New eReaders Starting to Get Touchy
Since the release of the iPad, fans of the e-book have debated about the future of eReaders. Is the future represented in the glossy touch-screen LCD of a tablet or the eminently readable, but obsequiously plain eInk screen?
If the talking heads at Kobo and Barnes & Noble are to be believed, the answer is both.
Kobo fired first with the announcement of their new Kobo eReader Touch Edition. It features the same 6-inch eInk screen that has come to be the industry standard, but instead of relying on buttons to navigate the fields on-screen, it sports a new infrared technology that allows users to swipe pages, highlight passages, and take notes all using a slick touch screen interface.
Barnes & Noble quickly followed up with the announcement of their own. The new Nook also utilizes that brilliant infrared technology to power its touch interface. Like the Kobo reader, the new Nook is shorter and slightly thicker than its predecessors. The eInk display also reportedly has 80-percent less “flashing” when turning pages, and sports a number of interface improvements, such as the ability to tell how many more pages are in a given chapter.
On the periphery are features like battery-life and storage size. Barnes & Noble is making a lot of noise about how their new batteries can hold a charge for two months, but those claims seem spurious at best. The Kindle is still the market leader in terms of native storage, with 3 GB standard, but both the new Kobo and Nook sport slots for SD cards, so power users can add as much as 32 GB — good for, oh, about, 32,000 books.
Of course, this wouldn’t be too much of a coup unless these new entrants were competitively priced, and they are indeed. The touch-screen Nook is debuting for an eminently reasonable $139, and the Kobo comes in slightly cheaper at $129. Compare that with the comparable third-generation Wi-Fi-only Kindle, which sells for $139 ($114 if you don’t mind seeing ads instead of Agatha Christie’s face on your screen saver), and it becomes clear just how drastically the landscape has changed.
The brand recognition alone will continue to buoy the Kindle until they can counter with their own touch-screen model, but in a world dominated by smart phones, it’s hard to underestimate the familiarity and novelty that lies within the touch interface. It’s easier to see now why the plucky folks at Kobo were so confident that they could survive the bankruptcy of their partner Borders. And for their part, Barnes & Noble can continue to pride themselves on putting out a superior product, even if their market share so far lags behind their determination.