The case for the dedicated e-reader: When it's time to go off the grid

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The case for the dedicated e-readerWith the advent of the iPad and the plethora of cheaper Android tablets that are due to flood the market over the coming months, there’s an increasingly popular theory in the tech industry: the days of the dedicated e-reader are numbered.

Last week we published the latest forecasts from Informa Telecoms & Media analysts that said as much. Sales of ‘smartbooks’ (a loosely defined term) are expected to grow from 3.65 million in 2010 to nearly 50 million in 2014, or over 50% of all embedded device sales. The losers will be dedicated e-readers, such as the Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader, and the winners, multifunctional portable devices like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab.

The reasoning – and it’s convincing – is that e-book content is now available on most multifunctional devices like mobiles and tablets that work well enough as book readers, while having other functions.

Or as our very own Paul Carr says: When faced with a choice of carrying a multifunctional tablet like the iPad or a dedicated e-reader, users will choose the former.

In fact, he goes further. Not only will the iPad and its ilk kill devices like the Kindle but it’s a nail in the coffin of (long form) reading too. The iPad has far too many tricks up its sleeve, each competing for our attention.

However, I have a confession to make: I’m now a total Kindle convert.

Yes, I know. It’s a laughable notion to anybody that knows me well and judging by the number of unread books – mostly Christmas presents from friends who should know better – that occupy shelf space and the spare cupboard in my house. But I can’t get enough of the Kindle.


It’s the only gadget that encourages me – no, forces me – to go off the grid and get away from, as Mike Butcher puts it, the “background hum” of being always-connected. In fact, it’s for exactly the reasons that Carr states, that the dedicated e-reader can be seen as the anti-iPad. And that might well be its long-term appeal.

The Kindle has WiFi and, optionally, 3G but thankfully its built-in web browser – marked “experimental” – is crap. There’s also no Twitter, no email, no push notifications. No background hum.

Throw in the technical merits of a dedicated e-reader: The e-Ink screen that eliminates eye strain associated with back-lit LCD screens and means that it can comfortably be read in direct sun light, the (up to) month-long battery life, the relatively light weight of the device — and, for many, the case becomes even more compelling.

But, mostly, I’m attracted to the Kindle because – shocking as it may seem to TechCrunch readers – it’s necessary (no, healthy) to go off the grid sometimes. If only to get away from work.

On that note, the first book that I’m reading on my newly purchased Kindle is Paul Carr’s “Bringing Nothing To The Party – True Confessions of a New Media Whore“. A book that is, largely, about Internet startup life in London.

Yeah, I know…

  • Laura James

    If I plan to concentrate on reading for a while, I just turn my Android phone to airplane mode, and pull up an ebook reader app – Kindle or something else.

    That’s not to say I won’t be tempted by the screensize and battery life of an actual Kindle…

  • Katie

    Another reason I will never give up my Kindle for a shiny tablet?


    Reading on a luminescent screen hurts. You have to give your eyes breaks every now and then. With a good book, I don’t want to tear my eyes away.

    • ziweb

      Yeah, I’ve been arguing about this with my iPad friends. Kindle is definitely better for longer, deep reading. It’s easier on the eyes and let’s you concentrate. The question is, how many people want read like that?

  • vikash

    For me hard printed books are still the best. It dont consume battery, never hang, fully bio degradable and looks awesome in your bookshelf.


    • les

      I’m with Vikash on this one. E-reader’s are all well and good, but glare, battery life etc means that kindle’s,ipads and sony readers still have a long way to go to over take from a printed version.
      Also, the problem with ebooks i PERSONALLY find, is that a book shelf often tell you what the person is like (for example I leave if Margaret Thatcher’s biography is there). Call me nosey (and a labourite).
      I can see the advantage for some users (lack of room, disabled users needing a lighter device etc), but when I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and read books in front of a fire. I’ll have cocoa with it to……

      • richard brooks

        True about the book shelf, and I will certainly never be rid of real books, but the truth is I would never have space to keep all the books I want to own! I cannot count the number of volumes that have fallen apart from being read and re read, and then due to new purchases never replaced. For anyone who loves reading more than they love the media of books, a digital reader will have to be part of their world, hoping all the ‘birthday hints’ have been sucsessful and I will be the proud owner of a new kindle with wi fi at the end of September.

  • Matt

    I’m the same; while the iPad is techy-goodness, there’s just something about the non-distractedness of the Kindle that I don’t see myself moving away from.

