The recent rise of the ebook readers and the appearance of the Apple iPad has generated an interest in mobile gadgets other than the cell phone. Although the difference between the ebook reader and the tablet has been somewhat compromised in reality the two devices are very different.
The fundamental difference between a tablet and an ebook reader is quite simple. A tablet is a mobile computing device whereas an ebook reader isn’t.
The term ‘tablet PC’ was first introduced by Microsoft in 2001. The concept was built round a mobile computing device that used a pen to input information and would generally include handwriting recognition software. Also it would be a truly mobile device with wireless connectivity.
The accepted screen size of a tablet PC was considered twelve inches; the screen is measured corner to corner diagonally. There are however numerous tablets that are smaller than this which isn’t a problem because of the improvements in screen resolutions.
The first portable device that was quoted as an ebook reader was the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA). Essentially a PDA was an electronic filofax. As an ebook reader the PDA was limited by its size and the LCD screen.
The first ebook reader using e ink technology, the Librié EBR-1000EP was released by Sony in Japan in 2004. This was followed by the PRS-500 in the US in 2007 and then followed by the PRS-505 in 2008. The Kindle was released by Amazon in late 2007. It is interesting to note that the ilex Iliad was available in 2006 but never made an impact due to the price, and presumably, because they didn’t have the marketing power of Sony behind them.
The distinction between an ebook reader and the tablet PC is not always easy to pin down. Tools that are useful for both types of device have been included by manufacturers.
With built in speakers or a headphone jack it is possible to listen to audio on most ebook readers and tablets. While tablets can display video and different graphic formats in full color. ebook readers are restricted to grayscale graphics but the facility is still there and can be very useful.
A key feature of the tablet PC is the input with a pen or using touch which a few ebook readers have adopted. Some ebook readers have a physical keyboard while others have a virtual keyboard. These are generally used for navigation or simple tasks.
Another feature is the wireless connectivity. This is a key feature for a tablet for data transfer, effectively allowing streaming video and gaming. Some ebook readers have adopted this although it is usually in a very limited form.
Having to draw the line somewhere and say what is or isn’t an ebook reader we would have to say that the color ebook reader is not here yet. Fundamentally an ebook reader should have a display the same as real paper and any device that doesn’t use E Ink and uses an LCD color display simply cannot be classed as an ebook reader.
We can expect that the color ebook reader is just around the corner and with the ever increasing computing power it will be even more difficult to make a valid comparison. Will it be a tablet, an ebook reader, or will we see the birth of a whole new genre of digital products.
By Paul Shadmy
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