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Old 12-25-2010, 12:09 PM   #1
jbcohen
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Trends in ebook readers for 2011

What have you heard in terms of what to expect in 2011 for ebook reader technology?
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Old 12-25-2010, 12:43 PM   #2
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Triton color from E Ink.SiPix screens are actually shippingPixel Qi LCD displays (10" and 7")
I assume EInk Pearl (currently only Sony and Amazon) will become ubiquitous. This will likely kill SiPix.
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Old 12-25-2010, 12:57 PM   #3
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Great list, Wallcraft. I can't wait to see the Pixel Qi displays in person.
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Old 12-25-2010, 01:04 PM   #4
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Looking around, it is clear the ereader market is forking into two segments:
- extreme battery-life, low weight eink readers
- extreme low-cost LCD readers

The eReader market will itself be constrained at the upper end by the emerging market for webpads and tablets. Low-end android-based webpads will overlap (price-wise) with the eReader market and the higher-feature, higher cost pads and tablets will limit the market for higher-price eReaders. Large format eink readers and color eink readers will have a hard time growing beyond niche markets because of this.

Attempts to develop and market a true academic-grade reader will continue and might succeed (on technical merit) but I wouldn't hold my breath for commercial success; the academic market seems to insist on full-TabletPC capability simultaneously with rock-bottom eink pricing. Without a subsidized-hardware model and a universal standard for academic ebook content this vast market will continue to tease and underperform. Companies will go bankrupt trying to reach it. (We can all name at least two.)

Beyond those new(ish) developments:
People will continue to pile on hate on Amazon and they'll continue to blissfully rake the money in and grow their business.
People will continue to swear iPads will exterminate eink readers. Someday. Real. Soon.
People will continue to argue over eink vs LCD.
People will continue to swoon over tech demos and CES prototypes that will never hit consumers' hands.

Don't need to be Nostrodamus to see which way the wind is blowing, do we?
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Old 12-25-2010, 01:56 PM   #5
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I should also have included: Mirasol Displays Coming to an eReader Near You, in 2011

As fjtorres says, screen technology changes incredibly slowly - so a safe prediction is that everything will arrive later than you expect (if at all).
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Old 12-25-2010, 03:08 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wallcraft View Post
Triton color from E Ink.SiPix screens are actually shippingPixel Qi LCD displays (10" and 7")
I assume EInk Pearl (currently only Sony and Amazon) will become ubiquitous. This will likely kill SiPix.
Who knows. e-ink screens got better over time, maybe sPix will too. Some real competition on e-ink screens would be nice
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Old 12-26-2010, 09:43 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by wallcraft View Post
screen technology changes incredibly slowly - so a safe prediction is that everything will arrive later than you expect (if at all).
Correct.
Plus, newcomers face an often insurmountable barrier on the economic side: economies of scale. As HDTVs have shown, it isn't enough to cook up a new high-quality display tech; you have to deliver it *at launch* at a price and volume that is competitive with existing, *mature* tech.
That is an enormous obstacle.
Display tech develops slowly because it has to aim at a moving target in both performance and in *price*.

Most contenders end up, literally, a day late and a dollar short.
SiPix is a perfect example.
They didn't really start meaningful volume shipments until Q3 2010 at a price and spec aimed at eInk's 2008 Vizplex. The combination of price and performance would have been quite competitive in early 2009 when eInk was shipping similar volumes.
Unfortunately for them, 2010 saw eInk tweak their product for better contrast (Pearl) *and* their mature manufacturing lines let them double (or more) their 2009 volume so the Pearl screens came at prices comparable to the 2009 Vizplexes. We've seen the result. Not pretty.

eInk itself faces the same challenge as it moves into color and stops being the "entrenched power" and becomes the challenger to LCD. For all that the primary use of eink displays will be static images, video playback is rearing its head as a specsheet issue. Absolute brightness and saturation are going to be matters of debate. And the benchmark tech is going to be LCD. Just as SiPix is struggling to match eInk's B&W price/performance envelope, eInk is going to be measured against LCD. And Mirasol more so.

