The E-Reader, as we know it, is doomed

Matt Alexander is the owner and editor of, a writer, a technology enthusiast and a contributing writer for The Loop.

In November I reviewed the Kindle Touch, and I was a fan. Jim linked to my review and simply said: “I still don’t get the Kindle.” Honestly, as simple as that is, he makes an important point — If you can have one device that accomplishes everything, like an iPad, why carry another?

The most obvious answer lies in the e-ink display used in all e-readers. For me, I see the e-ink display as an impressive technological leap. Just a few years ago, the only interface comparable to paper was paper itself. Now we have a paper-like technology for displaying words and images. Having said that, while it’s a great leap and all, it is clear that the technology is inherently stunted.

E-ink is slow to refresh, it has ghosting issues thanks to page caching, color is not yet practical, and full motion animation is still a long way off. Of course, the technology exists to rectify some basic e-ink issues, but these solutions are not yet available. But when you think about it, even if they were at market, would an e-reader still be an e-reader with such technology?

E-readers are targeted products built with the aim, as I wrote in my Kindle Touch review, of providing a compelling “replacement for the venerable and inherently simple printed word.” They are cheap, lightweight, have long battery life, and operate well in direct sunlight, but they do little more than present traditional literature in an electronic package. And while that might be enough for some, it is clear that e-ink is progressing towards a colorful, responsive, video-capable future, and that is certainly not what constitutes an e-reading device. That is a tablet.

Thus, it becomes painfully obvious that e-ink is a life-limited concept. The e-ink version that many love is fundamentally hamstrung by its technology. People buy Kindles and Nooks because they are cheap, present books in a book-like manner, and are easy to carry around. But, as Jim highlights, does anyone really need an extra device to carry around? Yes, e-readers are cheap, but the technology behind them is set to directly intersect with the development of pixel-dense, retina LCDs, and feature-rich tablets. Aside from improving refresh rates, making it lighter, and tweaking its display, the e-reader can only grow so much more, meanwhile tablets are constantly evolving and changing. The Nook Color embodies this trajectory, insofar as Barnes & Noble attempted to introduce a matted screen to seduce e-ink aficionados to their tablet ecosystem.

Alternatively, say Amazon was to build a Kindle that was capable of reading, but also of full, high definition image display, and video playback, amongst other features. Well, you’d end up with something a lot like the Kindle Fire.

And really, the naming of these devices, the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet/Color, is resounding evidence of the looming death of dedicated readers. The Fire is sharing the Kindle name not only because it helps in marketing a new product, but because the concepts are on an inevitable path toward merging. The e-ink Kindle is limited, but with the converging technology in displays, its brand and legacy will live on in an entirely different form. The e-ink Kindle and Nook will fall into a niche category, while tablets (or similar) will continue to thrive.

Look at magazines on the iPad. The first Condé Nast editions were glorified PDFs. Now they contain rich, interactive media. While I’d say there is much evolution to come for magazines, the e-book, above all others, is overdue for modernization. I love my Kindle Touch for what it is, but it does little to take the concept of the printed word and evolve it. The e-ink display serves its purpose well, but as the concept of the printed word evolves, so too must the technology around it. E-readers, as it stands, are incapable of abiding by this principle.

If you don’t believe that e-readers are falling behind, look no further than the Touchpad fire sale. A tablet sporting a dead operating system became the object of enormous hunts for a matter of weeks. I’d argue the sheer excitement over getting hold of a cheap and capable tablet is telling.

E-readers do not seek to be tablets, but the technology behind the e-reading medium is unquestionably moving in that direction. Dedicated devices like e-readers are falling behind in the face of powerful, multi-faceted alternatives. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the differentiation of e-reader and tablet — I do. But with rumors of a retina display equipped iPad, and the obviously quickening rate in increasing pixel density, it’d be foolish to not see their forthcoming obsoleteness, particularly for the average consumer.

The concept of electronic paper, to me, sounds dazzlingly futuristic, but here I am calling it doomed. The e-reader’s purpose is, ostensibly, to serve as a stopgap measure until both e-ink itself and LCDs evolve to the point of intersection — and that does not seem too terribly far off. Tablets are losing weight with each iteration, prices are lowering, battery lives are lengthening, and soon, everything that makes e-readers wonderful products will be assimilated into other pieces of technology.

E-readers are playing an important role today. They fill a void that tablets cannot fill. They patch a gap that cannot be patched technologically. At the same time, manufacturers are working to build compelling, readable displays that are not hampered by the problems of e-ink. The Amazon and Barnes & Noble pseudo-tablets embody this coming shift, and while they do not succeed in replacing the desire for an e-ink device yet, does it really seem too far off before they can?

  • What about some of the newer e-ink which is color and capable of ~40fps? 

    • Anonymous

      Are you referring to Mirasol displays?

      First, they are not really e-ink. The technology is different, but the effect is indeed similar: no back-light is needed.

      Then there’s the issue of availability. Maybe some products will be revealed at CES, but for now it’s vaporware.

