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Open Question: All-in-One Devices or Single Use E-Readers?

Comparisons between the Kindle and the iPhone often touch on functional differences: the Kindle is a dedicated reading device with a few extra features; the iPhone is a bundled gadget that can serve as an e-reader.

The gap between single- and multi-use devices raises key questions about the future of e-readers and ebooks:

  • When it comes to reading digital books, do consumers prefer a dedicated device or an all-in-one gadget?
  • Is the market big enough to support both types of devices?

On the Print is Dead blog, Jeff Gomez says dedicated e-readers work well for book reading:

One thing that I don’t mind about the Kindle is that it’s an extra device. I used to think that I wanted an integrated device — one thing that did everything — and that I wouldn’t want to carry around yet another device or gadget. But I actually like the fact that the Kindle is (more or less) just a device for the reading of content. Maybe this harkens back to the fact that every book is a destination; you get into bed and pick up a book because you want to read. You don’t pick up a book to take pictures, record video or get your voicemail. So the fact that I don’t use the Kindle to play solitaire is fine with me. True, that means I can’t read something if I leave the house and have just my cell phone in my back pocket. But then again, a cell phone screen is too small, and most books are too big, so carrying a Kindle seems the right compromise.

Alison Flood from The Guardian casts a vote for bundled devices:

I’m waiting for an e-reader that bundles many uses into one: music player, phone, BlackBerry, internet, ebooks. That’s what will really make the market take off. Of course they won’t ever replace books, but then they’re not meant to. It’ll be something new and different and very exciting. Just don’t drop it in the bath.

Which type of device do you prefer? Please share your thoughts in the comments area.

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  • http://www.willworkforbooks.com Jana

    Contrary to what I would have predicted several years ago, I prefer an all-in-one. I really resent having to carry anything extra. I generally read books at home, but I love having email, internet, ebooks, etc. on my phone.

  • http://backstrip.net David Kidd

    I think it’s case-by-case, i.e., how close does the all-in-one come to matching the standalone’s capability when it comes to displaying and interacting with text? And if it can’t match the standalone, do its many functions make up for the shortfall? In the case of the iPhone versus the Kindle, I would say that the iPhone’s features don’t make up for its lack of ‘readingability’.

    And then there are the other classic arguments thrown around in any all-in-one versus standalone debate. For example, any all-in-one will be more convenient and have a low cost-per-feature than multiple standalone devices. But, with an all-in-one, you need to throw the baby out with the bathwater if you want to upgrade one of those features.

  • bowerbird

    more and more these days, the o’reilly blogs
    convince me that you guys just don’t get it…

    this question, for instance, is far too simplistic.

    to get any kind of meaningful answer, you will
    have to specify the _costs_ of the two devices,
    both the upfront cost and the ongoing costs…

    and how do costs of the e-books compare?

    what about the selection of books available?

    you need to specify the performance aspects,
    most particularly the size and type of screen
    included, as well as its _specific_ capabilities…

    does the machine include a net connection?
    on what network? what speed? what cost?

    what about the included browser-program?
    is it worthwhile? what are problems with it?

    how about the book-reading program on it?
    does it work well? does it have shortcomings?

    what about the other apps on the machine?
    do they add significant, meaningful usability?

    who controls what apps go on the machine?
    can it accept open-source contributions?

    does the machine have a critical mass of a
    developer community that is supporting it?
    is the machine’s vendor supporting them?

    how does this machine figure in the future of
    the company? will they support it indefinitely?
    do they have deep pockets to market it properly?

    does the thing have the “wow” factor going?

    what formats does the machine support?

    how difficult is it for me to mount content?

    all these factors impact on people’s decisions.

    plus there’s the simple observation that sometimes
    it’s the factor that _no_one_ had talked about before
    which comes to be seen as the “vital” consideration.
    (who spoke of “instant downloads” before kindle?)

    and even if you’d take the wishy-washy way out by
    saying “all other things being equal”, we _know_
    that that’s _never_ ever the case in the real world.

    which is probably why poll questions like this are
    so bad at predicting _actual_consumer_behavior_.
    which is something you should know. do you?

    but maybe you don’t really care about the answer.

    maybe you’re just tryin’ to make some conversation.

    maybe you have to make so many posts per week,
    so people think your blog is “active” and come back.

    maybe you just want to make your readers believe
    that you care what they think, so you make a poll…

    i dunno.

    all i know is that i read this stuff because i want to be
    informed about what’s going on, but i rarely feel like
    i’ve really learned anything remotely worthwhile here.

    maybe this post sounds cranky to you.

    maybe it is cranky.

    i don’t _feel_ cranky. but i do wish you’d up your game.

    think of me as a friend, encouraging you to up your game.

