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Are e-readers and tablets converging? Consensus is that there is no consensus.

Lately, the e-reader industry has been attacked on all sides, by both pundits and new products — set to render these single-function devices obsolete.

With serious competition to the e-reader industry leaders hitting the market, and with the flood of tablets looming in the background, market analysts rightly question why someone would want a device that only allows you to download and read. Tablet owners, at least according to a study from Resolve Market Research, seem to agree. The study states that 49% of iPad owners polled would not consider purchasing an e-reader. This is interesting, but intuitively obvious – of course they wouldn’t. There is a duplication of functionality. The question, then, is can a market for both e-readers and tablets exist?

E-reader devices clearly can challenge tablets on pure reading experience. The size of e-readers is ideal for portability — much like actual books — and they allow for the device to be light-weight. PCMag.com recently published an article titled Why Screen Size Matters. In it, they discuss how purchasing decisions may truly be driven by the display size, and therefore, size is becoming a key market indicator.

In the context of e-readers and tablets, however, we believe that purchasing decisions will soon be driven by the full capabilities of a display (color and video included), not just its size. Here’s the difference:

  • E-readers usually feature displays designed to replicate the printed page (reflective and low power). This is a defining characteristic of e-readers.
  • Tablets typically have displays that are ideally suited for video, multimedia and a wide range of applications (one of which may be reading), but replicating the printed page in reflectivity is not a priority.

The moment to look for is when reflective displays seen in e-readers (that emulate print) add multimedia capabilities and color. That’s when these two separate categories may converge.

To summarize, it’s easy to look at devices with similar characteristics and deem one or the other obsolete, but I think the picture here is much more nuanced. Good hard data on where the market is going is tough to find, with the only real consensus being that there is no consensus. To this end, we look to gain insight this fall from a Harrison Group survey titled, “2010 Survey of the State of the Digital Publishing Industry,” which will look at adoption trends for consumers and publishers of content in the digital space. Look out for insight on their findings here in October. In the meantime, we at Qualcomm will continue to develop revolutionary products that enable devices to do more, no matter who crosses the finish line in the e-reader/tablet race.

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