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