    -bowerbird

    p.s. oh yeah, and then your crappy blog software goes
    and stalls out, and i come back 10 hours later to find
    that it has lost my comment, and cannot retrieve it now,
    so i have to rewrite the thing. now i _am_ cranky. :+)
    but seriously, your blog software needs to be reworked.

  • http://toc.oreilly.com/mac_slocum Mac Slocum

    @bowerbird:

    My apologies for the technical problem you encountered while posting your comment. Blog software issues have stolen away many of my own posts and comments over the years, so I can understand your frustration. We’re working behind the scenes to iron out the kinks.

    Re: this open question — and all of our open questions: We do legitimately want to know what readers think. There have been many times where answers to an open question challenge my own assumptions or open my perspective on a topic, and I think there’s enormous value in that, both for myself (on a selfish level) and hopefully for other TOC readers.

    Many of the topics we address here on TOC are open ended, and so we pose questions and discuss topics with the aim of engaging in a conversation. We add our perspective and hope others will the do the same because the sum total of all these opinions offers far more than a handful of people telling the world how things are going to be (when the truth is, none of us knows how it’s going to play out).

    Toward that end — and this is applicable to anyone — if you have a perspective you’d like to share, we’re always open to guest posts and we welcome/encourage/hope for comments both through the TOC blog and the TOC community.

  • bowerbird

    that’s an entirely reasonable response,
    when you coulda gotten cranky in return.

    more power to you, mac slocum…

    -bowerbird

    p.s. the all-in-one will win eventually.
    they always have, and they always will…

  • http://artiekuhn.com Artie Kuhn

    Anyone who has used an iPhone knows that all in one is the solution. I never thought I would want an all in one device, I was wrong. I also think that we have to remember that to be the killer app, an eReader has to be better than a book. In order to offer the key features that can beat the book (near-instant download to content, note taking, highlighting, shared annotations, links to related material, etc.), the device will need to almost be an all in one device anyway!

  • http://www.munseys.com dmoynihan

    Actually, you’ll find a number of Iphone users who also carry a second phone to, you know, make calls, ‘cuz that particular function isn’t necessarily the device’s strength. I’ll go with the dedicated reader camp, it’s certainly where the money is.

    You know, once upon a time (Shakespeare’s day), “books” were purchased as sheets from a vendor, Caxton or whoever. Then you’d take these sheets and, if you were very rich, have them bound by a professional bookbinder, to your own specifications and taste (that’s why the few Folios and Quartos out there look so different).

    Dedicated devices in some ways are our own instant bookbindery.

    (And as to annotation, webpage links, etc. being the killer app. That’s not a book, it’s a Wiki, and it isn’t how most people read.)

  • bowerbird

    david said:
    > Actually, you’ll find a number of Iphone users
    > who also carry a second phone to, you know,
    > make calls, ‘cuz that particular function
    > isn’t necessarily the device’s strength.

    i’ve never observed — or even heard of –
    such a person. why not do a poll on that?

    my iphone is a better phone than my last phone.
    plus i’ve got the internet in my pocket now…

    -bowerbird

    p.s. i’m not saying i think the iphone _is_ the
    all-in-one device. indeed, i’d say that it’s not!
    it’s close, but the screen’s just a bit too small.

    besides, when i think of my “all-in-one” device
    that will take the world by storm, it will _not_
    be _just_ the device that leads to huge uptake,
    but rather the compelling range of _services_
    which the device enables, which people come to
    learn that they simply “cannot live without”…
    that’s where focus should be — those services.
    in a nutshell, how will constant contact with
    the cloud (and the people therein) change the way
    that i traverse the world in my day-to-day life?
    how will it _improve_ my life, such that i _need_
    to have that device, and feel “naked” without it?

  • http://artiekuhn.com Artie Kuhn

    I completely agree with bowerbird.

    David said, “That’s not a book it’s a wiki”. I agree, but I don’t think the book of the future is a book as we define it! I think the book of the future is a glue that holds together the text plus a handful of services that support that text. Think textbook with linked glossary terms, instructor annotations, shared highlights from other students in the course, etc.