Will Apple’s iPad Kill the E-reader?

iPad vs. eReaders

It plays music. It plays video. It surfs the Web. And with the iBooks app, backed by five major publishers, you can read books on it, too.

Will Apple’s iPad make standalone e-readers like the Amazon Kindle, Sony Reader and Barnes & Noble Nook obsolete?

No. But just as do-it-all smartphones that play music have nibbled away at the market for standalone MP3 players, you had better believe the iPad will thin out the e-reader market.

Inexpensive readers like Amazon’s Kindle 2 and Barnes & Noble’s Nook, both of which retail for $259, will likely remain safe based on price alone. Even if they don’t pull the same multimedia tricks as the iPad, they sell for roughly half the price, with a lifetime of free, unlimited 3G service included (iPad owners will pay at least $15 a month for the privilege, and they’ll need to upgrade to the $629 3G model to even get access). Given the enormous discount these readers offer – especially taking into account the monthly charges – they should keep selling to true bookworms, even with the iPad looming over.

Apple iPad iBooksBesides the price that will preserve these smaller readers, Apple has also conveniently glossed over the iPad’s lack of the vital technology that makes e-readers so attractive to begin with: e-Ink screens. Although the company’s marketing materials try to make the iPad’s ordinary LCD screen more exotic by referring to it as an IPS display – a high-quality type of LCD – it sucks power just like any other active display, and won’t have the same stellar daylight viewability or natural look of e-Ink. In fact, you could call any existing Windows tablet an “e-reader” on par with the iPad by installing Kindle for PC. Ten hours of battery life might get you through a plane ride, but traditional e-readers can practically keep you busy through a steamship voyage.

Higher up the price scale, where premium e-readers collide with the iPad, things start to look a lot hazier. Plastic Logic’s Que ProReader, for instance, now seems a lot less competitive at $800. On some of its main selling points, like the ability to view PowerPoint presentations and other Microsoft Office documents, the iPad matches and exceeds it. Where you can view your colleague’s presentation on the ProReader, you can edit it, rearrange the slides and drop in pictures on the iPad. Spending $800 on a glorified newspaper seems downright silly when you could get what amounts to a similar-size computer for the same price.

Will e-Ink and lifetime service wireless plans be compelling enough to make these premium readers sell, even priced right next to the iPad? We’ll have to wait and see. But in a market looking to buy as cheap as possible (as witnessed by the success of netbooks) or wring every last bit of function possible out of an expensive do-it-all device (as witnessed by the success of the iPhone), high-price devices with a very narrow range of functionality don’t have a very bright future.

Also check out our video, Is Apple’s iPad the Ultimate e-Reader?