      But the more important issues is quality/price ratio. They will obviously be more expensive than current e-ink screens. If the image quality will still be significantly lower than what LCDs offer, the products will be pushed into a middle of the road niche that will attract very few people. And if the image quality will be as good as LCDs, then tablets will just start using them instead.

      There’s really not much room for a dedicated reading device for the mass market that isn’t very cheap.

    • Sglc

       Matt Alexander, your very short sited, “concept of the printed word evolves”, this is not done by technology, this is wriiten by the writer, the power is within the writing and not in the tech, the new tech is only a means to an end product, you should think more before you write?

  • Antolin Partidas

    I have an iPad, a Kindle File and a regular Kindle. I loveeee to read and for that sole experience, nothing compares to the regular kindle. I have tried to read on the iPad and on the Fire, but  it is worthless. Why? well, too heavy, too bulky, difficult to hold on one hand, not good when reading on direct sun and additionally to that, for me that to travel to Asia a lot, battery life for those 20 some hours flights is a big plus 😀

    The point here is this is suppose to be  a book reader. For magazines, apps, video, music, etc. tablets and other devices are perfect, but for the simple delight of reading a good book, the regular kindle (or other e-reader) experience has not match (yet) 😉

    • I think that the point of the aritcle is not that the e-Ink Kindles have no purpose now, but that they have a limited future.

      The battery life of the e-Ink readers is not a big positive for me (I don’t mind charging after 10 hours of use). I also don’t see a benefit to the e-Ink screen for reading … I have no problem looking at my computer monitor or iPad screen.

      However, the weight is a big deal. When reading on the iPad, I either need to be sitting up with it on my lap, or in bed on my side with the iPad resting on my bed in locked orientation.

      However, every year you will see the full-color LCD tablets get lighter, thinner and cheaper, and at some point the weight won’t be a big advantage. Once the e-Ink readers lose their weight advantage, there really isn’t much reason to have another device to lug around.

      • Antolin Partidas

        Hi Ronald,

        Well, all I can add is that for me, the kindle is the perfect replacement for a book ;-). I’m an mobile developer and I love my iPad and my kindle fire. But the fact that I can treat my kindle as a book has not equals 😉 Kindle is for reading and nothing else ;). It is a big mistake to compare it with other devices. There is no need for color, video, refresh rate, etc. 

      • Agaren

        Try reading on an iPad outdoors in direct light. No go. Laying back on the beach reading a kindle? No problem. If you’re not a mushroom and actually enjoy sunlight then there’s a good chance that the kindles longer battery life and display will be a big win.

        •  Not only is it going to remain a big win, but for many people the shift away from e-ink defeats the reading purpose and makes the tablet look so inelegant by comparison.

          Besides, in this economic climate I cant justify the purchase price of such a niche device like the tablet. If I want more than reading I pull out my notebook and it makes a tablet look pretty archaic by comparison!

      • So true. I see no point to a Kindle anymore.

      • “………they have a limited future.” they say/seed that about books, When I am learning how to do something on the computer I print the manual/info or buy a paper book much easer to flick though. Sorry about the spelling I am dislex….

    • Yes and eye strain with LCD is more of a problem than e-ink and good old paper.

  • If you don’t “get” eReaders, then don’t buy one. Tablets and eReaders are two completely separate use devices. I have an iPad for web browsing and article writing, and I have a Kindle for reading. The iPad is awful for reading, and the Kindle is awful for web browsing. Each one has its own separate task.

    It seems like one in ten articles on this site is about how you don’t “get” the Kindle. Personally, I don’t “get” your obsession with dissing a category of product that you don’t need. Doesn’t mean it’s not a solid product that a lot of people do find a lot of use for.

    • Doesn’t sound like the author is dissing anything. A legitimate reason is being presented.

      I for one, will not own both an iPad and a Kindle. I know few who would even think to do so.

      It makes better sense to have tablet and e-reading on the same device. To not do so is foolish. So you need to get over yourself.

      • First, props for responding to a 9-month-old comment. Well done.

        Second, I think the fact that Amazon is expanding their Kindle line only proves my point: Avid readers will gladly pay for a device that is designed for the sole purpose of reading. I understand people who don’t have an interest in owning both devices, I don’t know why it’s unreasonable for non-readers to understand why those of us who value a solid reading experience continue to support a device like this.

        • Operator

          I’m not sure if you even read his article, but allow me to clarify. He’s not talking about now. He’s talking about the future. He’s simply saying that as technology becomes more and more advanced the weight of tablets will decrease, and LCDs will become better at replicating the effects of e-ink without the downsides.

          At that point, for your reading purposes you either choose a tablet that does everything well, or a reader that does only one thing well. The obvious choice (assuming you are interested in tablets at all) would be to just purchase the tablet.

          Props for coming back to the site to respond to responses to your 9-month-old comment though. Well done.

          • Tom Maisey

            I think you’re all arguing the same thing: that e-ink and lcd technology will merge in the future. At that point, yes, two devices will be pointless.

            But until someone produces an LCD screen that is even close to being readable in direct sunlight, you can pry my kindle from my cold dead fingers.

          • Define “future” one can not say what will happen in the “future” in 1985 I was told that “books” have no “future” and 27 years + years of printing before that, the “book” is still with us.

