Will 2010 be the year of the e-reader? It sure looks that way. Amazon continues to improve its popular Kindle lineup, and Barnes & Noble claims it can't keep up with customer demand for its new Nook e-reader. Meanwhile, a host of competitors, including the Sony Reader and lesser-known products from Plastic Logic (Que), Foxit Software (eSlick), and others, promise to give e-reader fans plenty of options.
Of course, vendor interest doesn't always translate into consumer demand. So why will e-readers take off in 2010? Here are a few good reasons:
The price is right--finally. When the original Kindle debuted two years ago, it cost $400. Its successor, the Kindle 2, now costs $259, as does the Nook. One Sony Reader, the Pocket Edition, is a relatively cheap $200, although most users would likely prefer the $300 Touch Edition (touchscreen) or $400 Reader Daily Edition (wireless). As e-reader prices continue to fall, their appeal as gifts will grow too. And unlike a mobile phone, the e-reader doesn't saddle the recipient (or giver) with a monthly fee. You pay only for the content you want.
They're really easy to use. Even technophobes can use an e-reader. The controls are simple, and the single-use nature of these devices eliminates much of the complexity of smartphones and other multi-function gadgetry.
The technology is improving. This year brought a lot of essential enhancements to e-readers, including touchscreens (Sony), bigger screens (Sony Reader and Kindle DX), longer battery life (Kindle 2), a color LCD (Nook), and PDF support. Storage is plentiful too. With its SD card slot, the Nook can hold more than 17,000 books--more than anyone would read in a lifetime.
Google's free books: Book authors and publishers may see Google as a threat to their very existence, but there's little doubt the two sides will ultimately reach a settlement in their ongoing copyright infringement battle. In the meantime, Google's effort to digitize public-domain books has produced thousands of free literary classics. Free content makes the e-reader value proposition much more appealing.
Tech gadgets are cool and fun, and reading is good for you. Haven't we've always be told that we don't read enough? There's an intangible, good-for-you quality about an e-reader, a marriage of cutting-edge tech and old-school education. And it's easier (if more expensive) to buy someone an e-reader than an actual book--no agonizing over the right title.
Then again, some analysts claim e-readers are too expensive to achieve mainstream appeal. We'll have a better idea next year if that's true.