On TechCrunch, Brian Heater has noticed something I’ve remarked upon a couple of times: as the Kindle approaches its 10th anniversary (my how time flies!), “e-reader innovation has stalled.” Apart from relatively minor or cosmetic touches like front lighting and waterproofing, the Kindle remains fundamentally the same as it ever has.
Heater suggests that lack of demand might have been part of it. He places the blame for that on the rise of cheap tablets and smartphones, both of which do multiple things including e-reading. Hence, interest has declined in devices that just do one thing.
He also points to the lack of newer e-ink technology as a potential cause—though it’s really sort of a vicious circle of cause and effect when you get right down to it. There’s a lack of demand for e-readers because the tech is old, and there’s a lack of willingness to invest in new display tech because the demand isn’t there.
Color e-ink, meanwhile, has seemed perpetually just out of reach. Technologies are just too expensive, too glitchy or both. And besides, a move to color brings us back to that earlier question: at what point would users just be better off with an inexpensive tablet? As an avid comics reader and frequent e-reader user, the idea of trying to marry the two is downright headache-inducing. Even comics like Manga, designed to be read in black and white, are much better served on an inexpensive tablet. The screen size and refresh rate do a disservice to reading anything but straight-up text.
Even a 7″ screen like the new Oasis’s is too small for reading something like a comic book in full size—and it seems unlikely Amazon will ever produce another extra-large model.
It’s funny to consider, but as sales dwindle and more and more people turn to tablets, one wonders whether the device that was supposed to “kill” the paper book will instead share its fate. Even if a new color display technology is invented for e-readers, if it’s better than e-ink and LCD it’ll probably be used for multi-purpose tablets itself instead.
Until and unless such a technology comes about, there’s no replacing the good old e-ink reader for people who want to rest their eyes and avoid distractions while they read.