eBooks and e-readers
Before the iPad, there were e-readers for eBooks. The well known brands include the Kindle (sold by online book seller Amazon) and the Nook (sold by bookshop chain Barnes & Noble), which can both download ebooks wirelessly over WiFi and other networks. The Kobo (sold by bookshop chain Borders) is another specialist e-reader device, which relies on a a USB connection to a PC or laptop to download ebooks.
E-readers are gaining popularity all the time. Amazon recently announced that sales of ebooks for its Kindle have overtaken its sales of hardback books.
E-readers are a highly specialised form of tablet - their only only purpose is to download and display ebooks. But they do it well, and are designed to be able to be read in bright sunlight (which the iPad does not do as well), and are small enough and light enough to be read in bed. Their size, feel and page look is like reading a real book. They also have a much longer battery life than a typical tablet computer.
However, with more and more multi-purpose tablet computers on the market that can download and display ebooks as well as running thousands of other kinds of apps, single purpose e-readers are under pressure. In response to the release of the US$499 entry level iPad, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Borders have dropped prices to make their products more competitive. The Kindle has just been discounted to US$189 in the US, following a reduction in the price of the Nook to US$199 and Barnes & Noble announcing a WiFi only version of the Nook for just US$149. The Kobo sells in Australia for $199 and in the US for US$149 (prices as at 22 June 2010).
There are other e-readers on the market, such as the BeBook Neo, and they can have better features and support a wider range of eBook formats. However, because they are not sold and subsidised by a major bookstore chain they are more expensive than the Kindle, Nook and Kobo, and may struggle to gain traction in the market.
Sony is betting that public source formats such as ePub will become more popular, and that readers will eventually realise the benefits of the more than one million free public domain ebooks made available by Google Books. In September 2010 Sony released its upgraded Reader Pocket Edition (pictured here) at $229 in Australia. The Pocket Edition has a new touchscreen which cuts down on the number of buttons, but unlike the US models (Daily Edition and Touch Edition) the local version does not have Wi-Fi or 3G connectivity, meaning that you have to download titles from your PC or Mac.