            LCD and LED and any form of display that relay on sending out light, can they ever match paper? (for lack of eye strain)

        • For the record, the iPad provides an excellent reading experience. So yes you are dissing something by saying it doesn’t provide a good reading experience when in fact it does. You just don’t like it, but you are going to have to get over it. eReaders are thankfully a dying breed that only those stuck in the past will keep wasting money on.

      • I’m am one of the few then.

    • Several months later and you’ve been proven WRONG!!

      • How so?

        • Because the tablets outsell eReaders. The only market for eReaders are old people and those that have no idea how to work a tablet.

          • I’ve been reading your comments, and I must say you sound very ignorant. I have a tablet and an e-reader. Do you know why? Because they serve two different purposes. An e-reader is for READING BOOKS, and it offers you the absolute greatest reading experience available since books were invented. The Kindle Paperwhite (the e-reader I chose, since it’s front-lit and has a touchscreen) allows you read in any kind of light, or no light at all, unlike tablets, which you absolutely cannot read from in direct sunlight. The e-ink technology on e-readers also reduces eye strain significantly, which is extremely important if you’re reading a book for 8 hours straight. You should really look into the differences between e-ink/paper and LCD screens, you might find yourself impressed by the former (instead of angry, like you appear to be in your comments).

            Another thing that is really important to bear in mind is that if you are easily distracted or find starting a book difficult, a tablet will only hinder you, as you have access to full internet, games, and music. This sounds great, sure, but reading a book, especially in today’s information/entertainment-hemorrhaging world, requires discipline and concentration; tablets simply offer too many distractions to work as viable e-readers. It’s like if TV had a reading channel that slowly scrolled the text of a book. Would you watch it? Probably not.

            You seem to think that tablets and e-readers are competing devices, like Apple vs. Android or something foolish like that. You don’t need to fangirl your tablet. Since I got my e-reader a few months ago, I’ve read more books than I have in the past few years combined. I purchased it AFTER buying a tablet that I intended to use primarily as an e-reader! Tablets, at this point in time, simply cannot create the same reading experience as dedicated e-readers do. I’m sorry if this bothers you for some reason. Everybody I know who has an e-reader loves it, and it sucks that you cannot appreciate what e-readers have to offer.

            As far as your stupid age comment goes, I’m 27, but that’s probably “old” to you. Not to mention tablets have a very short learning curve. My mom, who is actually old and not at all tech-savvy, uses a tablet as her primary computer. Anyway, enjoy defending apples against oranges.

          • Killgore

            Spot on! People who are blabbering about reading books on their tablets aren’t avid readers in the first place. They just wildly assume that a tablet can get things done. eReaders can never come close to extinction.

  • I’d like to see a color e-ink eReader from Amazon.  It wouldn’t replace an iPad, but would really be great for my strictly reading tasks. Too bad Apple doesn’t offer an e-ink reader. I’ll bet they could really build a nice Touch-based model. Apple should step on Amazon’s toes, just like Amazon is doing to Apple.

  • Paul Kesselman

    i have read books on ipad1&2 and iphone and a kindle….it is easier on my eyes to read on a kindle than on any idevice…ymmv but until it is easier to read on my ipad2 i will read on my kindle- which is unfortunate because the ibooks app is in my opinion superior to the kindle app or the kindle itself

  • Anonymous

    I have an iPad and a Kobo Touch and I vastly prefer reading books on the Kobo vs the iPad. I personally find that reading on an e-Ink screen is much better on my eyes and I can read for longer periods of time. That being said, I specifically bought the Kobo to read books, period. It’s small, lightweight, and I can carry it around when I’m commuting in a much more convenient way then I can with my iPad.

    I use the iPad at home for all the things you’d usually use an iPad for, with the exception of reading. Note that I had the iPad since April 2010 and only got the Kobo last week so I definitely had a good amount of time to use the iPad as a eBook reader before deciding to get a dedicated unit.

    I think the future for the time being will be one where multi-purpose devices like the iPad coexist with single-purpose devices like the Kindle or Kobo. I’m not as sure about the smaller multi-purpose tablets like the Kindle Fire or Kobo Vox, since they’re basically 7″ tablets masquerading as e-Book readers but with their screens they suffer from the same glare and backlight harshness as their larger counterparts and therefore don’t really address the primary problem that the e-Ink devices resolve.

  • I said this back in 2008:

    I was wrong then.  And you are wrong now.

    • You’re right Mike. Funny, nobody remember how LCD screens were back in the Eighties: slow to refresh and with ghosting issues… ^____^

      • Yep, pointer “submarining” was an issue back then:

        Also neglected here is that the Kindle is not a device, it’s a service.  That’s why Kindle sales continue to kick the hell out of competitors.  I personally think the Nook Touch is a very good device.  But apparently people would rather have the Kindle service and B&N just announced Nook Touch sales were disappointing.

        There were plenty of $99 and even less Android tablets available this holiday season.  They were all capable of running the Kindle software.  None of them had sales rivaling the Kindle service.

