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It’s 2018: Why Are So Many eReader Designs So Boring?

Does anyone else think that ereader designs have gotten, well, rather boring?

I was looking at the new Jezetek ereaders this morning when I couldn’t help noticing how similar they looked to all other Kindle competitors out there. They were basic black rectangles with a screen and a few buttons, just like Onyx and Kobo’s devices.

When the eReader scene was new, every device looked distinct, and many were styled to look good. Now, except for the Kindle Oasis, they don’t.

In the early years each device maker went for a unique style in part due to the need to integrate buttons, and Kobo and Barnes & Noble even boasted about hiring designers. But now that everything is touch sensitive, even iPads have a sameness about them.

It’s true that my Kobo Aura H2O2 feels different to hold when compared to my Paperwhite, but visually they’re both black rectangles. Most visual differentiation between brands is in the back of the device.

What would you like to see in future ereaders to help them stand out from the crowd? Are features the only things that matter? What about software?

via MobileRead

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Mike May 8, 2018 um 9:29 am

I guess I don’t overthink an e-reader’s visual appearance. I just want it to be lightweight, comfortable to hold and get out of the way when I am reading.

realjj May 8, 2018 um 9:50 am

Because it costs money and even in tabs nobody is investing anymore.
I haven’t seen a tablet that I would consider buying in many years. And at this stage, any phone or tab with any bezel is not sufficient for me so I wouldn’t expect to see a tab I could buy anytime soon, a foldable phone is more likely.
With watches it is more complicated as the main driver is fear, fear to innovate as that’s a cost and a risk. Cars too, car makers are so stuck on legacy and fear. Tesla for example has that 17 inch display since 2012 and nobody has tried to match them, outside China.
The world sucks at product design, even when they try and invest in it. Apple can’t make a phone, I mean really, they just can’t. The X uses facial recognition, a feature that will cost you 10-20 times more than a fingerprint sensor and pushes the retail price way way up. It’s slow, less reliable, easier to spoof, doesn’t work for people that cover their faces (burkas and so on) and they cut a notch in the display for it, instead of finding a way to hide/remove the other sensors and offer full display and a more convenient way to identify – at a much lower cost.
Microsoft makes a tablet that looks like a digital picture frame from 15 years ago, has a flap on the rear that is waste of mechanical volume and can’t be used in the lap (that’s why, when paired with a keyboard,it’s a notebook not a laptop lol).
Truth is, take any product and if you learn about it, it likely really sucks and it’s very easy to make it way better.
I don’t know why but, we are not good at this, at all. And most don’t even try because why invest into something if you still make a lot of money even if you don’t. Resources are limited, a phone maker or PC maker will invest 2-3% of their revenue in R&D.
Anyway, for ereders, it’s lack of scale, lack of ideas, risk aversion, lack of competition. The usual …

smr May 8, 2018 um 10:17 am

Because it doesn’t need to be visually interesting, it’s job is literally to get out of the way and not distract from the content it is presenting.

Frank May 8, 2018 um 10:23 am

The market share isn’t there to encourage more innovation. In tablets' case, the iPad has no strong competitor so iPads have all looked the same since its introduction 2010.

At least the Oasis 1 and 2 are a little different than the other Kindles.

Carmen Webster Buxton May 8, 2018 um 10:23 am

Why do they so often push black covers? I hate that! For one thing, a brightly colored cover makes a Kindle easier to find when you put it down somewhere unexpected.

smr May 8, 2018 um 10:26 am

I do enjoy the blue cover I got with my Oasis 2; distinguishes it from all the other black slabs lying about.

It’s 2018: Why Are So Many eReader Designs So Boring? – The Passive Voice May 8, 2018 um 11:12 am

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Cyfranek May 8, 2018 um 12:24 pm

Well… how often bloggers like you popularize other brands than Kindle or Kobo? Even in this article there is no any info about quite different Bookeen Saga or no-touch PocketBook Basic Lux. So, there is no info, no knowledge, no selling – than monopoly and unification.

Barry Marks May 8, 2018 um 1:34 pm

The point of an ereader is reading. The way to judge it is how good it is as a reading device. As Jeff Bezos used to say, the best ereader is invisible. You want to only be aware of the book.

