Like food guru Alton Brown, I am not fond of unitaskers. Whether I’m dealing with the gadgets in my kitchen or in my office, it irks me to juggle too many devices that do just one thing. I’m only happy if the device in question does that one thing really well. It has to do that thing so well that I’ll be unwilling to settle for the lesser experience in a more convenient gadget. And, if possible, it needs to not cost a lot.
Looking over the current eReader market, I can see companies trying their best to make their unitasking devices seem attractive to a consumer base that often favors convenience over the best experience. Just look at the millions of people who own iPhones – or really any smartphone. So how do you convince people to buy a device that does one thing?
When Barnes & Noble officially announced the $259 nook eReader it became clear that the bookseller’s tactic was to pack as much of the experience of buying and reading books into the device as they could. The Android-based reader has two screens: a narrow color touchscreen below a 6-inch E Ink screen. The small strip of touchscreen utilizes the same touch technology as the iPhone and serves as both a control center for the reader and a portal to the Barnes & Noble eStore plus other exclusive content.
The nook has impressive features and is obviously designed to one-up the Kindle on several fronts. Not only 3G wireless (provided by AT&T), but also Wi-Fi. 2GB of internal memory plus a microSD expansion slot. Free and reasonably priced books via the eStore and Google Books. EPUB and PDF support. In-store perusal of eBooks plus synchronization across multiple devices, including BlackBerrys and computers (with Windows Mobile on the horizon). And to top it off: digital lending.
Is this enough to overcome the unitasking shadow? The nook is light and slim, but it’s still yet another device consumers would have to carry around. Is the experience offered more attractive than the inconvenience?
For myself, the answer would be an unequivocal Yes if not for one thing: price. I’m slowly falling in love with the eReader category and the devices I’ve seen come out over the past year. But I’m not so much in love that I’m willing to let go of $200, $300, or $400 for one. I am willing to spend that much on a useful, multitasking gadget. But a device that is just for reading books? I’ll read them on my notebook and suffer the eye strain.
The eReader category isn’t done evolving. Already we’re starting to see hybrid concepts like full dual-screen E Ink and traditional LCD combos and innovations in color E Ink. As exciting as all that is, I find myself not wishing for a multitasking reader, just a cheaper one. I still carry a PMP separate from my phone because no smartphone, even the iPhone, delivers a satisfactory auditory experience and the capacity I want. A slim, eBook reading device that duplicates the appropriate aspects of the buying and reading experience is something I’ve always wanted. I’m just waiting for someone to give it to me for an affordable price.