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The iPad Mini Will Mean The Death of eInk

May 26th, 2012 by · 30 Comments · opinion

Oh yes it will!

Let me get the basic objections out of the way:

1) eInk devices are cheaper
2) eInk devices are lighter
3) eInk devices can be read outside
4) eInk devices don’t hurt eyes

None of that matters to the general buying public.

If it did, we’d see eInk devices literally everywhere. We wouldn’t see a single iPad or Android tablet anywhere used for reading. Amazon would not have sold as many Kindle Fire (estimated at five million) as they did. The company that produces eInk would send out press releases about possible shortages due to overwhelming manufacturing demand. PlasticLogic would still be in the game.

You eInk users are a minority that will be ignored.

 

What brought all of this clearly into focus for me is a post I noticed yesterday: The $49 Kindle

That post has been undergoing some ridicule on Twitter. What those ridiculing it don’t understand is this:

1) Most people do not read. Steve Jobs was right. Incredible, isn’t it? But that’s the truth. I don’t want to hear about mega-blockbuster best-sellers like the Dragon Tattoo series. Those are what I call Event Books. They get buzz and hype and everyone hops on board to see what all the excitement is about. And then they don’t read any other books!

2) Regular reading is done by a minority. Why should someone who will buy an Event Book once or twice a year spend even $49 on a Kindle Basic (the price cited in that post)? It would be a ridiculous waste of money. Such people wouldn’t even spend $49 on books in one year, yet they’re going to buy a single-purpose device for that?

3) That post is an epic insight into how regular people think. It is! When the original Sony Reader was introduced, I watched people poke at it in stores. These weren’t stupid people, either. They had degrees, they had money — they were in the SonyStyle Store. That’s not some place Best Buy regulars visit. And when I watched them in general stores like Circuit City and Best Buy, the eInk devices were treated like a curiosity. But something for $349, $259, $199, even $99 — just to read? Why not use the public library?

4) Reading is a minor thing most people do. That being the case, it doesn’t matter what you price an eInk device at. You might be able to see it everywhere if Amazon offered it for free. But I think what would happen is exactly what happened in that post I called attention to: frustration, discontent, and since it was gotten for free, it wouldn’t even be returned to Amazon. It’d be dropped in a drawer and forgotten about. In fact, if Amazon ever does give away the Kindle for free, that would be the Bat Signal for the death of eInk right there. Because Amazon would just be dumping its unsold inventory.

5) Even at $399, an iPad Mini would win. Because people know it’s not a single-purpose device. The higher price can be justified because of all the additional things it can do. Those people who do only Event Reading? They’re likely on Facebook. And the iPad Mini can be used for that. And they watch video, and the Mini would do that. And if it has a camera, they’ll use it for pictures. And if there are dual cameras, they’ll figure out Skype (if they haven’t already on the desktop). And look! I’ve left the Big Thing for last: Playing games! You damn well know they will Angry Birds or Fruit Ninja — or WTF the Game of the Moment is — the hell out of it.

6) Companies do not exist to serve shrinking markets. I’m still using a PalmOne LifeDrive. When was the last time Palm even sold a PDA? Hell, Palm doesn’t even exist anymore! So let’s take HP. They once produced Windows Pocket PCs. When was the last time they did one of those? Hey, how are all those netbook sales doing against the iPad? How many companies have abandoned that market post-iPad? The same shrinking of the eInk market will happen. You love your eInk? You better buy extras for cheap on eBay because that’s a dying technology — just like my LifeDrive was. I don’t care what Bezos said in the past. That was a million years ago in Technology and Market Time. He’ll drop eInk because the market will shrink to the point where it’s a drain on Amazon.

7) You are too inside the bubble to see outside. It’s both my misfortune and fortune to have to be around regular non-tech people most of the day. These people don’t read blogs. They have no idea what the hell Engadget or The Verge are. Or even Twitter. Some of them even still use — cue the gasp! — AOL! You can’t con them with “It’s light! It’s cheap! You can read outdoors! It won’t hurt your eyes!” Well, you might. But if they ever got their hands on an iPad, they’d wonder why the hell the eInk device was so piss-poor frustratingly slow! They’d feel as if they’d been given it because you thought they were stupid or poor.

8 ) If it was eInk Forever, then why any tablets? If eInk was here to stay, why did Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Sony introduce tablets? They introduced them because they saw the iPad raking in all that dough and thought, “Holy shit! Pivot! Pivot! Pivot!” They are not in business to promote eInk, this isn’t a marriage, this is business. And I bet plenty of Kindle Fire, NookColor/Tablet, and Kobo Vox sales went to people who already had eInk devices because they got sick of eInk. At least, that’s how they’d possibly frame it. eInk devices have weak CPUs because they’re designed to do basically nothing more taxing than changing the screen image. Do you really expect to see an iPad-class CPU in any eInk device? The Barnes & Noble Nook Touch is the eInk top of the line. Will B&N even do a new model this year? I doubt it. They’ve reached the Summit. Why climb higher? Remember how after we landed on the Moon no one cared anymore? eInk has reached the Moon, Houston. Next!