  • Piet

    There is way to turn off the background hum that is a lot cheaper, a lot more fun and a lot healthier than either Kindles or iPads. Go to the library. Chat up the librarian. Browse the books, select a few. Chat up the librarian. Go home. Pack a picnic basket. Find a shady tree. Enjoy your books.

    • Steve O'Hear

      That sounds like a lot of effort!

      • Piet

        The good things in life need some effort. Pass the port, please.

    • Brian Johnson

      I’m with Piet on this one. The library can’t be beat on price, and some of those librarians are cute, definitely worth chatting up. Still something to be said for a real book – readable in almost any light, infinite battery life, and it doesn’t short out if you spill coffee on it.

    • Isabel

      One of my favorite things about my Nook is that I have yet to pay for a single book–I just rent EPUB and PDF books from my library’s website. Of course, I don’t get the physical experience of going to the library, but given that our city library is enormous and impersonal, I’m ok with it!

    • alanp

      Heck if your chat up schtick goes well enough you can enjoy the Librarian too ;)

      I’m with Piet on this – deed trees rule.

      (Sent from my iPad :D)

  • techmindonline

    …”small enough to fit in your pocket and not small enough to fit in your pocket” + the three major weekpoints for AIO vs. Dedicated Devices:

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  • Chirag

    Long live iPad!

  • MadaboutDana

    I’m looking forward to getting my paws on a Kindle. I think the iPad is amazing, but the battery life, light weight and sheer convenience of a Kindle are all very attractive. And I speak as somebody who already reads lots of eBooks on my iPhone!

    Two amusing considerations attract me in particular: first, I won’t worry about damaging a Kindle anything like as much as I would worry about an iPad. And second, I won’t have to p*ss about with iTunes to load anything worth reading onto the Kindle (although I have to say that Stanza on the iPhone is pretty d*mn cool). But for loading up business-related PDFs etc., gimme a Kindle every time…

  • Happy KillMore

    You know what you’re leaving out of the equation? How much does an iPad weigh? How much does a Kindle weigh? I got my wife a Kindle for Mothers’ Day and she reads from it in bed pretty much every day. She even told me not to get the big one, not because of the price difference (which was enough to convince me) but because of the weight difference.

    After all, not everyone puts their book on a table for reading.

  • Jay

    Just got the new Kindle in this week and for long form reading, the eInk screen is amazing. I thought there was a sticker on the screen showing basic setup when I opened the box, and quickly realized that was not a sticker but the screen itself. Very cool and very easy on the eyes. Was looking forward to an Android tablet, but now with a laptop and a Kindle, I am beginning to see less and less of a reason…

  • Phil L

    I wonder if some of the folks who argue that pads will kill ereaders either have never used an ereader, or are not into reading books and have not experienced becoming totally absorbed in a book.

    I’m in the camp that argues that the two products are completely different. The fact that a pad can imitate the function of an ereader (albeit with a poor display for reading purposes) is not relevant. I’m curious how this market will shake out and where this argument will be five years from now.

    • Billreyn

      But there are displays that allow you to turn off the backlight. So you don’t have eyestrain.

      • Phil L

        It’s not just the backlight. It’s the geometry of the LCD, with the active elements quite some distance behind the front surface. With an eInk display it appears as though the text printed right on the surface and the difference in eyestrain is remarkable.

        Have you actually looked at an eInk display in person? Looking at a photo of Kindle or other ereader doesn’t do it.

      • billreyn

        Yes, I own the original Kindle. To illustrate my point check out this video of the Notion Ink Adam. It uses Pixel Qi.

      • Hagay

        You can never actually turn off the backlight. LCD Screens emit light out, which will cause major eyestrain while reading something as long as a book, not to mention trouble focusing your eyes for long.
        E-Ink screens on the other hand, reflect light, just as paper would. The best way to describe them would be to say they print tiny spots of grayscale on the screen as pixels, and not emit them as grayscale light wavelength.

      • billreyn

        Taken from For our first product, we have developed of a new class of screen that embodies epaper with color and video. With the backlight on, this screen is color and looks and acts just like a standard LCD; with the backlight off, it becomes a highly reflective e-paper display with support for rapid update and video.

        Check out the link in my post above to see it in action.

  • Albin

    I’m very interested in the latest Kindle, but do want the browser to work well enough to give access to DropBox, where I keep useful PDF documents in sync across devices. One hears very little about that browser in reviews, and I’d be interested in what it will and won’t do – don’t care if it’s elegant.

