Inside Mobile: Why eBooks and eBook Readers Will Eventually Succeed

Reading eBooks from eBook readers similar to the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader will eventually be the preferred reading method for millions worldwide, predicts Knowledge Centre analyst J. Gerry Purdy.

J. Gerry Purdy predicts we’ll see 75 percent worldwide adoption of eBook readers in less than 10 years from when eBook readers contain the right set of technologies. Here, he explains what features will someday make eBooks and eBook readers ubiquitous.

Someday, we are all going to be reading books with some form of eBook reader. While some may doubt this prediction, let me explain why. And I hope, after you read what I have to say, that you just may agree with me.

First, let’s counter the prediction with an observation about reading books on current eBook readers: it’s not an enjoyable or “better” experience than reading a paper-bound book. Hence, that’s why very few people actually use eBook readers today.

Let me make another prediction: eBook readers are not going to be successful until they offer book lovers a better, more worthwhile and enjoyable reading experience than traditional paper-bound books do today. To be sure, all of this hinges on what providing a “better” experience actually means. While it’s easy to say eBook readers today do not provide a better user experience, it’s harder to describe what must be done in order to make the user experience “good enough” (so that most people reading a book would prefer an eBook reader than a paper-bound book).

It seems to me that someday, someone should be able to make an eBook reader that would be really slick – so cool that, emotionally, seeing this new eBook reader would be like seeing the iPhone for the first time. You’d feel as if it was really right and that you’d “have to” have one.

Here are 15 features that I believe eBook readers must have in order for most people to want to use one instead of reading a paper-bound book:

1. Correct size

The correct size for an eBook reader is larger than an iPhone and smaller than an ultraportable. It would likely have a 6-inch by 8-inch diagonal display and be very thin like the iPod touch. It’s got to be light and feel elegant in your hand.

2. Instant on/off

You have to be able to turn the eBook reader on and off instantly, without any “boot-up time” (other than perhaps when you buy it, plug in the batteries and turn it on for the first time). It’s an appliance, not a PC. It would likely be based on Linux and operate like TiVo.

3. Great (natural) user interface

Apple doesn’t need to distribute a user’s manual for the iPhone. You just pick it up, turn it on and it works the way you expect it to work. That’s the kind of UI that will be in our future eBook readers. Could it be based on the Apple iPhone operating system? Of course. But, most likely, it will be more of an open standard. And if I were betting, it would more likely be based on Android than the iPhone.

4. High-contrast, high-resolution, bright colour display

This seems impossible today, but the iPhone display leads me to believe that this is possible. It would also need to work well indoors and out. The technology used in the rugged laptops from General Dynamics comes to mind as an example of this capability.

The current eBook reader displays that use eInk technology are just too slow. There’s way too much latency between displaying the characters and making changes. But, advances in technology will solve this over the coming years. It may take a breakthrough in display to get something that’s great to look at over extended periods, is bright and readable (both indoors and out), as well as “pliable” so that it can adapt to changing pressures as you walk around.

5. Random access

This is basic, but really important because it’s already one of the capabilities of most eBook readers: you can select a chapter or bookmark, and then jump instantly to that place in any of the eBooks in which you are reading.

Naturally, any eBook reader that people will enjoy using over time must be durable in order to last years – not just days or weeks.