Complicating things further is that people don't buy tech; they buy *products* using tech. New tech needs showcase products that highlight their strengths and offer a compelling experience. Any color reader is going to be measured against the current market darlings; Kindle 3, NookColor, and iPad.

iPad will offer a cap on pricing; as the Plastic Logic cancellation shows, any high end reader is going to have to justify its pricing against the iPad value proposition. With the iPad selling by the tens of millions on the strength of its multifunction appeal, the case for optimized readers in the same price range gets a lot harder to make outside specialist niches.

Moving down in price, NookColor is the next benchmark. Battery life will be weighed against the NCs bright, sharp and saturated display. And its price. The new tech will likely better the NCs battery life by, maybe, an order of magnitude---days rather than hours---but price will matter. And if B&N proves to be a liberal overlord in their App store, the demon of multifunction might rear its ugly head. What kind of market would a $399 color reader with a week's battery life command against the NC and its daylong life, at $249 or lower? (I'm think NC might hit $199 by spring.)

And then, to add insult to injury, would-be shoppers for color ereaders will get to wonder the value of color itself. With K3 WiFi offering a tempting reading experience at half the likely price of color readers, the question will arise; if the bulk of the value of the content is in the text, why not stay with B&W and save the money?

Yes, 2011 will see the first non-LCD color ebook readers.
But whether we'll see any *successful* non-lcd color readers is not terribly likely.

I'm thinking somebody is going to come up with a way to package a sharp, bright, thin LCD and capacitance screen into a Nook-like casing with 20 hour battery life for under $200 and *that* is going to be the story of 2011.

Might be B&N.
Might be Amazon.
Might be Sony.
Might be someone else.

But the necessary improvements for this product are merely incremental and require no major breakthoughs. If we're looking to predict what we're likely to see in 2011, a killer LCD reader is a lot likelier than an adequate new tech reader.

Of course, the unlikely is what makes tech-watching fun. ;-)
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Old 12-26-2010, 09:57 AM   #8
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@fjtorres - great analysis. True the iPad didn't kill the eInk market, but I agree with you that it clearly has killed the high end dedicated reader market.

Kindle/Nook have set such a low price point...that it's going to be hard to make money if you don't have volume given the iPad cap. The Nook color fits nicely in between and it pretty much kills any chance of non-lcd color devices in the middle.

LCD for reading is simply very acceptable. The premium that would be required to put out a new non-lcd technology is just going to be killed by the market realities. It will not be enough to have color, you'll have to have movie speed color. And the tablets own that market space at a price point new tech is not going to be able to meet.

Lee
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Old 12-26-2010, 10:52 AM   #9
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It will not be enough to have color, you'll have to have movie speed color. And the tablets own that market space at a price point new tech is not going to be able to meet.

Lee
The real killer is LCD electronics.
OLED and the other techs (even Plasma) are faced with that grim reality.
It's not enough to be "better" than LCD.
You have to be better and cheaper. Right out of the gate.

It *can* be done.
But not soon.
And not in 2011.
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Old 12-26-2010, 11:15 AM   #10
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By the end of 2011, we should see the real impact of iPad and android tablets on dedicated e-readers. Their numbers in 2010 are roughly on the same scale (If the amazon 8 million sales figure is correct). If it happens that the tablet sales numbers dwarfs the e-reader numbers by the end of 2011, it will be interesting to see how the e-book and e-book reader market evolve.
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Old 12-26-2010, 01:14 PM   #11
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I will be shocked if dedicated reader sales keep up with webpad/tablets much longer.
The latter are drawing from the Netbook and cellphone buyer pools. These days everybody surfs the net but nobody reads for pleasure. (if Mr Jobs can be believed. )
Very different scales.
With Amazon running 8 million that puts the dedicated reader market at maybe 12 million for 2010. 50% growth would put it under 20 million fo 2011 and that's something iPad can do by itself.
The cellphone market runs something like 100 million a year, no?
PCs run 250 million a year.
So dedicated readers peaking at about 25 million a year, long term, sounds about right to me. Not a bad business by itself but hardly in PC cellphone territory.
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