With the recent Android Froyo update for the Nook Color, Barnes & Noble's device became more of an Android tablet than an e-reader. Apple created its own e-book store to accompany the iPad, and rumor has it that Amazon is working on an Android tablet of its own that will incorporate its vast Kindle library. These developments have led many to ask if this is the end of the dedicated e-reader as we know it.
Not so fast, say industry analysts.
To be clear, Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others do want their own tablets.
"It seems like every person under the sun is looking into building a tablet. But to be honest, I don't expect all of those to follow through and make it to market," said Michael Morgan, senior analyst at ABI Research, in an interview with TechNewsDaily.
But just because these companies are making tablets does not mean there won't continue to be a market for dedicated e-readers.
"You can't forget the consumer in this whole picture," Morgan said. "There will still be people who want purpose-built devices. Purpose-built e-readers have some advantages, such as the battery life in current e-ink e-readers. The LCD tablet screen is not as good of a solution as an e-ink screen for reading."
Those advantages will be a big attraction to people who just want to read and don't care so much about tablet features and apps.
Alan Weiner, a lead analyst with the Gartner research firm, told TechNewsDaily that dedicated e-readers still have an edge in content, too.
"It's the content that will drive these choices," Weiner said. If the content is great enough, people will sacrifice some of the features of a full tablet for an e-reader. If the content explodes, the black-and-white e-reader has a problem."
So far, tablets haven't been able to catch up. Weiner notes that many content providers are starting to back away from the previous frenzy of iPad distribution because it didn't work as well as experts thought it would. Both Wiener and Morgan expressed reservations over the move Barnes & Noble made with the Nook Color. Though it runs Android Froyo, it's still not a full Android tablet.
"There's a danger in doing what we could call half-tablets. It doesn't do e-reading well and it's an underpowered tablet," Morgan said. "It will be interesting to see if [Amazon] can deliver a quality tablet, especially when other manufacturers are having a tough time making Android tablets that can keep up with the iPad."
In the meantime, dedicated e-readers are unlikely to simply give way to tablets. Weiner points to several developing technologies, such as the Qualcomm Mirasol screens, that would bring color and video to e-ink screens while maintaining the superior battery life of black-and-white e-ink screens.
There's also an opportunity for the traditional e-readers to turn into promotional devices. The technology is becoming cheap enough that the device itself could become incentive to sign up for an e-book subscription.
"We're likely to see the market for black-and-white devices getting lower in price. I mean really low," Weiner said. "Amazon won't give them away for free, but maybe for $29.99. The Kindle is prime to get tossed in when you sign a subscription to book clubs."
While many consumers are infatuated with the latest hardware and mobile operating systems, there's nothing like super-low prices to get attention … and sales. The $250 price tag is one of the single most attractive reasons to get the Nook Color "half-tablet," after all. So, even though dedicated e-reader devices are either overshadowed by tablets or desperately trying to emulate them, it may be a while before their story ends.