Even though some pundits were tossing dirt on the coffins on the NOOK, Kobo and even the Kindle recently, the darn things just keep on selling. Barnes & Noble and Kobo (which is affiliated with troubled Borders books) just released new versions of their e-readers that PC World calls “a solid Kindle competitor if not a Kindle killer.” One often sees this happen in the tech world—the first to market produces a revolutionary device (in this case, Amazon’s Kindle) and the competition sizes it up and clobbers it. It’s part of the danger of being first.
What’s so great about the new NOOK and Kobo? Size (lighter than the Kindle), battery life (in the NOOK’s case, the same two months as the Kindle, and a respectable month for the Kobo), and a new e-ink screen (all now share the sharp Pearl display). But what sets the NOOK and Kobo apart is that both incorporate a touch screen for all navigation. Gone is the original NOOK’s nifty but fickle and energy-intensive LCD screen. Like the iPhone and other smart phones and devices like the iPod Touch, both the NOOK and the Kobo utilize the familiar touch screen interface complete with gestures. The Kindle, with its physical keyboard and page turn buttons, now looks like a calculator, while the NOOK has 37 fewer buttons, as the Barnes & Noble execs bragged during the media event at which the new NOOK was released.
Now, the point of all this isn’t to poke fun at Amazon.com or review the NOOK or the Kobo. It’s to point out that when large companies spend millions developing newer and better versions of their products (and we haven’t even mentioned Sony here), it’s because the consumer is demanding them. So despite what the grim reapers of punditry think, e-readers aren’t going away and aren’t going to be merged with smart phones or much more expensive tablets like the iPad. No, there’s no doubt that there is a proven, viable and robust market for devices dedicated to reading digital content, and for digital content itself.
Reading is too fundamental a human endeavor to be relegated to an app on a cell phone. It deserves its own device. You can eat spaghetti and meatballs with a Swiss army knife, but the fork and spoon are custom-tailored for it. The same goes for reading, and the e-reader.