Ebooks: Will the booming success of the Tablet Lead to the Demise of the E-reader?

In the beginning, there were caves. Following the caves, there was the scroll. Unhappy with the scroll, the Romans began binding their paper to create the book. Displeased with this thousands of years old Roman invention, Amazon created the Kindle. In the meantime, Apple created the first tablet. And so the e-reading software developed…

For the sake of this article, we are not going to dive into the book vs e-reader argument, this battle is purely e-reader vs tablet. We will see which is best as a reading platform between the two devices, and how our beloved books are presented on each.

With around 43% of the country owning a tablet, the benefits of this device are rather obvious; beautiful LED screens, touch screen technology that offers more ‘intimacy’ than a laptop, with the ability to hold more applications than a smartphone, while being light enough to rest comfortably in a bag without the sore shoulders laptops often inflict. They also have wonderful apps that can help an avid reader download a veritable library of books, all at competitive prices, if they so please. Even Amazon are trying to get into the tablet market, turning their humble Kindle into the LED screen, all singing, all dancing Kindle Fire HD.

Even with Amazon — the e-reader inventor — turning their heads to tablets, the fight is not yet won. There is a humongous fanbase for e-readers, because they are specifically designed to present e-books, and they do it wonderfully.

Kobo e-reader

Kobo e-reader

E-ink screens are essentially what separate the e-reader from the tablet. I remember when the first Kindle’s were advertised, wondering why on earth Amazon were reverting back to the neanderthalic pager days. E-ink, however, is incredibly modern technology which offers a reading experience that is almost as authentic as the book itself. Unlike Gutenberg’s printing press, however, it takes up much less energy. And by less energy, I mean that the average e-reader battery life is measured in weeks, not hours. For example, the Amazon Kindle 2 has an average battery life of 30 hours, whereas the Kindle Fire HD can last up to 9 hours.

And unlike the printing press, e-reader's take up much less room

And unlike the printing press, e-reader’s take up much less room.

We all understand the frustration of low battery power; with so many applications running on a smartphone, laptop or tablet, the hard-working batteries are bound to last much less time. Although tablets have much more to offer, the e-reader has much more time, which prevents the regularity of the ‘searching for the plug socket in the middle of a good bit’ scramble.

This also brings me to my next point; e-readers are simple and straightforward to use. They specialise in the world of books, they are brilliant at helping the owner buy and read books, but not a lot else. They are easy to understand, and possess no need to distract the reader from their book with pop ups or advertisements. On the other hand, the tablet can overwhelm the reader with email alerts from Tesco, or Facebook invites to play Farmville, or Twitter notifications from Paul and so on. The e-readers, however, provide a pure reading experience and allow the reader to enjoy their book with all these emails and notifications as far away as they would like.

This simplicity also means that e-readers are much lighter; the e-reader needs much less technology to power the e-ink screen and facilitate the two functions it was created for. This means that there are e-readers on the market that can weigh as little as 170 grams. In comparison, the iPad, with its HD screen and 3G internet, weighs up to 601 grams. This point may seem quite nit-picky, but when the average reading time is 30 minutes, and the reader is going to have their device held up to their face, for the sake of their arms, it helps if the device is lighter.

I know that by this point that this article seems incredibly bias and the tablet, or Goliath, may as well have been shot through the heel by now, but not so fast. The tablet’s LED screen is its most powerful weapon.

Child reading tabletThe combination of touch screen technology and LED (sometimes high definition) screens has made the tablet a hotbed for interactive reading apps. Childrens books can come to life through Apple’s Interactive Touch library, Android’s Reading Eggs app store, and groups such as Robot Media. This new form of e-book has allowed visual creativity to provide a new level of both enjoyment and understanding for the stories. Excitingly, it is not just stories that have been remodelled; encyclopedias have been brought to life, groups like the WWF have utilised this new technology to express their cause, and readers can even view detailed histories of many of the world’s cities. These multi-media “books” are an amazing way of entertaining and inspiring readers, with Robot Media even offering the opportunities to make your own interactive book.

Another thing the LED screened tablet trumps the e-reader on is PDFs. E-ink technology simply isn’t compatible with PDF documents. Yet, in direct comparison, the wonderkins Goodreader app by Apple, or world-renown Adobe App for Android has got all the bases covered when it comes to a PDF document; the reader can read, edit and annotate PDFs like a dream, all with the intimacy of touch screen technology. This lack of compatibility means that reading magazines and newspaper spreads can only be reserved for the tablet, which has a variety of apps to make both these experiences interactive and visually superb, too.

These LED displays, however beautiful they are, may be the tablet’s achilles heel after all; although they are visually incredible, reading for over 30 minutes is enough to give the reader square eyes. And by square eyes, I mean headaches, sore eyes, and feelings of fatigue.  When reading before bed, the white light from the screen can prevent the melatonin hormone from working correctly, and can have a severe impact the reader’s sleep. Although the Kobo Glo and Kindle Paperwhite now come with backlit screens, the light is so delicate that they aren’t nearly as harsh on the eyes as their opponent’s. Reading shouldn’t be exhausting, and bedtime reading shouldn’t damage the user’s health, but what if you’re not a bedtime reader?

This is the final blow to the LED screens; e-readers can be used anywhere. And I mean anywhere. Unlike tablets, e-ink screens are anti-glare so can be read in direct sunlight as the screens are essentially moving print. LED screens, on the other hand, aren’t even visible in these situations. Not only can they be read in direct sunlight, but following the recent introduction of the Kobo Aura H20, bathtub reading can finally be enjoyed risk-free, too.


However, tablets can hold a much wider variety of applications with free downloadable reading apps that can all offer competitive prices, instead of the built in libraries within e-readers. These are also connectable with smartphones and laptops which means that if the reader finishes a chapter on their smartphone, the next chapter will appear if they re-visit it on their tablet.This is fantastic news for people with a variety of devices; if one device runs out of battery or is left at home, the other can pick up the pieces and the book can still be read. This multi-device connection is pretty new stuff and can ensure the safety of having something to do on the bus home from work.

To immerse yourself into a story, be it fictional or true, is the most important thing. If you want your book to be as visually vibrant as it is linguistically crafted, then reading on a tablet is a must. If you want to annotate work and share it on Facebook, then again, a tablet would be your best bet. However, if you want to read, and only read, for the writing and nothing else, with a battery life that lasts weeks, and no interruptions, then an e-reader should be your preferred choice. Although tablets are gaining in popularity as devices, they aren’t necessarily gaining in popularity for their reading features, whereas the frequent sales of e-readers show their popularity as digitised alternatives to the paper book.

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