Tablet or E-Reader: Which Should You Bet On?

If there's one thing that throws any well laid manufacturing and supply chain plan into havoc it's the uncertainty surrounding the point at which competing devices deserve increased resources and production capacity. The electronics supply chain is facing such a challenge now in the jostling for consumer attention by manufacturers of e-readers and tablet PCs.

Pew Research Center in June released the results of its Pew Internet & American Life Project report showing a surge in US e-reader ownership. According to the findings, the share of adults who own an e-reader, such as a Kindle or a Nook, doubled to 12 percent in May 2011, up from 6 percent in November 2010.

Despite the market hype, tablet computers, which include the popular Apple iPad, have not seen the same level of growth in recent months, the firm said. Although tablet ownership was growing at a good clip prior to November 2010, by May 2011 only 8 percent of US adults reported having an iPad, Samsung Galaxy, Motorola Xoom, or similar device. This was just 3 percent higher than the November 2010 level, Pew found.

As if deciding which platform to bet on with manufacturing and supply chain resources weren't tough enough, now the industry will also have to weigh the potential outcome of patent infringement lawsuits heating up between Apple and Samsung. Negotiations between the companies are reportedly underway, according to an story, and the resolution could cause ripples further down the supply chain, affecting material purchases and production planning. (See: Which Company Does Apple Fear the Most?)

Obviously, device prices will sway end-market behavior and demand as well. In many markets, tablets are still too expensive for potential buyers, with only the die-hard gadget geeks and usual suspects of first-adopter types making purchases. E-readers, though, are approaching a much more buyer-friendly price point and will likely come down even further as the back-to-school and holiday season ramps up, forcing additional manufacturing adjustments in coming quarters.

Likewise, the similarities and differences in multiple form factors and technology shouldn't be ignored either. At some point the distinctions among e-readers, tablets, laptops, netbooks, and phones will blur even more, something Barbara Jorgensen touched on in a recent post. (See: Tablets, PCs & the ‘Aha!’ Moment.) With coming next-generation product launches, accessing email, connecting via Internet or 3G networks, shooting high-definition video, and allowing for various types of converged media playback will be the normal baseline for most consumer devices.

How, then, does a company decide which size touch screen to buy or PCB to use in the redesign? From an EMS and ODM perspective, whatever shakes out in these markets will surely require additional engineering and product development support. On the shop floor and in the supply chain group, this will demand a stepped-up ability to nimbly change production lines and secure supply in increasingly competitive niches.

As already seen with PCs, notebooks, mobile phones, and MP3 players, anticipating the inflection points, creating supply chain transparency, and testing flexible models are things most organizations ought to be thinking about now. And, hopefully, they are.

23 comments on “Tablet or E-Reader: Which Should You Bet On?

  1. t.alex
    July 12, 2011

    How about getting a tablet? It can still run the Kindle app and can do a lot more usefull stuff on thr gp.

  2. AnalyzeThis
    July 12, 2011

    You're going to see a lot more growth in the E-Reader market, it's a much bigger potential market than the tablet market and there are a multitude of reasons why.

    E-Readers have the potential to become very cheap, so cheap they're nearly disposable. We've already seen dramatic price drops of the Kindle in just a few years, 5 years from now we're talking about sub-$50 price points and E-Readers being routinely purchased for kids going back to school.

    Unlike Tablets, which need to do a variety of things (and are obviously much more expensive and fragile), E-Readers just need to do one thing and do it well: read text-based content. And thanks to E Ink, the reading experience is more comfortable, versatile, and superior to the reading experience you'd get on a tablet. Plus you'll be able to go weeks without needing to worry about recharging your E-Reader, unlike a tablet.

    In a way, E-Readers are kind of like portable music players: yes, you could get an amazing Smartphone or fancy portable high-end iPod that'll play video and games and do all these other things, but for many people a simple, cheap MP3 player is good enough because playing music is the important thing. And this isn't to say that some people only by iPod Nanos instead of full-fledged iPods, that's not true: often they'll have both.

    So anyhow, the future of E-Readers is very clearly bright. Tablets? More difficult to say, in the short term I don't think you'll see dramatic growth and I'm near certain there will be a complete glut of tablets on the market during the holidays.

    Anyhow, I'd bet on E-Readers.

  3. Houngbo_Hospice
    July 12, 2011

    We can expect e-readers ownership to increase worldwide as they are cheaper than tablets, lighter and often more energy-efficient. But tablets will have a good share in the market as well, because they are more versatile than e-readers. I have heard stories about people who after buying a kindle still want to own a tablet. We can also expect that in the future there won't be that much difference between the two devices as e-readers will evolve to do many things that tablets can do. Future e-readers will have web browsing and video capability; areas in which tablets excel. 

  4. Kunmi
    July 12, 2011

    I Bet on Tablets.

    As at this moment, the various things the tablets can perform still put it at a better advantage. The E-reader is equally good but it depends on individuals preference. I know some people have both the E-reader and the tablet just because they want to move at the same pace as the advancing technology. To some people, it is just a needed material and to some people it's about class and possession. Thinking of the present economy and other personal factor, some people don't care about either of them.

  5. Ariella
    July 12, 2011

    I would also bet on tablets because they have more potential uses than e-readers.

  6. Barbara Jorgensen
    July 12, 2011

    I'm still all over the map on this…that said, I know folks in the–and I use this term carefully–older generation that will use an e-reader but not a smartphone or tablet (hi Mom)

  7. DataCrunch
    July 12, 2011

    Barbara, I bet on both.  I can see continued growth for both.  Perhaps when the price points of tablets come down, then I may change my bet to just tablets.  