  • Dan

    I’ve had the iPad 1 for a while now and finally decided to get a Kindle Touch this year. The iPad just isn’t a great reading device for novels or longform writing. Its just to bulky and heavy.

    Not having a backlit screen is the only reason I got an e-reader. I don’t see how tablets could ever replace e-ink displays in this regard.

  • Mark123

    The last thing I want an ereader to do is anything but allow me to read a book.  I don’t want mail, internet, games, or anything else.  Just the book, just e-ink.  If that changes, I’ll go back to paper.  

    You don’t have a clue.

  • Colin McElwee

    Interesting article but if you check out Worldreader you will see that the future of the e-reader is in the developing world where less is often more. Unfortunately “doomed” simply makes the title of your piece seem parochially attached to the so called developed world (where as many have commented there exists many lovers of the e-ink display). A more global perspective maybe required? 

  • Anonymous

    Eventually the dedicated e-reader may die out for the reasons you mention, but for the next 2-3 years, the tech is still pretty viable according to the sales numbers I’m seeing. Right now I’m on my second Kindle and second iPad and use both frequently and — for reading — somewhat interchangeably. They both have a place in my life.

    But one thing that bothers me about e-ink displays is that the pace of improvement for them has been surprisingly slow. The first Kindle was released in 2007, over four years ago and e-readers have been increasing in popularity ever since. But the displays themselves have gotten only marginally better. They can display more shades of gray, refresh faster and have slightly better contrast, sure. And things like color and very fast framerates have been in the “almost ready” stage for years, it seems. But by and large, they’re still the same basic light-gray background, still roughly the same resolution, still prone to the same ghosting issues now that they were four years ago.

    Where is the nice, crisp white backgrounds, the deep rich black ink, and 256 shades in between? Why hasn’t ghosting been entirely eliminated? Why do page turns still have some lag? And why hasn’t text become razor sharp?

    Maybe there’s technological barriers preventing these things, or maybe it’s a lack of competition within the e-ink display market, or maybe it’s something else. And I’m not saying I think e-ink is bad — it’s not, e-ink displays are great for the problem at hand. But it’s a technology that doesn’t seem to be innovating at nearly the pace of many other technologies, and that disappoints me.

  • ML

    I think you’re forgetting an important demographic in this article: The Baby Boomers. My mother, who is on the leading edge of this generation, is an avid reader who is slowly going blind. I bought her a Kindle for the simple reason that it allows any books to be a large print edition, and even better, has adjustable line-spacing. With glare being such a problem for her, the eInk technology has provided a book lover with a way to keep reading (and buying) eBooks.

  • Anonymous

    This is always an entertaining debate to watch.

    Years ago, there were small devices that would play music, videos, and all sorts of things.  They were going to destroy the iPod.  That never happened.  If you asked the fanbois, they would tell you that this is because the iPod is for music and Apple’s “Laser sharp” insistence on making the ultimate music player made it better than those “general purpose devices.”

    Even as later versions of the iPod allowed people to watch video and view photos, iPods were still about music.  Sure, you can watch movies on your iPod classic.  You can view your photo albums, address book, even play some games.  But is it a great experience?  Nope.  The screen is too small.  The click-wheel doesn’t lend itself to easy searching or interfacing with games.  But you can do it.

    It’s similar story here.

    The iPad is a general purpose device.  You can browse the web, watch movies, listen to music, read books, play games, etc. etc. etc.  But it’s a bit big and heavy to hold for hours on end while reading books.  Some games can be difficult to play without dedicated buttons–though some innovative control ideas have come out.  The screen is glossy, making it difficult to read in some lighting conditions (eg, bright sunlight).  And the battery life can be an issue.

    Kindles, conversely, are awesome for reading books.  The lack of color isn’t much of an issue with books.  They’re wonderfully light and easy to hold.  They work in the same lighting conditions as books.  The battery life is outstanding.  But they’re unusable for playing video.  You can surf the web, sure, but the web is far more colorful than books are, so pictures are going to look hideous.  And we won’t even talk about playing games…

    So it depends.  If you liked the iPod for listening to music, you will love the Kindle for reading books–it’s really designed to do that perfectly.  But like watching movies on your iPod classic, trying to do more than the device was intended to do will be a pain.

    As an aside, the Kindle Fires and Nooks, I think, suffer a similar fate.  They’re jacks of all trades and masters of none, like the iPad.  About the only advantage they have over the iPad is the price and the smaller screen/lighter weight, which is good for watching movies but not so hot for trying to be productive.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t understand what debate you’re talking about.

      Comparing e-Readers to tablets is comparing apples to oranges. Whoever feels like comparing these needs to revise the concepts of these two different products with 2 different purposes.

      Yes you can read a book on a tablet, but you just can’t compare the experience of reading on a tablet vs reading on a full purpose reader. Just battery consumption is so different on both. If you fall into these comparison you probably have not read an entire book on both devices.

      Once you read your first book on a e-Reader, you feel like the whole world should have one.

      Stupid article.

      • I just came across this article to check out e-reader naysayers, but this: “Once you read your first book on a e-Reader, you feel like the whole world should have one.” is worth an AMEN a year later. That is EXACTLY how I felt!

