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Why an eReader is a Tablet

This week MobileTechReview takes a look at the Sony Reader PRS 600. (The full review is here.) And what strikes me most is once again how similar the eReaders are becoming to Tablet PC slates or UMPCs.

Here, take a look at a few of these snapshots from the review of the Sony PRS 600 to see how Tablet-like eReaders are becoming.

First, here’s the Tablet–uhm–eReader in its native portrait mode.


The eReader is comfortable in portrait mode. In fact, most are designed with the portrait mode being the primary usage orientation. Interestingly, most Tablet PCs are becoming landscape biased, in large part I believe because of the influence of the desktop-designed applications (including Office and even web browsers).

Yes, eReaders and Tablet PCs have decidedly different OSes, but if you ask me that’s says more about where we’ve been in the market than where we’re heading. Like how the iPhone and Linux have shown, the trend is towards more unified cores across desktops/notebooks and devices. So I’ll set that difference aside for now.

Interestingly, the Sony Reader handles landscape mode as well:


Besides form factor and display orientation, what else is similar? What about inking?

The Sony Reader is one of the commercial eReader devices that’s beginning to showcase inking. Here’s a snapshot of someone marking up a page with ink annotations, for instance:


Of course, the Sony Tablet–er–eReader is missing handwriting recognition. There’s no doubt about that. And I’m sure many would quarel about the quality of the ink too. It’s definitely not smooth Tablet ink. But then again, it’s interesting to see the consolidation of features going on here.

And there’s even a drawing app in the Sony Reader:


It’s not just the ink at issue here though. There’s touch too. again, it’s not as smooth as Windows 7 Touch, but rather more like what you might see on a MID or UMPC. However, the Sony device shows how touch is a natural feature of a handheld slate device. In the case of the Sony Reader touch can be used to page through a book/document using a sliding gesture or to press keys on a virtual keyboard:


Now, of course, there are differences between a Tablet PC and an eReader. The software in them is clearly different. The use cases are different. The price points are different. The carry weights are different. The battery performance is different. The processing power is different. The display is significantly different (at least in most models). And more.

However, it seems to me that the differences that most people focus on are not hard barriers to what can be converged between an eReader and a Tablet PC.

Now a reasonable question is: Would enough people want a reading device that can double as a small slate Tablet PC? I think so. Students are one obvious group. In fact, doesn’t it seem like for most K-12 class work that a slate reading-and-notetaking-oriented-device is a better match than a keyboard-document-creation-device? Both have their place, but I’m just asking. I’d give the edge to the book device.

As for junior high and up, sure, document creation becomes more and more important. There’s no doubt that you either need to be able to use a full-sized keyboard with a “reader” or that you need access to a full PC. And by college, I’d definitely agree that a PC becomes the primary device. However, I’d also say that even in college a reader device that can work with a PC is a great choice. For notebook users it becomes minimally an additional display, an additional storage device, an additional point of connectivity.

Beyond schools, the avid reader market is possibly large enough with some commercial uses, but I don’t have any numbers one way or another here, except to say “Watch the Kindle.”

Anyway, here’s the whole video review of the Sony PRS 600:

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