    • abhiroopb

      I thought I would test the browser for you. I just got the Kindle yesterday and I am loving it!

      The browser is crap ONLY because of the way e-ink works. Basically, all it does is refreshes the screen every time the content changes.

      Imagine having a sheet of blank paper and drawing something on it. E-ink works a lot like that. Each new page is a new sheet of paper with drawings. So, every minute change requires the entire page to be “re-drawn”. This means that all the behaviour is very “jerky”.

      Also you can use dropbox, but there did not appear to be any way of downloading stuff.

      • Steve O'Hear

        I hope the browser never improves.

      • Albin

        Amazon has announced they are providing an SDK for Kindle app development and I’d hope DropBox will consider making their own, as they have for other devices, incl the iPad. I can see how some users would like the limited functionality as an escape from connectivity, but in my case it would be a big enhancement.

      • Andrys

        As with Google docs, you should be able to download ‘mobi’ or ‘prc’ files you drop there.

        Those are directly downloadable to the Kindle and that’s how 30,000 books are available at Proj Gutenberg that way for the Kindle as well as at places like or or even the Internet Archive’s text-area downloads.

        That is, unless dropbox prevents it and I don’t imagine they do.

        Non-Amazon books in non-DRM’d Kindle format usually end in .mobi or .prc — there is an outfit that converts any of the million free Google docs from ePub to mobi format for free and you can download the converted copies directly to the Kindle with the web browser.

      • Albin

        Thanks to both above. I’ve been using Gutenberg mobi books in my PC Kindle app with no problems: they have to be loaded into a special “My Kindle Content” folder to appear in the reader app and to be available for “whispersync”. Meanwhile DropBox has its own special My DropBox folder for its own sync functions, and never the twain shall meet.

        I haven’t used the DropBox website much since it syncs files directly to local drives. Going there, I see alternatives to open documents right in the browser using a PDF reader, or to download to the hard drive.

        If the Kindle device’s browser does either of these it’s good enough – I could read the DropBox PDFs on the Kindle.

  • fmcfm

    Someday the two devices will be combined by using a Mirasol screen of something like it. That is, a screen that has low glare and uses reflective light light and low power requirements like the Kindle, but in color as well as BW, and with movie enabling refresh rates, like the iPad.

    That day may come in 2011, as Qualcomm has just announced the introduction of just such a device for the coming year.

  • lsbf

    I sold my iPad in favor of a Kindle. The Kindle is simple; it works great for reading — good contrast, doesn’t blink at you. Buying an iPad is like paying to get into a party with a cash bar.

    About 2 weeks after I got an iPad, Apple announced the iTunes agreement has changed, and I must accept lengthy, non-negotiable terms (written in legalese, which I do not speak). Without agreeing to the new terms, I could not use the iTunes store; could not update apps or purchase new ones. I did not want to be at the mercy of Apple’s whims, and did not want to pirate apps, so sold the iPad on CL, after a failed attempt at a negotiation with Apple. I wanted to continue under the “old” agreement or get a refund; they just say “no way.” Might is right! I’m interested to see what the Android tablets will offer, but think I’ll likely prefer my lightweight, high contrast Kindle.

  • Nelson Medina

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. It accurately portrays my own case.

    Having said that, the one concern should be whether reading, real reading, is just dying out among sizeable portions of humankind.

  • Dee

    I’m seriously considering the new Kindle even though I already own an iPad. The e-ink technology makes text a joy to read on :)

  • Angel

    I am a person that sold my Kindle after buying an iPad on release day. I thought that reading on the iPad was just as good. Big mistake. Almost six months later, I am picking up my new Kindle from the post office today. Why?

    I read more when I am less distracted with connections to the internet, popups with facebook notifications, etc.. Plus I could never really get that comfortable reading a book in bed (which is where I do most of my reading) with the iPad. I never had that problem with the Kindle. I tried reading on my HTC Evo and finally experienced my eyes getting tired from the light.

    To me, the Kindle is worth the money even if you have other devices that can ALSO do ebooks. I am firmly in the camp of owning a device that’s main purpose is for reading.

    • Steve O'Hear

      Good choice, even if you learned the hard way :)

  • PaulJoslin

    This is the exact reason I’m still thinking I’ll get a Kindle soon. I have so many books to read / I want to read and finding the time to take a book with me and sit down is hard. You can also guarantee that reading on a screen for ipad / laptop / monitor – I’ll get distracted and receive eye strain…

    the kindle is there, for you to go sit outside and read – without having to lug the books with you.

