The iPad Mini Will Mean The Death of eInk

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. Plastic Logic 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 mentioned 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.

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35 Comments

Filed under Digital Overthrow, eInk Devices, iOS

35 responses to “The iPad Mini Will Mean The Death of eInk

  1. Peter Turner

    You well be right, though my guess is that folks who have invested in eInk readers will continue to use them. My question is why does it matter? Really, what is the relevance? To whom? I’m not being snarky, just wanting to get the context.

  2. Glinda Harrison

    Mike, I really hope you are wrong. Things like the Pebbles eInk Kickstarter campaign give me hope. And if there was an eInk phone that I could read in bright sunlight, I would be all over it.

    But in case you are right, I have back up Kindles, LOL!

    • mikecane

      That was a watch, though. Would you feel as good if the Kickstarter was for, say, eInk shelf price tags in supermarkets? Commercial instead of consumer?

      • Glinda Harrison

        Depends. Can I change the font size on the shelf? It would sure make it easier to read and use. And probably to update. :)

        But seriously, if it means that eInk is still viable for other things, innovative things, I think that bodes well for eInk eReaders.

      • mikecane

        >>>I think that bodes well for eInk eReaders.

        The market will shrink. Just as it did for PDAs as phones got smarter.

    • Interesting post – but I’m not sure that iPads and eInk Kindles are the same market.

      You’re right that not many people read – but ‘not many’ still adds up to many hundreds of millions of books a year in just the US and UK. Tablets do offer a better experience for some books – those that are heavily graphical like childrens’ books and large manuals – but for paperback novels and ‘mostly-text’ non-fiction, an eInk device is still far superior.

      Unless you’re a regularly reader you are unlikely to realise just how much a difference it makes to read on an eInk screen compared to a backlit LCD. I can work all day on a monitor, then sit back and read a book on a Kindle and my eyes actually relax. Just because a tablet can read books and it looks a bit like an eInk reader doesn’t mean it serves the exact same market.

      Over time more people might play Angry Birds than read, in the same way that less people read books now that we have TV and the Internet to fill our leisure time. However, those that do read are unlikely to be reading on tablets when eInk is a much better experience for the majority of books.

      • mikecane

        >>>You’re right that not many people read – but ‘not many’ still adds up to many hundreds of millions of books a year in just the US and UK.

        But not a large number of eInk devices compared to iPads.

        >>>I can work all day on a monitor, then sit back and read a book on a Kindle and my eyes actually relax.

        That doesn’t matter to most people. They’re buying an iPad and reading on it.

  3. What about battery duration? I see a market for Kindle among people who are asked to charge the device once a week, but an ‘active’ screen would demand much more charging. Don’t you think people would stick to paper books if there was no eInk?

    • mikecane

      No. Did people stick to board games because video games required AC power and then portable ones required recharging?

      • Scurra

        Hmmm. Not an ideal comparison. Board games were never really more than a niche anyway (discounting the commodity games like Monopoly which were rarely bought as “games”.) But alongside the boom in video games there has been an equal boom in board games (to the level that people reading this may actually have heard of Settlers of Catan.) And a very large number of innovations in game design over the past 20 years have come from board games.
        Board games are still a niche. But they are a pretty successful niche that shows no signs of dying out just because there’s a flashier alternative.

        I feel the same about eInk readers. For a niche market they are unbelievably good. That niche market is almost certainly big enough to justify their continued existence, given that they are a subset of the “tablet” market, so there is little problem in supporting them. I will concede that the niche market may not be large enough for someone like Amazon to continue to support it in hardware terms. That doesn’t mean it will just vanish.

      • mikecane

        >>>That niche market is almost certainly big enough to justify their continued existence, given that they are a subset of the “tablet” market

        PDAs are a subset of the smartphone market. How many PDAs are for sale? One. And it’s the iPod Touch.

        >>>That doesn’t mean it will just vanish.

        PDAs did.

      • Magic Dave

        Board games are still popular, though.

  4. When the iPad first came out, the Kindle was dead to me. The ability to:
    • show books with color illustrations,
    • book apps with video,
    • the ability to scan your own books, in color, and read it as a PDF,
    • the ability to annotate PDF books in many ways,
    • the ability to listen to audio books
    • the ability to listen to your own books converted via computer into audio books
    • and the abiliity to read all the Kindle Books
    • etc.
    gave the iPad so much greater depth in the reading experience than the Kindle.

    • I bought a Rocketbook years before the Kindle came out. I read a single book on it. Then I realized how limiting an eReader device is. It enormously slowed down reading with its small screen and slowness and the inability to use your own books. I put it away.

      The Kindle gave the same experience.

  5. E.McCoy

    *waves from random twitter fly-by*

    eInk was never an option for me — the page inversion, when changing pages, horrified and repelled me when I found it in a store. I thought the device was broken, at first! Since I don’t seem to suffer eyestrain when reading on a device… My iPhone, and later iPad 1, have been great to me.

    I have no idea how many others are repelled by the page inversion, but I don’t think I’m such a speeeshul snowflake as to be the only one…

  6. MoriahJovan

    As I said on Twitter, the point isn’t that eInk will die. The point is that it will not die because of experiences like this reviewer’s. It will die because it has served its technological evolutionary purpose.

    The reviewer was an idiot. If you buy a $50 Something expecting the same functionality and experience as a $750 Something, then go online to complain about it not being what it didn’t claim to be (but you couldn’t be arsed to suss that out beforehand), you have way more dollars than sense.