9) It’s dead, Jim. I’ve proclaimed eInk dead more than once. And also thought it really would be eInk Forever. I won’t defend myself on this other than to say I called it as I saw it at the time. But times have changed. We’ve seen the iPad cut a swath that no other computing technology in history has ever done. It’s the Black Swan, the Discontinuity that comes along and does a Reset and Changes Everything. I don’t care how many of you hug your Android tablet and wail about how “limited” the iPad is. Because the thing is this: For most people, “limited” is just fine. See point 7. What you need to do is not what most people need to do. Oh, I know how that stings, trust me. I hang onto my LifeDrive because PalmOS does things nothing else out there can yet do for me. But I’m not sitting here petulantly railing against the iPad and things changing. I’m just waiting for things to change to the point where I can finally ditch my LifeDrive.

10) Because people like lists ending in ten. Your needs really do not matter to any business. When business meets one of your needs, it’s more of a happy coincidence and not the Universe bestowing its abundance upon you. In fact, you really don’t know what you need until you find a product that makes you go Wow! People were satisfied with their phones. Then the iPhone came along. It will be the same with all eInk devices. People will be satisfied with them until the iPad Mini comes along. Because it can be a Kindle, a Nook, a Kobo (OK, not a Sony Reader, but that’s a dying market within a dying market already, but Bluefire Reader can fill that gap). An iPad Mini will not be much bigger than an eInk device. It will let you read more and better books (hello iBooks! hello app-books!) than any eInk device. And if you’re so inclined, even play Angry fucking Birds. Apple will wipe out eInk devices with it. You can wail all you want about how you love eInk. But that market is ending.

Apple will sell more of the iPad Mini in its first year than all eInk devices that have been sold to the point of its first on-sale date.

No one will want to be in the eInk device business after that.

I’m convinced of this now.

image by quinn.anya

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30 Comments so far ↓

  • Nate Hoffelder

    I disagree on the ridicule on Twitter. That review of the $49 Kindle was written by someone who didn’t even bother to do the most basic research.

  • Michael Anderson

    I also got a $49 Kindle and am thrilled – because I know exactly WHAT I got … which is exactly what you described above :)

    My iPad 3 runs my life – my laptop sees less and less use every day. But I have so much ‘screen time’ between work and general daily life that reading on eInk is a pleasure compared to yet more eye-killing LCD time.

  • Mike Cane

    Oh god. Turn off frikkin emoticons. Number 8 on the list is a smiley wearing sunglasses.

  • yuzutea

    Not only that, eInk hasn’t updated since 2010′s Pearl screen, with no reports of any successor to Pearl.

  • Jon Jermey

    I have a ten-inch Android tablet which chews through battery power, but I have discovered that since I sleep for about eight hours every night, and there’s usually a power socket nearby, that doesn’t really matter. It recharges at the same time I do. And it does Kindle, Kobo, etc, etc, plus all those fascinating games.

    For situations where there’s no power point handy for a while, I carry a seven-inch generic ebook reader — probably to be upgraded by the end of the year to a 7″ Android tablet. These things are seriously addictive.

  • BTMI

    I hope that you are wrong. There are many applications where eInk is really superior to any other technology thanks to its bistable display (always on), low power consumption and visibility in most situations.

    I can think of a number of applications apart from eReaders where these properties are desirable including signage and an alternative to paper for the representation of sheet music and in my view we have only scratched the surface of what eInk can do so I believe it will be around for a while yet.

  • Tyler

    E-Ink may be around a bit longer and just represent the low end of the spectrum for e readers. Just like not all cell phones today are smart phones, there is always a market for the inexpensive. E-Ink will remain lighter and have far better battery life than LCD. So that is great for travelers or still for people that want to read on the beach.

  • Vincent

    You are correct most people are not readers, regardless of their degrees and education. I do agree with you that a single purpose device, designed for reading, will not survive. People bought them, initially, and it appeared that they were selling well. However, it is just like all the other disposable devices that are desired by the group consumer; it end up in the draw when something new and shiny comes along.

    I am the one in the minority as I am a regular heavy reader of many books that takes in many genres of literature and periods of history I do not buy books because frugality and simplicity of living is my style of life. I would never consider buying event books or many books that envelop the popular culture–much are over hyped and lack quality. I am just not influenced by any group or peer pressure, as I go my own way.

