The Stage

Jul 13 '11

Google’s eReader: A Step Backwards?

        

RYAN - I’m not here to break the news necessarily, but for those who haven’t been paying attention, Google made an announcement a few days ago that they’ve partnered with hardware producer iRiver to bring their own proprietary eReader to market. From Business Insider:

Using the Story HD, you’ll be able to buy books from the Google eBookstore, a first for a dedicated e-reader device.

Before, you could buy books from the Google eBookstore and then read them on your phone or tablet.

I’m going to get right down to it: This is a step in the wrong direction. Google boasts an incredible library of books readily available not just to phones and tablets as Business Insider points out, but to any device with a browser in addition to those Android devices that come with a dedicated native Google Books application. It’s clear that E Ink readers like the Kindle are the clear favorites when it comes to comfort and ease of reading, but I have to wonder if this decision goes against everything Google is building with their cloud-based reading platform.

I’ve written a lot on this blog about the promise of the Cloud, and most of its appeal has to do with accessibility. Cloud-based media models make sense for content providers because they can be accessed by a maximum number of customers on a maximum number of devices. They make sense for customers because they create a more open market that is easily tailored to whatever lifestyle or gadget the customer is working with. So while services like Netflix and Hulu end up competing, they do so in an accessible way, not requiring their customers to invest in hardware as an upfront barrier to entry. In that sense, then, Amazon’s Kindle software and Google Books compete with one another but can also complement another if the customer wants them to do so. 

But even down to the availability of their new dedicated Story HD, Google seems to be moving away from the accessibility that has made them the powerhouse they are and focusing on making this product as specialized and difficult as possible. Again, from Business Insider:

Target is releasing the e-reader in stores nationwide beginning July 17 for $139.99, the same price as the Kindle 3 and Nook Simple Touch. The device will be released with Wi-Fi compatibility, with no 3G cellular data option

So if I want to even consider purchasing this device as opposed to its comparably priced competitors, I must go to Target to do so. This whole thing stinks. It would appear that Google is looking only at the short-term benefits of this device, at the opportunity to partner with a national big box store and compete directly with Amazon and Barnes and Noble. 

Again, this is a step backwards. If Google is doing anything right (which I think they are), they are dead-on with their leanings toward the accessibility of good web applications and Cloud-based solutions. A long-term investment in the Cloud requires companies like Google to continue pushing toward media that is not centralized and toward hardware that is not specialized. Do yourself a favor and don’t buy this device. Go read the same stuff for free in any browser or on any Android platform and revel in the fact that you’ve avoided supporting a model that needs to change.

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