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Informa predicts the demise of the dedicated e-reader

New tablet smartbooks like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy Tab spell the end of the e-readers' brief time in the limelight.

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It’s an old debate in this industry. Do we create multiple devices, each with dedicated purposes and dedicated applications, or do we take the Swiss Army knife approach, using a single device embedded with the software and hardware to allow it to function as multiple appliances?

It’s safe to say the personal digital assistant (PDA — remember those?) has been completely swallowed up by the smartphone. But in other device categories, the smartphone’s conquests are far from complete. The digital camera market still thrives, though higher-end camera phones have certainly taken share from the point-and-shoot market. Garmin has seen the writing on the wall by introducing its own line of personal navigation device smartphones, but the smartphone is still far from replacing the on-board navigation system. And remember that mobile music revolution that was supposed to happen? It didn’t. Though the majority of new phones out there support some kind of music storage and playback, people love their iPods and digital music players as much as ever.

Enter the dedicated e-book reader, exemplified by Amazon’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Kindle. At first glance, it filled the perfect gap between the generic smartphone and PC platforms out there today. It’s light but with a large screen for reading. It requires no boot-up and loads its pages instantly. And in the Kindle’s case, new digital ink technology helps replicate the typeface-on-paper reading experience. The Kindle and its many imitators seemed to be the perfect example of the industry’s need for dedicated application-specific devices that generic platforms like smartphones and netbooks couldn’t fill.

So what did the industry do? It created a new generic platform. Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) reproduced all of the e-reader friendly aspects of the Kindle (minus the digital ink) but made e-books just one of hundreds of types of content and applications that could be used on the platform. Informa Telecoms & Media believes that new tablet smartbooks like the iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab spell the end of the e-readers' brief time in the limelight. In fact, Informa is projecting that smartbook sales will grow from 3.65 million this year to 50 million in 2014, accounting for 50% of all embedded device sales. Because Informa categorizes an embedded device as any non-phone consumer appliance with a 3G or 4G mobile broadband connection, that means smartbooks are going to supplant a lot more than e-book readers.

Essentially it will become the platform for all of those applications we couldn’t shoehorn into laptops and smartphones.

”E-readers on the other hand are under threat from a number of sources. Electronic book (e-book) content is now available on most multifunctional devices such as mobile phones, tablet computers, netbooks and other portable consumer electronic devices,” said David McQueen, principal analyst with Informa, in a statement. “On the device side, while the iPad may not be as ideally suited to reading as a dedicated e-reader, many users are finding that it works well enough as a book reader, in addition to its many other functions.”

The e-book reader still has a few more seasons ahead of it, but Informa expects global sales of connected readers to peak in 2013 at 14 million units before shipments begin to fall rapidly. Interestingly, though, Informa expects the e-book reader to live on for some time in cheaper models with W-iFi connections. But the message for 3G and 4G device-makers seems pretty clear: Go generic or go home.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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