  8. Anna Young
    July 12, 2011

    My take is on Tablets. Yes e-readers ownership may have increased due to cheaper price factor and consumer ranges.

    However, you get more functionality from tablets than you would from e-readers.

  9. jbond
    July 13, 2011

    This is a tough call. If I had to put money on it I would choose the E-reader. Both markets are going to see growth, but the E-reader has more potential to reach more people. As the prices continue to drop, more schools and universities will purchase these. Not to mention people who like to read (even occasionally) but don't want book shelves full of books. I would have no problem taking an E-reader poolside on the beach. I would have serious thoughts about a $500 tablet, one that is tough to see in the sunlight anyways.

  10. t.alex
    July 13, 2011

    Just a thought: besides the special display material, the e-ink, e-reader currently does not offer much functionalities to the users. However, after sometime, companies will try to differentiate themselves by offering more features. I think by then e-reader will be more or less the same as tablet.

  11. Jennifer Baljko
    July 13, 2011

    H Everyone,

    Really interesting to see how this informal straw poll is unfolding. I'm sure the same debate is happening in manufacturing/supply chain circles. Like jbond said, I would have no problem bringing an e-reader to the beach, but would be much more protective of a more “delicate” tablet. I suppose this split directly correlates with how I view the devices – an e-reader is my anywhere pocket-reading book-replacement gadget (and would be treated like any of my paper books) and a tablet would be a complimentary work-horse to my laptop (which by the way I wouldn't bring to the beach either).

    Another random stat from the Pew study: “There is notable overlap in e-reader and tablet computer ownership – 3% of US adults own both devices.  Nine percent own an e-book reader but not a tablet, while 5% own a tablet computer but not an e-reader.”

    So, if e-readers and tablets are crossing over in terms of functionality, user profile, and technology formats, what say you to this question: Apple or Amazon? Apple's hugely success iPad  vs. Amazon's mighty bookstore available in tablet form? Room to share the market or will it stay a one-horse race? Where will brand loyalty fall?

    Some links on the anticipated Amazon tablet:,news-11800.html




  12. Clairvoyant
    July 13, 2011

    I believe we will see E-readers and Tablets to continue to develop and become even more similar divices to one another. I think E-readers will continue to have more uses put into them while keeping them at a cheap price and I think Tablets will lower their prices over time. The main difference between both units may continue to be the screens. The E-readers have screens that use very little power and are much nicer to read on, where as Tablets will have color, higher performance screens.

  13. Nemos
    July 13, 2011

    Tablet or E-Reader: Which Should You Bet On?

    The winner between these two will be the device that will bring the paper-based book in electronic version in our daily life. The device that would give to the market a well “copy” of a book will win the sales. The e-reader is great, but it is like you are reading a monochromatic comic. From the other hand tablet has all of these amazing display functions but needs a lot of energy to be functional.

  14. Taimoor Zubar
    July 13, 2011

    I think e-readers and tablets differ greatly in the price ranges. E-readers typically range from $120 to $150 while most tablets are above $400. The demand for both of these is separate with little intersection. For users who only want to read ebooks, e-readers are good enough. For users who need more options such as colorful displays, music and video players and internet browsing, tablets are the option.

  15. elctrnx_lyf
    July 13, 2011

    I think eReaders will become a part of tablets in the future. The power consumption is the major issue which may discourage the people to use tablet as a eReader. But soon in the future with better battery technologies very high battery back up will be easy to achieve. The consumer base for eReaders also will be very less compared to the number of people looking for a much more different types of media consumption device like tablet.

  16. t.alex
    July 13, 2011

    Of course power hungry LCD will not be an option for e-reader.. Colour e-ink will be ready soon.

  17. Adeniji Kayode
    July 16, 2011

    I pick a stand between the two.If tablets will bring down the price and if E-reader will add more features, then we might be looking into two different devices but close similarities.

  18. Wale Bakare
    July 16, 2011

    Tablet and E-Reader are quiet good and similar according to their design and specifications – wireless network, internal storage, web browser etc. On a general note, tablet computer functions exactly the same like PC and Laptop. Can E-Reader carries out same tasks like PC or Laptop?

  19. itguyphil
    July 17, 2011

    I still prefer the tablet. Spec for spec, I think they end up giving you more bang for your buck. 

  20. JADEN
    July 24, 2011

    Taking into accounts device features, tablets are more functionality than e-readers, Tablets web browsing is 100% superb than e-reader.  Considering the applications, it is a key advantage tablet has over e-reader, tablets have a lots of applications on them. As a matter of fact, tablets offer support for e-books, for instance Amazon's kindle store is available in tablets application marketplaces, alongside other e-book stores and with this, tablet owners have a massive collection of e-books at their disposal.

  21. electronics862
    July 28, 2011

    I feel the rough comparison between an ereader and a tablet is, An eReader’s purpose is to let you read easily and well.A Tablet’s purpose is to make computers portable and personal and bring all the abilities of a PC into your hand

  22. Kunmi
    July 28, 2011

    If I may have to bet, Tablet is the Answer! It is portable as the e-reader, mobility is both easy, Access to computing system on tablet, it is just like a mobile office at any place you may be. I will rather have tablet than e-reader if I have to choose one.

  23. Kunmi
    July 28, 2011

    Twins are never the same, though they may look alike. Functionality of tablet to e-reader is absolutely incomparable. The ease and comfort associated with tablet is enomous. Relaxing at the beach – solving the web, buying and selling your stocks if any, sorfing the internet while rest on the arms of the tree is the key to the tablet PC. It appears that many will desire this ease than voting for the e-reader. I like the e-reader but not as TAB

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