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Could Smartphones Make e-Readers Obsolete?

kindle_vs_iphoneLast month, Amazon released its wildly popular e-book reader, the Kindle, to an international audience. But while the online retail giant looks to shore up its market abroad, a stiff challenge could be shaping up at home. That competition is coming from an unexpected source: the smart phones many of us already own.

Many Americans are finding that their phones boast many of the same capabilities of a Kindle and other gadgets of its ilk, but in a smaller, more convenient package. According to a report by New York Times technology reporters Motoko Rich and Brad Stone, e-book apps could spell doom for specialized reading devices.

Considering that the national economy has not yet fully righted itself, it should come as no shock that consumers are interested in consolidating their electronics purchases. Even if Amazon is marking down the price of Kindles for the holidays, it might not be enough to sway consumers to add another costly gadget to their repertoires. Smartphones are significantly smaller than any single-function e-readers on the market – a fact that isn’t likely to change anytime soon.

Still, there is little evidence that the threat from smartphones will be immediate. According to some expert estimates, the number of people who own Kindles, Nooks and similar products could double from approximately 2 million to 4 million once all is said and done this holiday season.

While Apple, BlackBerry and other smartphone manufacturers have the luxury of focusing on other aspects of their technology – such as phone calls, texting services and game applications – reading is Amazon’s bread and butter when designing and marketing the Kindle. The e-reader war might not be a zero-sum game, but it could end up costing Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others for throwing their technology behind a single function.

I still don’t believe that either side has captured the hard-core reading demographic in any case. Like many constant readers I know, I much prefer the tangible qualities of a worn paperback or a weighty new hardcover. It’s been said that “every page is the first page” on a Kindle, meaning that it’s hard not to notice when you’re flipping pages on an electronic device.

At the moment I still have faith that Amazon is on the right track with its Kindle, trying to make the experience as close to reading an actual book as possible. There are some who don’t mind squinting at a 3.5-inch screen to read for quick bursts of time, but I can hardly imagine the eyestrain that would result from reading “War and Peace” on a smartphone.

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