Dead right or dead end?

1 min read

The Consumer Electronics Show, the largest event of its kind, is the launch pad for tomorrow's technologies. Some products are innovative; others are often variations on a theme or updates.
Under the heading of 'variations on a theme' were a number of e-readers, all attempting to catch up with the Amazon Kindle and Sony's eReader. One of these is Plastic Logic's Que, pictured, which features technology developed at Cambridge University. Great things are predicted for the e-book market, but the future for e-readers is less clear. The reason? Convergence.

It's a trend that has pertained throughout the sector over the years, as more functionality becomes available on a given device. It's apparent in the mobile phone market, with the blend between cameras and mobiles; the smartphone market, blending pcs and mobiles; and with tvs, where the boundary between the pc is blurring. Why should e-reader manufacturers be concerned? While e-readers are a compelling product at the moment, it's entirely likely that e-reader functionality will become available on other consumer electronics devices in the future. Then, it's down to the consumer – do they want to keep their e-reader as a separate device or access their e-books via, for example, their smartphone? It's going to be easier for manufacturers of devices such as smartphones to add e-reader functionality than it may be for e-reader manufacturers to bring in, say, mobile connectivity beyond downloading e-books. So while e-readers may enjoy a couple of years of good business, their long term viability comes down to how quickly their designers can move the products on. Not quickly enough and e-readers may well be a dead end on technology's evolutionary tree. But there is an elephant in the room. Apple has a launch event planned for 26 January and, if rumours are to be believed, it will unveil the iSlate – a portable device that could well take consumer electronics in a different direction. Following the success of the iPod and iPhone, Apple's influence in the market is such that many developments by other companies could be pushed down that dead end at a stroke.