Asking the wrong question: Will Tablets Close the Book on e-Readers?

On the “Knowledge @Wharton” website, a recently posted commentary poses this question in the headline: “Will Tablets Close the Book on e-Readers?

That’s the wrong question. (And I’m even overlooking my belief that any headline in the form of a question displays editorial wussiness. Personally, I prefer reading things that provide answers, not that ask questions.)

Whenever it comes to any technology, in the long run, the new will always replace the old. But as John Maynard Keynes said, “In the long run, we are all dead.” So it’s always a matter of when and not if. Timing is everything. I believe eBook readers will be around for a long time — if their price drops to the price of, say, a Gillette razor.

For me, the iPad replaced an eBook reader instantly. (In reality, I guess I made that decision two years before such a thing as the iPad existed.) However, as I’ve written about before, Amazon’s Kindle apps for the iPad and iPhone are how I read most books.

For those of us who have followed a couple of decades of predictions of what the future holds for eBooks — and digital media, in general — there is great irony in the notion that eBook readers, which are finally and somewhat remarkably even perceived as being alive, could now be subject to a debate about their demise. (Context: A few weeks before the announcement of the Kindle, a book called Print is Dead devoted an entire chapter to explaining why the eBook revolution “didn’t happen” — one of my all-time favorite examples of bad timing. In other words, even the most passionate digital book advocates had just about given up on eBook readers.)

So, because I don’t ask questions on this blog, but provide answers: here’s the answer:


In the future, there will be all sorts of devices that will replace the way we do things today. You’ll wear some of them like glasses. Some may be handheld or “pico” projection devices that will be controlled by voice or hand gestures. Some day, you may even wear contact lenses with built-in circuits and LEDs — correcting vision and providing an interface to all known media at the same time.

In the future, our choices won’t be between tablet devices and ebook readers.

Geez, what a boring future that would be.

Later: I’ve been asked, “So what is the right answer?” if @Wharton asked the wrong one. I think my point is, there is no question. Things always change. And, alas and clichéish, they stay the same. But perhaps the real question is: Will flying cars do away with non-flying cars?