    My reading life has always been what I can borrow from the library. Today my reading encompasses much more of all the free books that are available and I am able to read on computers and ereaders. The eink readers suite my needs but I have accepted that they will disappear. When that happens, I will move to a tablet and still have the ability to read just as much as I do now. I would certainly not be influenced to pay to watch movies on a tiny screen, play games or buy music. I am not the target as a conspicuous consumer of popular media which is the purpose of these devices. There are many like me but not enough to make simple eink devices profitable to serve our needs.

    • Sturmund Drang

      What he said.

    • Roman

      According to your logic, ALL single purpose devices are doomed. People prioritize multi purpose devices. All cameras are doomed (unless it integrates… radar?), all MP3 players (without ability to play… video?) are doomed, all lights (without… watch?) are doomed… Am I right?

      And if I own single purpose DSLR (DSLT), single purpose MP3 player, single purpose watches, single purpose e-book reader, single purpose meteostation and plenty of others single purpose devices, am I only a dinosaur in the age of mammals?

      It might be true that eInk readers in current form will be replaced by superior models, but I believe eInk as technology will survive and evolve. Faster or more powerfull does not neccessarily mean better.

      P.S. In the wider context you are saying “Reading is doomed!” And it is another story to discuss…

  • Cyberquill

    Never heard the term “eInk,” but I do own the very Kindle model pictured at the top of this post. That’s an “eInk” device?

  • david Knowles

    It seem to me that this entire idea is base on what e-ink screens are currently on the market and does not take into consideration future e-ink screens in development, screens capable of performing full animation and full colour videos have existed in the lab for sometime and Amazon is said to be incorporating them into its next generation of e-ink devices.

    They should be on the shelf by the end of the year, if not from Amazon then from Sony or one of the other companies involve in e-ink readers.

  • Karl

    Couldn’t “Most people do not read” be used as an argument that books (of any format) as well as publishing and writing are all doomed? (Doomed, I say. Doomed, DOOMED!) There are a bazillion things that most people don’t do, but which nevertheless support huge and thriving industries.

    Still, I agree with your end conclusion. It comes down to “why buy a device that does one thing when you can buy another device that does that one thing plus a hundred other things?”

  • fjtorres

    Hmm, did I miss an Apple dog and pony show somewhere?
    What’s an iPad mini?
    What does it do? Weight? Battery life?
    How much does it cost?
    Where can I buy one?

    Oh, and the $49 Kindle review? Worthless. Might as well compare a bicycle to a surfboard…

  • Samir Shah

    You are right.

  • Bill Smith

    I disagree (but only modestly).

    I believe eink will survive as a low-cost, niche medium for dedicated readers, not unlike the cheap “dumb” smart phones (Free-$40) you see at many discount stores. There are considerable benefits to eink — long battery life being the primary one. It is a great choice for people who want a cheap device for only reading and while we are a minority, there are still LOTS of us. (A small minority in a nation of 300 million still = lots of people.)

    Cheap tablets will explode in the next few years as battery life improves and if Google finds some way to encourage widespread adoption in the same way that cheapo MP3 players are exceedingly common because most people are smart enough not to invite the Apple virus into their homes.

    Reading on cheapo tables, smart & dumb phones and various I-devices will continue to grow–

    But there will still be room for eink devices, which most likely will retail in the $10-50 range (just as generic, basic MP3 players typically run in the $20-40 range).

    All of which bodes well for authors and ebook sellers (and publishers if they ever get their act together on pricing and DRM).

    – Bill Smith
    http://www.BillSmithBooks.com

  • DavidW

    There is no such thing as an iPad mini. I don’t think that the 7 inch size is as popular as you think it is. I think that it is more likely to see a 10 inch fire than a small iPad.

    As for the whole nobody reads bs: Well the huge success of the kindle proves you wrong. Furthermore literacy is the highest it has ever been since the dawn of civilization. And while the kindle is not as ubiquitous as the iPhone, I do see it frequently. Please don’t use the word “literally” when you don’t mean it. You would not expect to see someone reading a kindle in your own bathroom would you?

    I don’t think that the cheap pricing on kindles is a sign that there is trouble. Amazon realizes that it is content that sells not devices. I do think that tablets are a bigger hit due to their versatility, but they can coexist with eink.

  • LCD reader E-book

    I’m not even sure that you actually mean e-ink.

  • willem

    This is already happening, whether we get an iPad mini or not.

    Specifically we can note the self cannibalization going on at the main ereader companies. B&N has complained that sales of B&W ereaders where not up to scratch this holiday season. As is their wont Amazon has been silent but it does not take much sleuthing to find that B&W ereader sales have been less than stellar:

    http://seekingalpha.com/article/557151-kindle-sales-plunge-made-amazon-com-s-gross-margin-look-better

    E-ink Holdings quote: “Our major customer was too optimistic about its sales in the fourth quarter of last year and ordered too much from us,” Liu told an investors’ conference in Taipei. “That made the customer order almost nothing from us in the first quarter.”