  • Agaren

    I have an iPad and two kindles. The iPad makes a good e-reader if you’re using the amazon cloud reader – the iBooks and kindle apps both suck. Additionally there’s something to be said about not staring at a bright, actively lit rectangle just before you go to bed. The iPad battery life is great, but no match for the kindle. I can use a kindle for weeks without needing to worry about the battery. The kindle dx is excellent for textbooks too. I love my iPad, but it’s not a kindle replacement. Yet.

    • Sean Caldwell

      exactly.  reading from an actively lit screen is not good on the eyes after a while.  When I read from an ipad or galaxy tab for more than an hour my eyes with they were using my kindle.

  • It’s been economically viable to print books in colour for decades, yet outside of books for young children, it’s unused. E-readers may have their day and be subsumed by LCD (or, more likely, what comes after LCD) tablets which weigh < 100g and have a battery life of months, but the book will survive them all.

  • Matt, would you say that you are someone who reads a lot on an e-ink Kindle, or who has read a few hefty novels on it and also tried doing that kind of long reading for iPad? I can’t imagine having read IQ84 on the Kindle app of my iPad 2—I tried for snippets! 

    I digress, I suppose, the point of this post isn’t “what’s nicer,” but where things are going. However, I think there is pretty broad consumer awareness that reading for long periods of time on LCD screens pretty much sucks, and I’ve never met someone who looked at an e-ink screen and wasn’t delighted to see it.I don’t see a point of “convergence” for e-ink and LCD screens, no matter what the density of the latter. I think there’s always going to be enough demand for a thing-that-works-like-book-but-doesn’t-hurt-my-freaking-eyes. Maybe I’m signing myself up for some claim chowder here, but I think e-ink readers are going to get nicer and they aren’t going anywhere for a while.

    • Bingo.

      As intrigued as I am by the notion that e-ink readers are analogues to the iPod (in that their functions are being subsumed by more sophisticated devices), I’m hoping that they don’t disappear too soon. I want e-ink (or an as-yet unknown, non-backlit technology) to have a chance to develop as a desirable technology that creates its own territory.

      As my Wife says, commenting on the idea of reading books on the iPad, “I spend all day staring at a light bulb at work. Why would I want to do that for reading books?”

  • David V.

    Of all the e-reading devices I have, I find myself using my iPhone most. I originally thought I’d prefer the larger forms, but even for bed-reading I now just grab my phone.

  • Barnes & Noble PR:

    Sales of NOOK Tablet exceeded expectations, while sales of NOOK Simple Touch lagged expectations, indicating a stronger customer preference for color devices.

  • If I had to choose a device for reading a novel for hours on end, I would choose my kindle over my ipad. I don’t care how pretty the screen looks or all the fancy colours, I just don’t want eye strain.

  • I humbly disagree. Yes, tablets are more capable—and I’m one of those persons who doesn’t care whether the display is backlit or not—but e-ink devices have are great for reading books and books alone.

    A few years back, before Plastic Logic abandoned its plans to build a business-grade eReader I’d have probably concurred that the tech would be replaced someday, but not anymore. I think e-ink has found its niche and it’s going to stay. Once these screens go beyond 256 colours they’ll be a veritable alternative to give your kid to just read a book, rather than giving them your expensive tablet.

    As LCD technology progresses there might be an actual alternative to e-ink display and we might be able to buy tablets one day that can be read just as well in bright sunlight as in a dark room, but that’s still a few years off, a lot of time for people to enjoy their eReaders.

    BTW: Remember transflective LCDs? They were used in devices like the iPaq H3760. When outside you could switch-off the backlight completely and still see the content of the screen; it was washed out a bit, but still very legible.

  • Obviously you’re not someone who is an avid reader on kindle, or you would’ve known why it is here to stay. :p

  • E-Ink makes your eye relax whereas Tablets are competing for far more superior HD  quality. These 2 seems to contradict, so how can E-ink be gone ?

  • bluejacker

    I think most people who “don’t get” e-readers don’t read enough to “get it” in the first place. Last year I read 50 books, the money I have saved by buying ebooks has more than made up for my cost of the kindle. I read everywhere, everyday, bus, train, plane, car (passenger), bed, couch, inside, outside, often enough for hours. The thought of doing that on the iPad (or another tablet) horrifies me. Try lying on your back for hours holding an iPad and staring at that backlit screen. Not to mention battery life, a huge plus for e-readers. I barely remember when I last charged my kindle. If you only read ten books a year I wouldn’t get an e-reader, you may just as well do that on an iPad. For people who read as a hobby, dedicated e-readers will always have an advantage over do-it-all tablets.

  • I hope and think you are wrong. There is a lot of love out there for devices like the Kindle, so unless something radically better comes along I think it will be around for a long time. At the moment e-readers is the best technology we have for reading books.

  • Jason Howlin

    I think for certain functions people want dedicated devices. I mean, my cell phone could theoretically replace my TV remote control, my alarm clock, my heart rate monitor, etc., but I like having these always on, durable devices ready to do one thing well. Especially at the right price points, which is where the basic kindle is. 

