Ebook Reader Innovation was Stagnant in 2015
Looking back at 2015, is was a really slow year for ebook readers in general. Very little has changed overall during 2015.
Has ebook reader technology peaked?
Starting at the top, no new Kindles were released this fall for the first time in six years.
The Kindle Paperwhite 3 was introduced over the summer but it doesn’t really qualify as a “new” Kindle because the only difference is the addition of a 300 ppi screen, which first came out in 2014 with the release of the Kindle Voyage.
Otherwise the Paperwhite 3 is an exact replica of the Paperwhite 2, which is 95% the same as the Paperwhite 1. Each year it gets one or two minor upgrades, but overall not much has changed since the Paperwhite was first released in 2012.
With the release of the Kindle Voyage in 2014, hope of a new frontier of ebook readers gained some ground on the premium front, but a lot of people’s hopes were dashed when a much-anticipated Kindle Voyage 2 wasn’t released this year.
Sales of the Kindle Voyage and the number of overall customer reviews aren’t nearly as high in number as the much more popular Kindle Paperwhite 3, so that could’ve been a factor too.
Kobo released two new ebook readers in 2015. The Kobo Touch 2.0 was a confusing step back in terms of hardware from previous models (even the 1st gen Touch when you consider the removal of the memory card slot).
The Kobo Glo HD on the other hand is bigger success. Its claim to fame is the addition of a 300 ppi E Ink screen, which is indeed greatly utilized with Kobo’s custom font tuning options. Once again, though, the new screen tech was released in 2014, and the truth of the matter is the resolution difference is virtually imperceptible between it and the Kobo Aura H2O with 265 ppi. So calling the addition of 35 pixels per inch innovation in 2015 is a stretch.
Barnes and Noble surprised everyone by releasing a new Nook this year when not many people thought the brand had much chance of remaining in business. In some ways the Nook Glowlight Plus is the most innovative new ebook reader released this year. It adds waterproofing and a 300 ppi screen, neither of which are new features in 2015, but at least it’s something. The software was redesigned and is based off of Android 4.4 KitKat, so that gives something new for hackers to work on.
A couple new Android ebook readers were released in 2015, but not nearly as many as in 2014, and most new ones are just slightly redesigned models from 2014. I just reviewed the Inkbook Obsidian, and while the design is a nice upgrade, the software and hardware parts are all the same as the 2014 Boyue models, so there hasn’t been much innovation there either.
Lots of people want large screen E Ink ebook readers, and 2015 was a huge disappointment in that regard. Despite a few companies demoing prototypes, no new 13.3-inch ereaders were released in 2015; the Sony DPT-S1 still remains the only option for the past couple of years.
No new 9.7-inch ereaders were released this year either, just a couple of slight variations to the M96.
A couple of new 8-inch models were released this year with the Icarus Illumina XL. That’s one bright spot on the innovation front; at least more sizes are starting to become available.
All in all, it’s been a slow year for ebook reader innovation. Hopefully 2016 will be an up year and see the release of some great new products.