One of the interesting issues to watch during the next few years is whether the mobile device world will develop along the lines of purpose-built equipment-standalone e-readers, GPS devices, etc.-or whether more flexible generic devices will present these functions as apps.
It's an area that I've covered before. Increasingly, it looks as if there will be no winner. Or, more accurately, both approaches will win. It also seems likely that the two form factors -- generic and purpose-built -- will start meshing together.
The trend is for apps mimicking the functionality of the ebook readers to be released for more general devices. Today, for instance, Barnes & Noble released a version of its Nook e-reader for Android. ZDNet says that it run on version 1.6 or higher of the operating system. The story describes the application, which provides access to the company's eBookstore, screen and font customization and other features. Likewise, the BN eReader for iPad gets a mixed to negative review at Bloomberg BusinessWeek.
Purpose-built devices aren't dead yet, though. PCWorld.com highlights a price war among devices that is driving their popularity. The bulk of the story handicaps which devices will break the $99 barrier first. The favorites are Borders, Barnes & Noble and Sony.
At the end of the day, the key will be the quality of readers' experience. Earlier this month, Jakob Nielsen, who this Internetnews.com story says is a "usability guru," ran a test comparing a PC, a printed book, a Kindle and an iPad. Though one of the comments at the end of the story rightly points out that the 24 test subjects make the results questionable, they still are interesting. The task was to read a Hemingway short story, answer questions and then comment on their experience. The PC scored a 3.6, the iPad a 5.8, the Kindle a 5.7 and the printed book a 5.6. The bottom line is that folks don't want to read on a PC, but are just as likely to favor a purpose-built device and a generic mobile computer as a book.
There appears to be a bright future both for devices built specifically for e-reading and those that are more general. On one hand, the purpose-built devices are getting less expensive. On the other the generic devices are doing a better job of presenting text.