What I’d like to see is more variety in screen size and device size. I’d love to have a small pocket-size ereader with a front-lit e-ink screen that was the shape of a phone, with maybe a 5″ screen. I’m sure others would prefer a selection of larger devices.

The problem is that ereaders aren’t made by companies with the idea of selling more devices. They’re made by book sellers hoping to sell more books. There really is no competitive market for ereaders.

If that ever changes and we do get more choices I wouldn’t really care if they all look pretty much the same. I think a black rectangle is kind of the obvious design choice. An ereader is a screen and the rest is just support for the screen, physically or electronically.


David Sims May 8, 2018 um 2:47 pm

eReaders are designed to be functionally convenient while you’re using their functions, but they are designed to be self-effacing, basically forgotten about, while you are engrossed in the story being told in an ebook. That’s why they are "boring." It’s a feature, not a bug. It’s also why eReaders are mostly black in color. Less reflected light in the eye means less distraction from the words on the screen. The Kindle Paperwhite hit a sweet spot in this dual-purpose design, and that is why a lot of other eReaders are also similarly built. (The accuracy of the Kindle design in relation to the optimum was probably an accident, albeit a happy one for Amazon.)

Steve Z May 8, 2018 um 5:04 pm

How exciting is your typical PC keyboard, mouse, or monitor? For most computing devices, the hardware quickly fades into the background of basic functionality. It’s what’s on the screen that has the potential to be exciting. That’s where designers have some leeway to differentiate one platform from the others.
That said, why are the user interfaces for eReaders so underwhelming? The lack of any kind of organizational support for large book collections is staggering. Why do I have to go to an external tool like Calibre to manage books by categories, to group books by series, or to track which volumes I have or have not read?

Ros Jackson May 8, 2018 um 6:13 pm

Visual and textural interest is what covers are for. You can get some unique ones, and it’s cheap to change them more often than the ereader itself.

Brandon Longwell May 8, 2018 um 7:59 pm

Design without function is unnecessary. The current model of a touch screen, and sometimes a couple buttons, is the ideal peak between design and function.
I am somewhat curious about what you are suggesting as interesting; I can’t think of a design improvement that would be significant enough to make an ereader exciting and still keep the categorical goal of simplicity.
Do we make them squiggly? Round? Bouncy? Add a utility knife?
My only suggestion is to buy something else cool and hold it at the same time, giving it a glance between pages…
Or a cover.

-dsr- May 8, 2018 um 8:56 pm

Off the top of my head:

Ergonomic design. Flat is all very well, but the hand likes to grip things with some thickness. The Kindle Oasis has a rectangular thickening on one edge. How about a cylindrical thickening? Great space for batteries.

Lots of cases let you stand up your tablet or ebook. Why should you have to touch it to flip pages? Everything has bluetooth already; a tablet should come with a little remote with three buttons on it: on/sleep, page forward, page back. And the remote probably needs an optional wriststrap.

Buttons! Page forward and back, yes, but also Table-of-Contents, Index, and how about a row of little buttons with LEDs at the top of the screen – when you set a bookmark, you associate it with one of those buttons just like radio tuners in cars used to act. The LED glows if you have a bookmark set in that position on this book.

There’s no point in having large amounts of flash on an ebook reader when you can get a 128GB microSD card for under $40. A reader without an SD or microSD slot is pitiful.

Water resistance. Ebooks should be better than paper books, and that means surviving an accidental dunking in the bath.

Font choice. There are eighty million TrueType/OpenType fonts in the world. If you can load one up on your microSD card, you ought to be able to use it. It’s OK if there’s an import step required, as long as it isn’t run every time you open a book.

David B Huber May 9, 2018 um 3:17 am

Bravo! I like your vision, friend!

I too want to carry thousands of books with me. The Cloud is more fragile than the Library of Alexandria!

David B Huber May 9, 2018 um 2:55 am

The unquestioning acceptance of the consumer model foisted on us by major vendors is the reason innovation is stifled. eReaders are viewed as a platform for sales from a walled garden and what we have is adequate for that. B&N’s slogan for their Nook was "Carry Barnes and Noble in the palm of your hand" and they stayed true to that vision, ignoring the treasure trove of market research volunteered by their users. While the same model plagues the smart phone industry, competition demands higher performance and broader functionality which just happens to somewhat overlap with the desires of consumers as well as content providers.

