Many interesting thoughts from Charles Stross following Tor’s announcement that they are dropping DRM from their ebooks.
It’s my belief that today’s e-ink ebook readers are doomed to obsolescence within a short period — 2-3 years possibly, 5 years probably. This is because the power consumption of LCD displays is dropping and their quality is rising. e-ink devices are inherently incapable of displaying video, are lousy as web browsers due to the screen refresh time, and if you use them to play audio or do any intensive processing (such as running apps) their battery life drops towards that of a regular LCD-equipped tablet. They’re essentially single-purpose devices, competing in a market with general-purpose devices. Their only advantages are battery life and readability in direct sunlight, both of which are under threat. So it’s my belief that general purpose tablets (and big-screen smartphones) will drive e-ink readers out of the mass market within 2-5 years, just as smartphones killed off your 2003 Palm Pilot.
Secondly, the software:
The two current tablet/smartphone market incumbents are iOS (Apple) and Android (Google). (Microsoft is making a come-back attempt with Windows 8 Mobile, but is fighting an uphill battle.) These are essentially competing software platforms, like MacOS and Windows in the late 1980s. However, just five years ago, none of these platforms existed; the market was dominated by PalmOS, Symbian, and Microsoft’s dead PocketPC platform. I therefore conclude that it is a really bad idea to make assumptions about the devices customers will own in even 3 years’ time.