Will Android Devices Replace eReaders?
Jul 31, 2015 8:55 AM –
One of the most celebrated features that device manufacturers, most notably Samsung, have recently added to their version of Android is a special display setting called “Reading Mode.” The idea for this feature is to reduce the amount of glare that the screen reflects against a direct light source as well as to make eyes strain less when reading on smart phones and tablets. Because other manufacturers like Acer and Asus have followed suit and because there are other apps on the Play Store that attempt to deliver the same experience to other devices, one can only assume that public reception to the feature was favorable enough—but this favor may go beyond a few downloads and a couple hundred eBooks.
Is It Better to Read with Lollipop?
This plus the battery saving capabilities built-in on devices running Lollipop makes newer Android devices worthy competitors, perhaps even successors, to dedicated eReaders that employ electronic paper displays. Such devices were once touted as the future of reading for exactly these reasons: they were friendlier to the eyes and their batteries lasted longer.
However, the past few years haven’t exactly been kind to electronic paper eReaders. Several hardware manufacturers have already come and gone and, more importantly, sales of eReaders in general have also taken massive dips. From a strong 23.2 million units shipped in 2011, their strongest year yet, the global demand for dedicated eReaders is expected to hit only 7.8 million units by the end of the year and is expected to decline further next year, according to data collected by Statista.
One of the reasons seen as an impetus to this decline is that the market has less incentive to inject money into new hardware. For one thing, the technology behind electronic paper displays and the ecosystems powering eBook distribution haven’t really changed drastically enough in recent years to render devices purchased five years ago as obsolete.
For another, the popularity of smartphones with larger screens, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Note series (where “reading mode” is a key feature) and tablets with smaller ones make dedicated readers redundant. Android devices, after all, can be made cheaper and still do more than just render pages on an e-ink page.
In addition to introducing technology that could supplant dedicated eReaders, that Android is also at the top of the mobile operating system game, amassing 78 percent of global market share in the first quarter of the year, means that more readers are likely to enjoy their books on their Android phones or tablets.
What’s In the Way?
Yet the opportunity for Android to take over such a specialized product category hinges not just on its hardware but also on its accompanying software. This is where a former or struggling hardware player like Barnes and Noble could likely make a comeback. Among the many Nook reading apps for Android is in the best place to benefit the most from this trend for a few reasons:
- Its eBook store still has one of the more expansive selections on the market. That they also peddle books in the more popular Adobe DRM ePub format would sit well with users switching from other ecosystems.
- They already have an established user base from back when they first introduced their Nook eReaders. Assuming that their consumers remain loyal, they already have a pool of users who are pumped and ready to jump into a new experience, if they haven’t done so already.
- They understand Android hardware partners more than anyone else, having already worked with Samsung on the most recent incarnations of their Nook tablets. This relationship and the intelligence that the company can glean from it, especially in the realm of user experience, might just go a long way into securing partnerships with other manufacturers.
Indeed, the Nook app sits in a unique position between apps that can only be used for reading and apps that have an entire digital distribution and hardware ecosystem behind them. It’s an enviable and possibly lucrative position to be and, thankfully, Barnes and Noble may have already realized this potential. After announcing last year that the Nook business division would be spun off and sold, the company earlier this year decided otherwise, choosing instead to continue supporting the store and its app, as well as what’s left of its hardware.
What can hold them back, however, is that the app and the store aren’t available in regions of the globe where their competitors have an established presence. It’s possible that the app’s other function – to serve as content portal for movies, shows, games, toys, and other products that might be available in their physical stores, which are only in North America – maybe responsible for this oversight.
Without that barrier, an app like the Nook on a device like the Galaxy Note, with its advanced power-saving and display technology and its impressive screen, could potentially lead dedicated eReaders to, as some analysts call it, “go the way of the iPod.”