Hardware

The e-reader is dead in the enterprise

Patrick Gray doesn't see a huge future for e-readers in the enterprise, and he predicts that they'll be overrun by tablets in the consumer space as well.

I'm always interested in seeing which technologies have reached commodity status in the stores and online outlets of electronics retailers on Black Friday. For those unfamiliar with Black Friday, it's the day after Thanksgiving in the United States, when retailers offer massive sales and finally get "in the black" (meaning they turn a profit) for the year. Typically, hot electronics hit rock-bottom prices just before the market deems them largely irrelevant. For example, a few years ago, automotive GPS navigation units were a popular item, foreshadowing the current struggle GPS manufacturers face with the onslaught of GPS-enabled smartphones.

This year, the black-and-white e-reader seemed to be the big draw, with Amazon's entry-level Kindle falling to around $80 (USD), and scores of second- and third-string e-readers appearing everywhere from reputable online outlets to a $49 no-name device at my local pharmacy, of all places. When the first e-ink reading devices from Sony and Amazon arrived a few years ago, they were hailed as revolutionary, but now -- in the face of high-powered and ever-cheaper tablet devices -- one can't help but wonder if the days of the dedicated e-reader are drawing to a close.

Initially, e-readers were largely consumer-oriented devices, but a handful of companies and government entities saw them as a document distribution mechanism. Citing everything from the ease of updating unwieldy paper manuals to being a part of a "green" effort, e-readers were viewed by several companies as one more step in the journey toward the paperless office of the future. Like much of the marketing promise of the "paperless office," the green claims seemed a bit tenuous, and a one-trick device is a tough sell to corporate purchasing departments and employees already lugging laptops, company-issued phones, and the requisite accoutrements and general business tools the modern worker requires.

In all but a limited set of scenarios, a multi-purpose tablet seems the better choice for most organizations than strictly an e-reader device. The only scenario I can envision for the dedicated e-reader is one in which the user requires access to text-based material for several days without access to power. This perhaps negates one of the biggest benefits of these types of devices -- access to wireless services -- since you're likely going to be totally "off the grid" if there's no power available for several days. With this limited and narrow range of utility, are there any other uses for e-readers?

Perhaps when the price point of these devices falls to around $50, which is essentially disposable territory. At this point, an e-reader might make sense as a textbook/manual replacement device that can be issued once at a training course, then periodically refreshed and updated as needed. While the paper savings and "green" aspects are questionable, the time I've seen spent producing, organizing, and transporting paper training manuals might even be offset with current device prices.

Many companies have reams of training material already in a common format, like PDF, and issue this material on a flash drive. The common complaint is that it's difficult to update and read on the computer, so an e-reader might assuage these woes or even serve as an incentive to attend an otherwise overly burdensome training class.

Personally, I don't see a huge future for e-readers in the enterprise space, and I predict that they'll be overrun by tablets in the consumer space as well. While there may be some limited utility from the devices, most enterprises can happily ignore them unless there's a compelling problem that a lightweight, battery-sipping device that excels at displaying text can solve.

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About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

18 comments
danbi
danbi

It's interesting to read how any device that becomes commodity is "irrelevant". The most successful products that what becomes commodity... As for e-reader's future, it is all too early to tell. What we know today as e-reader is an electronic paper tablet. Not more, not less. Today, it has limitations, such as lack of color and slow refresh of the page. But, color electronic paper is already available and it is pretty fast (perhaps faster than LCD) and therefore usable for displaying moving pictures, such as movies. When fast color electronic paper reaches reasonable costs to produce we will see the merger of e-books and tablets. There will be no longer tablets with LCD, except el-cheapo for some time, until the produced screens are all used. Sort of what happened with the CRT monitors already. What I wonder is why electronic paper is not used already in mobile phones. It could cut energy consumption in many of these devices enormously.

marvin
marvin

I recently tested the following to find a good product to easily read Library EBooks and have a few fun options and these are my opinions. 1. Kindle Touch. $100, Black and white, lightweght, useless for night reading, Hogtied to Amazon to even read library books. Amazon should pay me to use it. 2. Kindle Fire, $200, Color mini Tablet, midweight, good for night reading, "mini" tablet with limited Android Apps. Also hogtied to Amazon to even read library books. Amazon should pay me to use it. Don't be fooled by the Hype. 3. Vizio VTAB1008, $188 at Costco, Full tablet class computer, Great reader, day or night and access to all Android Apps. Plenty of features. No brainer unless you want some high-end features in more expensive Tablets such as $350+ Androids and IPad. Blows the Kindle Fire away.

ScarF
ScarF

This article is not worth a comment.