  • I think you;re making the same forecasting erors that have been made by pundits from the beginning of time.

    First, you are looking at the current situation and extrapolating into the future. You’re looking at the limitations of the current e-ink technology and assuming the world remains static. You are not accounting for future breakthroughs like flexible screens, solar charging, etc, etc.

    The only way to correctly forecast the future is to look at underlying needs, rather than technologies. Dedicated e-readers are not going anywhere for the same reason dedicated digital cameras, GPS devices and game consoles are not going anywhere, despite their functions being subsumed into cellphones and tablets: for the true afficionado, only a dedicated, fully optimised device will do.

    You wouldn;t take pictures of your daughter’s wedding using your cellphone camera, and if you;re hiking in the Amazon, you wouldn’t use your iPhone GPS system. Similarly, if you are a dedicated bibliophile who reads lots of books, you will not want to read on a tablet for long hours.

    This has nothing to do with where I guess technology will go. It’s just that tablets will always be multi-purpose devices, designed to do many things ‘good-enough’- watching videos, surfing, light productivity, etc. So they will be good for reading books, but never as good as a device made solely for that purpose to the exclusion of everything else.

    Today, tablets are thicker, heavier, have shorter battery life and worse screens for reading than e-readers. Yes, tablet technology will evolve as you say- but so will e-reader technology. It won’t stand still. And it will always be better at doing one thing better than a tablet that needs to do many things.

  • Barry Flanagan

    I don’t think it is a question of technology at all.

    The reason I love my Nook Simple Touch is exactly BECAUSE it does not do video, web browsing, etc. etc. When I am reading a book on my Nook I am doing just that, and there are no distractions. It is my downtime, and my escape from the tech world. What you describe would just ruin the experience for me and I hope eReaders live a long life!

  • sifzrl

    Looks like an article by someone who doesn’t read!  The phrase ‘traditional literature’ says it all – anyone who thinks other media are an evolution from literature will never understand that reading is the richest experience of all.  It won’t go out of fashion, and the kindle is very well suited to its purpose.

  • EducatedPorpoise

    You can increase the pixel density and resolution all you want–to Eagle Retina levels–but that won’t change the fact that it’s a backlit display. And, for me, reading straight-up text on this type of display for more than an hour or two is just not ideal. I’d rather go back to dead-tree books.

  • Anonymous

    BS, Reading on the kindle is freaking awesome.

    Turns pages fast enough for me, the whole point is to read books in it, not be all interactive and distracted.

  • fjpoblam

    Well, I’ll say that even if they go away, they’ve served a vital service. Two, in fact. First, and most important, they’ve shown webmasters by stark example the importance of comfort in reading on mobile devices. You may note that many websites (including this one) appear, even on iPads, in fonts unnecessarily small, while e.g. the NY Times appears in a very easy-to-read serif. In fact, I’ve noticed quite a few sites in comfortable serif, and design books emphasizing “mobile first”. The comfort of Kindles and Nooks has contributed.

    Second is competition in price. You think iPads would have come down in price at all had they not been in a market competing with ereaders? Hah!

  • Yes it is says me as I click the ‘send to Kindle’ icon in my browser to read this article later on my Kindle on the train.

  • KindleUser

    Not sure what the debate is – that technology continues to advance? Kindle fills a gap right now – so people buy and enjoy it. It might be iPad 3 or 4, etc but at one point tablets will be just as light, just as long battery life and just as good a reading experience and the Kindle will cease to exist. Then we’ll debate about flexible screens, Minority Report projected displays etc.. Any device is doomed given a long enough timeline. Kindles are safe for now because tablets are just not good enough reading devices yet.

  • Anonymous

    I see your points but ultimately disagree that e-readers are doomed.  The main reasons why are not going anywhere anytime soon:

    Price (1/3 – 1/2 of tablet) Weight (1/2 of tablet) Battery life (many times longer than tablet)

    Reason 3.5: E-ink is pleasant to look at, and not just as a real-ink analog.  After using backlit screens all day, e-ink is a break for my eyes.

    There is constant turnover at the cutting edge of tech, but some applications are well below the cutting edge, yet stick around because they have hit a certain formula and have a certain level of support, e.g. inkjet printers, tracphones, ???

  • Zachary Reiss-Davis

    I’m not sure I understand this; to me, you’re really predicting the death of the traditional BOOK, not eReaders; that’s actually much more reasonable to me as a claim, even if I disagree.

  • Anonymous

    Totally and completely (although respectfully) disagree. I requested a Kindle Touch for Christmas and received a Kindle Fire device instead because it was “the latest thing” and more expensive so it had to be better. I ended up exchanging the Fire for the Touch because it was fundamentally a different device. Comparing tablets and e-readers is like comparing bicycles and cars. Until someone does manage to integrate e-ink and LCD technology (which sounds like magic to me) I can’t imagine giving up my e-reader. Even then size and weight would be a factor. 

    Jim does pose a good question: Does anyone really need an extra device to carry around? 

