Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Note-taking e-readers

Recently there has been a trend to market larger note-taking e-readers as tablets. I wish to look at the cases of reMarkable and Onyx Boox. The former designates their devices as 'paper tablets' and the latter as E-Ink Android tablets. In the case of reMarkable, the designation of 'paper tablet' is accurate, as both reMarkable 1 and 2 focus on digital writing and sketching. On the other hand, Onyx Boox devices excel as e-readers but fail as Android tablets. 

A 'paper tablet' that could be much more

reMarkable want to control the user experience from the bottom-up by developing both hardware and software for note-taking. In their words, the focus is on working on paper in the digital age, and so they make 'paper tablets'. The focus on the 'paper tablet' experience relegates e-reading to secondary status - something that shows with reMarkable's software. As a result, reMarkable unnecessarily restrict their devices and do not make the most of E-Ink's strengths. The problem is not E-Ink technology - a technology that was first designed for digital reading - but reMarkable's self-imposed niche of selling 'paper tablets'. While E-Ink is the best medium to reproduce the paper experience in the digital age, e-reading is a more critical dimension of the technology that is neglected due to the noted focus on producing a digital notepad.

E-Ink Android tablets 

Onyx Boox takes another route. For them, the tablet designation refers to the multi-functionality that Android brings. Hence, they emphasise that the user can not only do the tasks that E-Ink is meant for - i.e., reading and writing – but can also install third-party applications and customise the user experience. Through the E-Ink tablets marketing, Onyx Boox can then justify continuous upgrades - e.g., Android version updates, processing power and memory - even if they make little difference to the e-reading and digital note-taking user experience. 

We haven't seen significant upgrades in E-Ink technology and the hardware upgrades introduced by Onyx Boox are mostly superfluous. Accordingly, the following question can be asked: Does Android make a significant difference in a practical sense? The answer must be negative. Most Android apps are close to unusable on E-Ink and the apps that do work well only generate secondary value. In reality, what makes Onyx Boox devices attractive, in comparison to others, is the excellent and stable e-reading software. It is better to designate Onyx Boox devices as note-taking e-readers, rather than E-Ink Android tablets, as it encapsulates its strengths. Further, these strengths do not need Android.

Note-taking e-readers

As a result, the manner devices are marketed by vendors makes a difference in how they produced. The idea of a 'paper tablet' leads to a restricted device that fails as an e-reader and does not make the most of E-Ink's strengths. On the other side, Onyx Boox seeks to market its devices as E-Ink Android tablets to justify even more hardware upgrades and newer devices. Yet, the devices produced by Onyx Boox fail as Android tablets but excel as e-readers. It may be a better idea if vendors marketed their devices as note-taking e-readers - this way, they can focus on maximising what E-Ink does best.

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