Tablets have suffered perhaps more than eReaders from the content consumer model. A tablet with acceptable performance is hard to find under $200. Now you will point to the Kindle Fire and prove my assertion. Please try to find a decent tablet under $100 and let me know if you do; I’ve experienced the decline in Nextbooks first hand.

I don’t want a device lacking expandable, removable storage. But I bought a refurbished Kindle Touch because Amazon’s content delivery platform (store) is robust and as a Prime member offers spiffs.

Even within this single thread we see the dichotomy between those who want to create content and the very vocal “I just want to read!” contingent. We need a simple reader with expandable functionality via accessories (e.g. Bluetooth keyboard) to please both groups. The smartphone offers more versatility as well as cost-effectiveness compared to currently available “good enough” e-ink readers.

What do I want? For Apple to release the Newton OS as open source and an updated e-ink MessagePad…

I’d also like to see an updated Nook 1st. Ed. – a "Nook Next" with:
7.8? 1404×1872 16 greyscale primary eink display as “digital paper”
Frontlight array with 24 levels of amber/blue/white
1404×420 LED touchscreen for app interaction
Cortex A9 quad-core 1.5Ghz CPU under 2GB RAM
32GB internal with MicroSDXC slot for expansion
802.11n/g/b WiFi plus Bluetooth 4.1
GPS, accelerometer and microphone
3.5mm headphone jack (no speakers)
Rear 13MPixel camera with flash optimized for OCR so it serves as a scanner
microUSB 3.0 & USB-C ports with OTG support
4000mAh battery with solar charger in flipcase
Android 8.0 or Elementary OS 0.4.1 Loki
Okular 1.3 or Bookworm based e-reader software enhanced with “shelves” concept

David B Huber May 9, 2018 um 3:09 am

And BTW, I’d like to be able to join two e-readers together into a folding dual-page unit!

Marilynn Byerly May 9, 2018 um 10:44 am

I’m female, and I can buy my gloves in the child’s department. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone with normal or large hands can navigate or hold most ereaders because I have trouble. If I stretch out to read, I will drop the dang reader on my poor nose at least once. The easiest reader I have ever used was the original Rocketbook over fifteen years ago. Its weight was about that of a hardcover book, and its left side was curved and sized like a hardcover book. It was perfect to hold, and my nose was never blooded once. Dang, I miss that reader. For those of us who don’t haul the ereader everywhere, it would be great to have a similar design.

David B Huber May 10, 2018 um 3:06 pm

A very useful perspective, which – although I despaired at seeing so much of this thread given over to discussion of colorful cases – could perhaps be address with a case! (with integrated solar charger, naturally…)

Tom Wilson May 11, 2018 um 3:11 pm

They are boring because that is what they need to be – just as the printed book is a physically boring object – it’s the text that matters.

Douglas Cootey May 11, 2018 um 10:13 pm

I couldn’t disagree more with most posters here. I started a similar thread over on Mobireads last month or so, and their replies were similar to everyone’s here. It seems the only distinctive difference is the feel of the back, but feeling different in the hand is not something that translates well onto website thumbnails. All consumers don’t get loaner models, and all models aren’t featured in their local stores. Yet eReader fans in general feel eReaders are just supposed to be functiona & unobtrusive, as if the black rectangle is some sort of zen moment of perfection that can’t be improved upon. But there are so many other things that can be done beyond textures (that just get covered up by covers). Somebody above already pointed out some of the readers in Europe are experimenting with ereader forms. The Bookeen is notable for having a built-in cover with color variations. The Pocketbook Basic Lux has a distinctive home button. Another brand I can’t recall has distinctive red designs. Why not ergonomic handles with a rotating display to accommodate right and left handed readers? Why not stylish design accents, colors, and textures on the front side, a color band around the edge, or color plastics that change depending on the temperature of the unit? Why just black, white, and space grey color rectangles with bevels? Why are there bevels at all? Most phones don’t have them anymore.

The more I look at the new designs by the big eReader companies and the also-rans, the more I see safe, dull designs with no innovation. They’re probably easy to manufacture for the companies in China, but that doesn’t mean the argument of function over form has been won. This is just a temporary trend before things get wild again. Who will be the first?

Incident Report No. 41 – Unlawful Acts May 14, 2018 um 10:05 am

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