  7. I think Mike is right. Not that I will completely abandon my Kindle 3 anytime soon, though I use my Kindle Fire almost exclusively (after hacking it to run Ice Cream Sandwich). The K3 is first of all a backup. It may also be an important device for summer reading, we’ll have to see.

    I do know that, in my several years of using eInk Kindles, I always wanted them to do just a little bit more. A native Twitter client is good, but it would have been perfect with a dedicated email client as well. Due to the limitations of eInk, they can only be adequate, but that’s good enough in a pinch.

    I’m surprised at how much I like my Fire, even with the native UI. A few more months will show whether I can really go without the eInk device’s battery life and bright light-readable screen.

  8. Well, the upgrade you get from board games to video games is not the same envolving books and e-readers. If someone just wants to read long form a paper book could be better if it was not for weight. Of course some colorful device seduces you more, but it’s gonna have 8-hour battery life and I bet a handful of people would give up on those extras for not having to care about charging for days.

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  12. I couldn’t disagree more. Tablet devices are expensive and over large. Disregarding the proposed iPad mini for now, I currently use an e-ink kindle for reading, and my iPad 2 for casual browsing/gaming, and a laptop for heavy lifting productivity. Neither a laptop nor the iPad work well for reading on. An iPad is heavier, less sturdy, not something you’d carry with you to read on the go, or risk dropping (try reading an iPad as you fall asleep and you may find it’s components on the floor). An iPad is large enough to be weighty and cumbersome, and is visually a theft target if you are reading it on the go. An iPad mini would resolve only the weight issue, but would be equally at risk for everything else.

    Like most readers, I find I periodically drop boxes of books to charity, and don’t want to keep giving up storage space in my home to books. The kindle 4 (keyboardless, grey e-ink) is cheap (so can be easily replaced if lost or broken), is not a theft risk, fits in my jacket pocket wherever I go (even with a sturdy leather cover to make it feel more like a book), stores hundreds of books, and despite the fact I read a lot, I get a months out of a single charge. A months per charge means it is much more like an actual book! I can share books across 6 devices, so I can share an account with my wife so we don’t have to buy double copies now.

    Regards the claim that people only read event books, I woudl disagree – reading is not in decline:
    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/04/the-next-time-someone-says-the-internet-killed-reading-books-show-them-this-chart/255572/

    And finally you say people want to spend a lot on a flashy e-reader to play games, surf, or watch videos. Then what would they do with their iPhone4 or Galaxy s3? I use my Samsung galaxy s2 for video, games, etc. on the fly, and my e-book for reading, like most sane people. Anyone who thinks all technologies will ultimately converge is unrealistic – why carry two smart devices to duplicate function? Save money and buy a cheap and functional e-reader, and you’ll get more than you pay for.

  13. solo500

    This. “PalmOS does things nothing else out there can yet do for me.” Alas.

    Criticizing the little Kindle for what it’s not is like complaining that you can’t make an oil painting on a Post It.

  14. I find your reference to the “death of eInk” confusing. It seems to me your argument is that single-purpose eInk bookreaders will die, and I’ll agree with that. OTOH, if instead of eInk, you broaden the scope to include reflective screens regardless of the particular technology used, then I think that reflective screens are decidedly not dead and will probably end up on multi-purpose iPad or iPad-like devices when the technology is mature enough to support the various uses. Of course, such reflective screens will most certainly not be of the currently used eInk variety.

    • mikecane

      Did I use the word “reflective” anywhere?

      • No. My quibble is that you say ‘eInk’ when you mean ‘single-purpose eInk readers.’ I don’t see the death of eInk for other uses as being directly linked to the iPad Mini, but perhaps I am missing something.

      • mikecane

        Where else is eInk being used big? Maybe there are sekrit industrial uses, but eBook devices seem to be their bank account.

  15. Frank

    If you keep pronouncing eInk as dying you’ll be right one day. I pronounce that the tablet computer (as we know it now) death sometime soon.

  16. Peter

    There is just one thing i don’t like about these universal devices like Ipad – They of course do everything, but ultimately fail to do good job for any of it. For reading, Kindle works better and lasts longer. For some real work, you can throw ipad right away. For watching movies, big screen or cinema will always win. For playing games, game boxes will always win. If you just like to show up with latest modern gadgets which claim to do everything, then you go for IPAD. But its just a toy which sells well, the fashion which will wear out. I will always rather stick to computers when working, big TV or cinema when watching movie or Kindle when reading ebook.

    E-Ink was invented just in 1997, its just a baby. So give it its time to mature.

  17. Rory

    I sincerely hope apple will utilize their patent which combines a lcd with e-ink.
    http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2011/04/apple-patent-hybrid-display/

    As it is I own a ipad 2 since it came out. I would most definately buy the ipad mini if it has e-ink. With the ipad 2 I can’t use it at all during the day outside. also its a tad to heavy to read hours on end. I finished one book with it and my arms were sore. buying the mini just to read books in doors is not worth it. E-ink is not dead. Just an e-ink device is just that an e-ink device. just for reading. e-ink combined with the ipad is magic! (if the weight is considerably less than the ipad-2) but that shouldnt be a problem.

  18. I’ve been hearing the same sort of triumphalism from Apple fanbois in respect to iPhones versus Android phones (i.e. I only ever see people carrying iPhones etc.; Google must be fudging the figures….er wrong).

  19. You do like technology don’t you? I will come back when
    I can

  20. Raphael

    I have a perfect solution to this. Throw the dag devices in the garbage, and read a real book. Ha……

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