E-readers vs. tablets

This report from Pew Internet shows that adoption of e-readers is increasing a little quicker than tablet computers. I'm not surprised.

The current generation of tablet computers are disappointing:

  • Shockingly low-density ("low-resolution") displays. 1024x768? In 2011, you must be kidding.
  • Odd form factors, such as the iPad's which is too large to hold and operate in a single hand but too small to use comfortably with two hands. Some of the alternative tablets are better, but they need to look to the e-readers' form factors.
  • Are there any OLED tablets yet? Tablet screens are not just low-density, they also feature poor contrast ratio.
  • Insufficient R&D into alternate input mechanisms. I'm still waiting to see a production tablet with a back-side touch panel.
  • The modern "cloud"-focused mentality means tablets aren't addressing my wants. Remember smart displays? They were all kinds of suckiness. Low-powered, low-resolution, slow, high-cost, burdened by stupid licensing restrictions, and clunky. Still, the idea had merit, but was lost in the muck of all those downsides.

I want a wireless display that acts as a terminal to my home workstation. Sure, I like the progression we've made in touch-based user interfaces, but I believe the most interesting device would mix what we've learned building touch UIs with a terminal model. I don't really want my tablet to be yet another stand-alone device nor a glorified web browser. I want a terminal on omnipresent personal applications.

By comparison, the latest generation of e-readers have improved nicely on an already appealing platform established with the first-generation Kindle (earlier e-readers such as those from Sony did not have wireless connectivity, which made them only a little less frustrating than having to go to a book store or wait for a book to be delivered by UPS).

  • The Kindle 3 and Nook 2 are both quick to use and easy to navigate.
  • While the e-ink is still black & white, they have both added additional gray shades and improved the contrast ratio so that text appears extremely clear.
  • And while e-ink is still many years, probably more than a decade, away from being able to change rapidly and smoothly enough to serve as a general purpose display, the new models will render a page in around half a second.
  • The battery life of the Kindle 3 is amazing. Michelle and I don't own a Nook 2, but it's probably similar.
  • The form factors are terrific for their application. The Kindle 3 is incredibly lightweight and easy to hold for long periods of time. I checked out a Nook 2 the other day and was impressed. They dared to go with a slightly more square shape and I think it works. Very easy to hold and read.

Basically, the e-readers have attacked a specific application with both hardware and software that is fine-tuned to that application: reading books. Tablets don't have that luxury. They are trying to solve so many different applications—touch screen web browser, video player, gaming platform, entertainment platform, book-reading platform. Right now, they don't really do any of these things particularly well. Give me an OLED 7" screen with 1920x1200 resolution and an OS designed for remote connectivity and I'm in. A back-side touch panel would be icing.

I don't really need two cameras.
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