Stupid question, right? Especially from a geek writer. Maybe not. If someone tells me they want an eReader, my first question is hardware or app?Are eReaders defined as a dedicated piece of hardware such as Kindle, Nook, Kobo, etc. or does it mean any computer, dedicated or not, on which I can read a book? If the latter, now we’re getting into muddy water because I’ve been reading books online for ten years or more. I can recall as early as 2001 downloading text and .pdf versions of out of copyright books for free and reading them on my desktop and laptop. I don’t think the term eReader existed ten years ago, so what defines an eReader? Let’s see if we can enumerate them.
#1) You can read electronic books. I wouldn’t limit the format but one could argue the sentence should be “download and read” but that’s probably a moot point
#2) Mobility? OK, I’ll grant you that not many people would consider my desktop an eReader, so we’ll say it has to be mobile. Although when I was using my desktop I achieve mobility by printing the next 10-20 pages of the book and keeping them with me, but I concede the point.
#3) Ease of access while mobile? This is the point at which laptops get eliminated. To me, for something to be an eReader it needs to be more convenient than getting a laptop out; it needs to be easily accessible so that you can use it quickly and in various situations such as standing in line, or riding a train.
So what are we left with? Obviously the Kindles of the world, but certainly that leaves open tablet computers, iPads, Xooms, and the plethora of Android and Windows tablets about to hit the market. But what about Smartphones? I use Google Books on my Droid 2. Anytime I’m stuck somewhere with a few minutes to read I pull my phone out and get in a few pages.
In other words, I don’t think there is a #4. Today, an eReader is anything that meets all three of our items: displays books in an electronic format, is mobile, and is easy and quick to access. But the big story is – as the hardware continues on it’s path toward standardization and commoditization you can eliminate #2 and #3. It may be five years or more but eventually the entire eReader category will go away except for software, and even it will be unimportant in terms of differentiation. It will be like a text editor, if you have any type of computer in your hand you expect it to be able to do that.
Think “word processors”. Does anyone remember when that meant a dedicated computer that only performed “word processing”? Google “Wang, word processors”.