    My answer is, of course, no. No one needs to carry an extra device around much in the same way that no one really needs to carry a book with them wherever they go despite being able to read that very same book on their smartphone via the kindle app. But they still do lug around books for the pleasure of reading them. The Kindle e-reader offers that exact same experience at a mere fraction of the weight. 

  • Travis

    This article should have been called, “The E-Reader will Merge with Other Functions of Your Tablet Computer.” But alas, calling the E-Reader dead is link bait, and hooked me.   I agree e-ink, as we currently know it, has a limited shelf life. But could it be that e-ink is just a stepping stone in the much broader transition from traditional paper publishing to electronic publishing? Given the publishing industry context, which the author basically ignored, debating the merits of e-ink against LCD seems limited, if not a bit silly. The article is written for an audience in the middle of a transition from e-readers to tablet computers who care about the tradeoffs, but you have to consider the more important transition from paper books to digital books. The Kindle was a bridge device which changed the way people consume books.   By way of comparison, mp3 players are products which attempted to change they way most people consume and experience music. The iPod and others were convenient, stored a lot of songs, and signaled a shift in balance from storage on physical media such as records and CDs. I see the original and current Kindle e-readers playing a very similar role. Amazon now sells more e-books than physical books, so the balance has already tipped for it.   The key thing to recognize is full featured LCD tablets did not exist at the time Amazon introduced the Kindle to the world (2007). E-ink was a very natural choice for them at the time. I would argue that Amazon’s main goal for selling e-readers was, and still is, selling books – NOT converting the world from LCD screens to e-ink or from e-Readers to LCD tablets. Thus, this article is based on the same false premise many LCD vs. e-ink, and tablet versus e-reader, debates are based on – that consumers buy eBooks for the pleasing way the page interacts with their eyeballs. E-ink was sold through clever advertising to the world by Amazon as an eye-pleasing alternative to LCDs (which were external monitors and laptop screens at the time). We were soon all hooked on e-Ink.   Now that content producers have had a chance to catch-up, why on earth would we stick with the frustratingly slow page refreshes of e-ink and e-readers? Magazines, kids books, and all kinds of other formerly printed formats can interact with readers through a Kindle Fire in ways that just weren’t possible a few years ago.

  • So So Wrong….  

    The majority of people don’t read books so if course they wont need an e-reader. If you are a reader you need an e-reader and an LED screen wont do.

  • jh5000

    The simplicity of an e-reader will continue to give it staying power. The fact that it does not have email, twitter, facebook alerts or the lure of a full color website 1-click away makes it better suited for concentrated/immersive reading. 

  • Guest

    I fully agree – the article is stupid !

    The tech-world is working to merge the e-ink, traditional-LCD and the touch technology. Reading will get better on notepads. Battery is question of preferences. If you read mostly you can stop all network services and spare battery life.

    There is no end of desktops either. Tech is evolving the direction the end users wish.

    • Even if you kill all services an LCD based device will never meet the battery life of an E-ink device. An LCD requires a constant power supply to light the back light. And e-Ink screen only requires a small burst of juice to change the pixels when the page turns. Merging the two devices totally is a mistake, they are different devices and have different purposes.

  • Daniel

    The future of e-readers is not merging with tablets, but commoditization. Tablets will begin to fill the role of laptops, not of e-readers. There are several reasons for this – battery life (I just got back from a 10-day vacation; I didn’t have to charge my Kindle once), screen readability (have you tried using a tablet in direct sunlight), and price/disposability (if a $100 Kindle gets lost/damaged, I’ll care a lot less than if a $500 iPad got destroyed). All of these factors make it great for reading in beach/airplane/roadtrip/public transportation scenarios.

    My prediction is that e-readers will continue to drop in price, without much of a change in quality or features, to a price point under $50, probably within the next couple of years. These will be the tech equivalent of the $7.99 paperback – cheap, convenient, disposable. Tablets will remain at their current price point, and continue to add features, more battery life, faster processing, etc.

  • The one word I haven’t seen anyone mention yet is eyestrain. I know it’s a controversial topic, but I simply find the e-ink screen on my Nook 3G to be more comfortable for longer reading sessions than the screens on my tablets. This is particularly true when reading in bed late at night–an LCD’s direct lighting seems to make it harder to get to sleep afterwards. I know that the science is mixed in this regard, but again speaking for myself, I just prefer e-ink (or physical books) to LCDs.

  • Backfired

    So, by reading the comments, this post backfired huh? Lol. 

  • Nice debate. I predict that E-Readers will eventually be so cheap they are practically given away, with the digital sale of books being the real prize for Amazon et al….there is a place currently for the e-reader that is for sure.

  • Tom

    As long as there are readers who cherish the pleasure of the printed word, e-readers will have market. Let the tablets pursue the video centric consumers and those addicted to social web experiences.   Technology innovations that propel the tablets will have their siblings to drive the e-reader market into the future. As so many comments have attested, the e-reader market fills a niche that hopefully will continue long into the future. There will always be products that attempt to serve all masters, yet please none; the inevitable journey of progress will weed them out.   Why aren’t there any tablets that incorporate cell phone communications? Are the manufacturers protecting their market for disposable devices? Or is it that tablets, just because of their size and convenience factor, don’t coexist in the same device. I see no need to write the obituary for e-readers when the latest generation is showing such great health and staying power.