    The trend is clear. E-ink will survive as a niche market for heavy fiction readers, but that’s about it.

  • Randolph Eustace-Walden

    Full disclosure: I rarely agree with much of what you have to say on this site, but this piece is spot fucking on!

    I’m an author, documentarian and original geek and I’ve spun this eReader business over in my mind six ways from Sunday for the last few years. At first it was the eInk process itself I questioned. Why read only books? Why not magazines and newspapers as well? But only in black and white (fine – multiples of gray)…? Color rules. Unless, of course, your target market is only book readers (see items 1 through 10 above).

    If eInk book readers had any present, let alone any perceived future, then Android wouldn’t be a required and ubiquitous ‘tablet’ OS allowing so many other (slow) options. ‘Multi-function’ calls the tune – all other follow. Period.

    I’ve now had two publishers say to me, independent of one another, that there’s a new ‘form’ of reading taking place amongst those with eReaders – Google, as in, a ‘search engine’. Many people now read within easy access to their computer (laptop, smartphone, other) so they can Google references in the books they’re reading. In the last month the term ‘BDSM’ has risen to the top of their search terms on the heels of the book ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, and you can bet most of those ‘hits’ (pun intended) were made WHILE reading the book. One of those publishers said they’re now embedding ‘links’ within eBooks specifically to take advantage of this new ‘form’. Not just the usual embedded links that have been familiar for more than a year now in so-called ‘enhanced’ eBooks, but specifically for Google (or Bing, or whatever your choice is) searches.

    Finally, Apple has never been known for its inexpensive price points, but in the marketplace that they practically invented this won’t matter, as already evidenced by the millions of iPads (1, 2 and ‘new’) already in use. I have a really hard time seeing any other competing ‘tablet’ replacing what Apple has perfected. An iPad ‘Mini’ may be the final nail in the coffin. A coffin that’s already been constructed. All that remains is for the elderly journeyman stone mason to arrive and chisel the epitaph into a decorative slice of marble.

  • :)

    I simply can’t see why someone would prefer reading from an LCD to reading from eINK…

    Yes, the iPad has a lot of neat functions, but so much strain on the eyes? The steep price tag?

    • Sturmund Drang

      I’ve heard this so much I’m starting to believe it myself.

      I have horrible eyesight; had before two cataract and one detached retina operations. I don’t find LCD/LED straining at all. On the contrary everytime I pick up an eInk at the store I find myself trying to wriggle the bolted down gizmo around so I *can* read it under the bad store lighting.

      Granted, I don’t read books outdoors. If I did maybe I’d see what all the fuss over eInk was.

  • Ingo Lembcke

    Owning both an iPAD 3 and a Sony PRS-T1 (eInk) Reader, I still think that for reading books the Reader rules.
    A smaller iPAD will not change that, given the battery life and other factors. Wether Apple will really built a smaller iPAD (and what size?) I cannot say.
    What I am missing on the market is a device with 2 screens, Reader size, with a hinge in the middle to open like book, one side eInk, one side fast high-res with colour LCD/LEDwhatever for browsing, games, video, comics.

  • Not buying yet

    Color e-ink readers are out there…

    http://news.consumerreports.org/electronics/2012/01/ces-2012-color-e-ink-readers-are-finally-a-reality–though-not-in-the-us.html

    My ideal would be a hybrid display and it looks like Apple has been toying with the idea:

    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/04/07/apple_exploring_hybrid_e_ink_lcd_displays_with_independent_regions.html

    Maybe it’s just because I live in NYC but I do see eInk devices everywhere. And I see tablets everywhere too.

    • Nate Hoffelder

      Color E-ink has been covered extensively here on this blog, too. It’s not very good.

      Apple’s not exploring a hybrid display. If they were then they wouldn’t have tipped off the competition by filing a patent. Besides, it takes a decade to get a patent so it would be better to say that they were working on a hybrid screen.

  • fx

    Well.. Basicaly you are talking about people who don´t read and how bad e-ink is for them… That sounds realy stupid… ;-) It´s the same thing with music players integrated in smartphones… It seems cool, but then you realize your battery will die after couple of hours and you go back to iPod… Pretty much everyone around me did that… Single purpose devices are always better then multi purpose compromise devices.

  • Protogonus

    This whole discussion with links and nuances covered the entire subject really well. Thank you!

  • E-readers are here to stay

    I disagree with you that tablets will kill E-readers.

    The population of the world may sadly be too stupid to read frequently, but there are enough people left who DO like to read books and books and books and more books. E-readers are easy on the eyes, LCD’s are not.

    The only thing that will happen is E-readers will get cheaper and more popular. I believe this is the 1st year that e-books outsold regular books? So just where are you getting your nonsensical information?

    Besides, E-ink has many, many uses that are as of yet untapped.

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