Ebook Reader Innovation was Stagnant in 2015

White Kindle

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.

11 Responses to “Ebook Reader Innovation was Stagnant in 2015”

  1. Well, there was a new type engine for Kindle this year as well.

  2. I was just thinking about this today. I normally have purchased an updated kindle each year but didn’t this year. I do think there’s still room for improvement hardware-wise.

  3. Cannot understand why the Paperwhite 3 was not offered in the anticipated 6.8 inch or even a slim, lightweight 7 inch version. Yes, I know 6 inch is extremely popular but it is not for me. Am on my second PB 840 due to my need for more reading acreage (first one died of a cracked screen). Now officially retiring my aged Kindle DGX that continues to work just fine (with v 3.2.1) but will no longer connect to the Kindle Store yet maintains full access to my Kindle volumes with no problem. Amazon says they are not aware of the issue and it just started out of the blue about two months ago. Even re formatting the unit and restoring the OS does not fix that single issue.

  4. Well they haven’t upgraded the paperback for many decades now. Still no backlighting, same antiquated way to turn the page, and the memory storage hasn’t been improved since the papyrus era and takes up much wall space (good for insulation). My biggest complaint is you can’t change the font size and the pages yellow over time. Paperbacks tend to lose bookmarks if you drop them, but the dogeared ones stay put. The good news is that the page refresh hasn’t been affected since neolithic times.

  5. Great article, was just thinking about this. Looking forward to the e-reader scene in 2016.

  6. Kindle released Bookerly font and a white Kindle only available in Asia I believe.

  7. I bought nook glowlight plus for myself 2 weeks ago, considering the price I think it is one of the better offering for 2015

    • Barnes & Noble stock has now lost 70% of its value since July 2015 and is trading under $9. The reason for that is that this is a company that likely won’t survive another 18 months.

      It’s probably not a good idea to buy another Nook

  8. @Lance makes a good point, and it seems that Amazon and Google both think improving fonts/font handling is a way to be innovative. I’m all in favour of that and am waiting for Kobo’s response!

    But hardware needs to innovate too. Ereader batteries die over time; when this happens will you replace it with something that’s just been released like a tablet, or will you replace it with a device that came out over a year ago…

  9. What kind of hardware innovations are really needed for reading, besides a possible larger screen (while keeping 300 ppi)? Maybe up to 7″? Most of the innovations needed are software, and those could possibly be corrected by firmware upgrades.