    You also avoid the awkwardness, from people around you looking at what you were reading (the books cover) and making comments / asking questions.

  • bilbothejust

    Ok, I’ll throw in my two cents. I have owned Kindle 1 and 2 and the iPad and I tried the Nook. I will say unequivocally that the iPad is the superior eReader hands down. If you read in bed just prop it up on the headboard or pillow if you don’t have a headboard. If you read at the table, I built a small wooden stand. I didn’t have any of the intrusive apps loaded to bug me so didn’t worry about being bugged. Turn the sound off if you don’t want to hear new email alerts.

    The final decision for me was based on two things. The iPad displays a full page of text and more closely resembles a real book. The Kindle and Nook are just too darned small (you can also see which page your on and how many pages are left in the chapter whereas the Kindle gives you some goofy location number that means nothing).

    Number two is page turning. The Kindle page forward and back are so clumsy and when you consider the 6″ page size the page turns required are much greater than on the iPad where page turns are a breeze.

    iPad FTW!

    • Angel

      I could never get comfortable in bed or even relaxing on the couch. I never had that problem with the Kindle and there’s no extra steps I need to take to not be distracted or stands I need to build with a Kindle. I pick it up and get straight to reading…comfortably and with no distractions.

      The iPad will still get used though…I really do like reading my Zinio magazines on it and it’s great for all types of other uses. I think it serves as a decent ereader for someone who doesn’t read that often.

  • MikeSims

    I’ve finally ordered my kindle for the same reasons you listed. I want to read again like I did as a kid, and getting off the grid is a big part of that. As much as I like paper books, I read fairly quickly, so the tactile experience is fairly short lived. Besides, I’m engrossed in the story if it is a good one, the paper isn’t that important. And although books look nice on a shelf to say ‘Oh, I’m literate,’ they are also a major pain to move and store when space is a premium.

    I don’t care for Apple products, but I recognize the value of the iPad. There’s no way I could read a novel on it, though. Complimentary, but not direct competition IMHO.

    My ideal device is ipad/dx sized and color e-ink so that my larger full color cookbooks, artbooks, and reference could have a digital home. I wouldn’t mind a trade in program, either.

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  • Gixbr

    Do you expect a mp3 player to have a browser as well?
    No! Because it was meant for you to listen to mp3 !
    When are people going to understand Tablets are not Ereaders?! They have applications that you can read on, same does my PC.
    It’s just so silly to compare both. Also it’s so silly people complaining about the web browser on Ereaders. It was not made for this.

  • michael arrington

    Sometimes when I want to get off the grid I open a book made out of paper.

    • Angel

      And what if you don’t own a book that you want to read? You get in a car and drive to the bookstore to get it. I like the option of getting it right then and there, most times paying less, and getting into it immediately. Am I lazy? Maybe.

  • Steve

    I have the kindle app on all my devices, I started with my iPhone 3g, then moved to my pc, then to my macbook, then to my iPad. Love the kindle app for the price of books and selection. I (read paper books too.) I would love to try the actual kindle. I know I have read quite a bit more lately because the ubiquity that the kindle app allows. Bravo. I will eventually spend some money, now not much money at all on the eReader. I would suspect that the eReader will go the way of many electronic devices because of the tablet’s new found popularity (as a result of pretty good execution). I don’t think the need to unplug will be enough to keep it alive. I would suspect some type of integration of the e ink and the LCD screen will show up sooner or later to officially kill the need for an eReader. Innovation will in fact kill this article or rather the debate the article takes up.

    To be honest it is the elimination of paper books one needs to fear, such as the article briefly touches on. There is something about holding a book in your hands and reading you just really can’t argue with. It would suck to see them go.

    • Jon H

      “There is something about holding a book in your hands and reading you just really can’t argue with.”

      Sure, but not everything really merits that. It’s like photographs. In the film days you had to pay to get every single exposure printed, including the blurry ones, the ones with the lens cap left on, the ones with your thumb over the lens, the one where everyone blinked.

      Now with digital, we take far more pictures (I should think), but we only pay to print the special ones.

      I think books will be the same. Lots of books are ephemeral, linked to current events, or making predictions that don’t pan out. Nobody cherishes the old copies of Excel manuals, biographies of pop stars, or alarmist Y2K warnings that found their way onto their shelves.

      People will still have shelves with their favorite books. They’ll read books first as digital media, and those with special meaning will be purchased (again, perhaps) as a physical object, perhaps an edition with high production values for the binding.

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