  • Anonymous

    I don’t live in Korea and can’t read Korean.

    Is it available anywhere the readers of this site might test and buy one?

    • Florin

      At CES 2012 there were a few exhibits for color e-reader displays from a few manufacturers. You can search for them on

  • Craigmauro608

    When apple comes out with a device with an e-ink overlay over an LCD screen that seamlessly switches back and forth between the two and is as light as a first gen kindle, then I will agree with the author and sell all my Amazon shares.  Until then, I believe they will emerge as the number 2 player in the quickly evolving e-reader/tablet/content provider market

  • Oppinsight

    I agree that as technology advances, tablets and e-readers will merge. But it won’t be the death of the e-reader. It will be the death of the tablet. As soon as e-ink catches up to lcd in terms of refresh rates, e-readers will evolve into tablets, but with e-ink screens with long battery life and perfect readability.

  • Martyn

    You are so rite I have a Kobo and the wish it was more like a computer but love the easy on the eye experiences.

  • EinkFan

    Mp3 players are not obsolete, even though smartphones and 7 inch tablets play music. An Mp3 player is more useful, attached to an armband, than the Kindle Fire, when I’m on the treadmill. When you spread your entertainment onto several devices, you can conserve battery on the go. If I’m on a twenty hour plane journey without a guaranteed power outlet at any time, I’d like to preserve my smartphone battery for calls and use my Mp3 player for music, and save my Kindle Fire’s battery for a couple of movies.

    People who use one device for everything, clearly do not go on twenty hour plane journeys like I do.

    Also, the experience on e-ink ereaders is just different for those who care about those things. Cheap wine won’t replace fine wine, and an LCD reading experience is not an e-ink reading experience. My

  • EinkFan

    Continuing with my last comment, if a true printed on paper lookalike interactive screen is developed, I will be the first to buy it. I am more concerned for the screen type, than about whether can or cannot do other things.

    By your logic, all dedicated devices should have failed by now. Why are clocks, watches and alarm clocks still being sold even though every cell phone has these features? I’d personally never buy these devices myself. It is the same as the mp3 player example I gave earlier- a dedicated, limited function device can often fit into some a narrow niche or situation much better. People who want just one device for all their entertainment and work needs, had better invest in lots of extended batteries when they travel because power outlets in a crowded airport/cafe/restaurant/train station are not guaranteed.

  • One of two things will happen.

    Either tablets will become better at e-reading or e-readers will start fashioning themselves after tablets.

    Either way, the solitary e-reader is doomed especially the ones that are so DRM specific that you can’t even download a competitor’s e-reader app without a bit of “hacking”.

    There is a reason I use my iPad and iPod for e-reading, I can access Kindle, Kobo, Nook, and iBooks.

    So yes, e-readers as we know them are history and to be honest, that is a good thing.

  • Nnm

    You are totally ignorant about the difference between E-Ink and LCD technology. The problem with LCD is that they have backlighting, so it is impossible to control the quantity of light reaching you eye (other than manually). E-paper uses passive lighting, so the light comes to you eyes by reflection. By changing the distance from light source and the angle you can change the quantity o light reaching your eye (you don’t even realize this, your brain does it in background). That would be impossible with backlighting. The success of LCD is explainable because young people are more attracted to eye-catching tablets, they want to use it for more things than reading, and usually they are ignorant about vision problems that constant exposure to light can produce.

  • Whattttttt

    I completely disagree. Just the other day, while reading on my Kindle Touch, my brother handed me his iPad to check out a news article he wanted me to read. I set me Kindle down and was stunned by how heavy (mainly heavy) and big the iPad was. It was fatiguing compared to hold compared to how I normally read (with one hand) using my Kindle. That is the clearest difference.

  • Guest

    Try reading your tablet at the beach. Nuff said. O

  • I don’t know anyone that actually matters in this world that would waste money on a Kindle eReader. A kindle fire maybe, but just an ereader. The only people I can see that would waste money on such a thing nowadays are old people that have no use for tablets. There just isn’t a market for anyone else unless they don’t know how to use a tablet properly.

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  • MelvinBragg

    The ridiculous battery life of most tablets means that e readers are a better, more eco friendly and less dazzling alternative. If you sit in bed with a tablet it wakes you up, makes you stressed and you end up googling pointless stuff. In the old days people READ. That means focused, settled, engaged. Being on a tablet means, distracted by content, distracted by connectivity and unsettled. E readers and the devices that follow, with more advanced colour e-ink are going to broaden our minds and allow us to continue to function once the bright screens go off. Also – what is my work life is crying out for? An A4 colour e-ink tablet to read documents on, wirelessly linked to my laptop. Something that i can flick a shared document to my colleague 100 miles away with annotations / highlights etc. I’m a late adopter, but I can tell you that by going back to more simple focus is a step into the future, with any book, any idea and any story available in a medium that allows me to appreciate it.

  • Carl

    i somehow think 1000 books in your pocket is better than stacking a library that takes an entire room (I have one of those as well and it’s an eyesore)