Laurentian Enterprises
Laurentian Enterprises

If you ever tried to use a tablet like an I-Pad at a brightly lit mall or outside anywhere, you would know that an e-ink e-reader is the only device for people who read a lot. Color tablets are good for games, internet and e-mail. I think e-readers may evolve to handle other tasks a bit better and be around for a long time.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

Reading in full sunlight is a useful quality. Personally, I would love a slow, limited browser that showed text, not video, in full sunlight. For enterprise uses, Princeton bought kindles for students to replace class handouts which at the time cost $50 million in paper and printing. A rarely updated kindle is an excellent substitute for a book and at $79/kindle and $49 per textbook or manual, it doesn't take much to finally reap rewards of the paperless office (ha ha ha).

hkeeter
hkeeter

It seems to me that the tablet as king has been talked about for years, and it still has not come about. This is mainly due to the fact that I can buy a laptop for the price of most tablets. So only people looking for extremely light weight limited device will use them. Tablets really are just big PDA's, so until they can be video phones they will never take off. (oh yeah you can do that now on your laptop.) The e-reader is less expensive and evolving to be more like a tablet without the price tag. The Kindle Fire is a good example. So, I disagree with the author and think that the tablet will once again become a niche item for the c-level staff and e-readers will become more of a useful item in the corporate world. Lets not forget that the fortune 500 does not buy the majority of computing items; small businesses do! Price/Value is king in the SMB world.

DadsPad
DadsPad

While tablets are convenient, the battey life is short and hard to use in sunlight. eBooks are made for people that have read a lot of books. For people that like a substitute for a book, only eBooks work. Readers need something with a long battery life (how often do you charge your smart phone and tablet), able to read in sunlight. I can barely see my smart phone for glare, at times. Until tablets have a real anti-glare screen, bigger screen and cheaper, they will not replace print. Reading a magazine on a 6 or 7 inch screen is no where as pleasant as reading the actual magazine.

BobManGM
BobManGM

1. If you can't see the death of the true 'e-reader', you are not looking. 2. Tablets are not a niche item. This form of the tablet (aka Apple's vision of a...) is a niche item. I HAVE a Toshiba WinXP (from 2004) tablet that is a full laptop with pen features. HP has the same but newer (w/ touch). Our company will be doing a test. A full laptop (it is Win7 so it will work in the enterprise...mostly) with pen/touch is something EVERYBODY would use.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

As to e-readers' 'replacements', there's still debate over whether tablets will have widespread, non-niche application in the enterprise.

BALTHOR
BALTHOR

Some music and you're off.

spdragoo
spdragoo

A lot of us serious readers still prefer the feel & experience of reading a physical paper book, over electronic readers...

dhays
dhays

nor on a 19 in screen (PC), it is just that I read so little of the magazines I get, digital is the best there. Books are so much better on paper, I have looked at ereaders for convenience, but I have not jumped, as they are still too high priced to justify. Tablets are especilly too high, they cost as much as a cheap laptop which has much more functionality. My wife's Win7 HP laptop cost less than some ipads, except for portability, what does the tablet do that the computer can't do better? With much more storage, and more functionality, the laptop was a better purchase.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

The key words in the original article are "in the Enterprise". Outside of publishing companies, I don't know too many people who's jobs involve reading large numbers of books and magazine articles.

n.gurr
n.gurr

It's nice to hear sentiments that are somewhat matching to what I experience. Tablets are niche items which are largely used by a few people to take notes in meeting and give presentations. I have seen few other uses for them tbh, there seems to be a ream of things they cannot do. As for e-readers they can possibly make sense in a paper intensive organisation, such as a Uni with course notes. In a world where Windows XP looks so entrenched as to be staying for a while longer many of the certainties the Journo here believe seem far fetched and if occurring are doing so at glacial rates. There will be an IT department, with it's own services (ie non cloud) running pcs for a long time yet. Change is bad in every enterprise I have worked in, it is in the consumer space that these things occur quickly!

seanferd
seanferd

What large scale application would e-readers have in the enterprise? Send an executive summary to my e-reader. edit: To clarify, yes, I did read the bit about a handful of enterprises using them to cut down on some paper use.

kevinrs1
kevinrs1

and that's the kind of device he's talking about, 2 main types, one with a swivel screen, with a keyboard so it can be used like a normal laptop, and the screen only type, using either a stylus on the screen, or a touchscreen+compatible stylus. They are more powerful, and can run more software than what's currently being called "tablets" are designed with data entry and handwritting recognition in mind. The current crop of "tablets" like the ipad and the android tablets are more designed as entertainment devices.

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