It has been a matter of much speculation that the Apple iPad means the death of the dedicated ebook reader. Why bother to use a cut-down piece of hardware when you can use a general-purpose touch-screen tablet. You only need to carry one machine and you get color and lots of power.
There is always one good reason for choosing one piece of hardware over another - price. Amazon announced (21 June) that their smallest Kindle, with a 6" screen, now retails for $189 - down from $259. When it was first introduced the Kindle sold for $400, a price that the 9.7" Kindle DX ($489) now exceeds.
Amazon claims 600,000 books are ready for download and that there are 1.8 million free out-of-copyright classics. It also offers a fairly complete range of software Kindle readers - for the PC, Mac, iPhone, Blackberry and iPad with Android coming soon. You might be surprised at the support for the iPad, but if you think about it Amazon makes money when you buy a book from them as well supplying what you read it on. It makes sense to support the "competition" when it earns you revenue.
A similar price reduction was announced by Barnes & Noble on its range of ebook readers - Nook. The WiFi-only model is now $149 and the 3G Nookl is now $199. It could be that Amazon reduced the price not to be undercut by another ebook reader with similar capabilities. However, both manufacturers are facing competition from the general purpose iPad. At the moment Sony hasn't announced any further price cuts on its popular ebook reader - it cut prices over three months ago - but it seems reasonable that it will follow with another round of cuts soon.
Are ebook readers cheap enough to be come a mass market device? Some pundits are predicting prices as low as $99 by the end of the year and this starts to bring the dedicated ebook reader into the "disposable" category. Compared to the $499 entry price for an iPad many users would opt for a $189 dedicated device without waiting for an even lower price.On the other hand $489 for a Kindle DX looks poor value compared with what you can get for an extra $10. Presumably Amazon will notice this problem and do something similar about it.
If selecting even a $189 Kindle, or other dedicated ebook reader, seems like a poor choice to you - because clearly the iPad is more capable - then consider the fact that the iPad is bigger, heavier and has a less suitable screen for reading, despite it being full color. If you want to do more than read a book then the iPad has what you need, but many users want something simpler - a paper book replacement. In this role hardware cost really is an issue.
There are other issues of course. The main one being the price of ebooks - something that Apple has made worse by encouraging higher prices. There are also usability issues even with the best selling Kindle - the software needs a lot of development.
What's in it for us?
Well at one level we can benefit from ebook style documentation - keeping a separate reader on the desk as you program is easier than trying to juggle windows even on a multi-monitor development system. You might even want to consider the idea of issuing your own documentation in Kindle format, complete with free or subsidised Kindle reader.
As for apps then there the situation with the iPad is already clear. For the Kindle Amazon is beta testing an SDK - by invitation only - and it should be available to a wider audience by the end of the year. An Amazon App store should follow soon after that .
Could it be that the developer is also the key to the survival of the dedicated ebook reader? After all, a dedicated 3G ebook reader with a range of Apps is no longer quite so dedicated.
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