the very least had support for the Kindle Store, would solve any problems surrounding the current suit against ASU. But even more important would be the larger effect a braille eReader would have. Unlike the purchase of a normal eReader, which essentially comes down to a consumer’s personal preference, a braille eReader would have near universal acceptance in the blind community. With braille, a refreshable eReader with a limitless digital library would have clear benefits over the limited supply of bulky paper braille books. If such a device could be developed at a reasonable price, the maker would not only stand to help the disable but also to make a huge profit.