peakOn Gizmodo, Alex Cranz complains that smartphones these days are effectively same-old same-old same-old. Differences from one year’s model to another—and from one different model to another—are effectively cosmetic, and they represent only marginal improvements over each other.

I won’t rehash the arguments in detail, but it occurred to me that they could just as readily apply to tablets or e-ink readers. Look at the newest Kindle, the Oasis—it’s effectively the same e-reader as all those that have come before, just better-lit. Even its few major differences from its predecessors—the new form factor and push-buttons—are just a throwback to the old Rocket eBook which pre-dated the Kindle by years. As the Bible says, there’s nothing new under the sun.

Cranz pines for a design shakeup like Steve Jobs brought to the PC world in 1998 with the original iMac, but I take a different view. Why is boredom such a bad thing? How many things in our daily lives have stayed the same for decades or centuries or more?

Just looking around me for examples visible from where I’m sitting, we don’t see rapid technological advances in eyeglasses, or wallets, or camera cases, or drinking glasses. You don’t have to figure out how to open a new style of bottle or can of beer every year. For all that Steve Jobs gave computers candy colors for a while in the late ‘90s, desktop PCs remain fundamentally the same as they always have—and grow less used year to year. And for that matter, printed books today are fundamentally the same as they were in Gutenberg’s time, with just a few refinements.

There’s no requirement that there be some new technological advance every year to make smartphones, tablets, or e-readers more “interesting.” I don’t know about you, but mine already do pretty much everything I need them to. How could I ask for more than that?

I know that humans have a natural instinct to look for novelty—it comes from the early days when we had to be on the alert for anything that looked different because a saber-toothed tiger might be hiding behind that different-looking bush. But we don’t have to have novelty in everything. I’d rather find novelty in the content I read with my e-reader than in the design of it.

If we have reached “peak e-reader,” then so what? It just means that e-readers will become another one of those things we take for granted in our daily life—like eyeglasses, wallets, and bottles of beer. Or like books. And that’s not at all a bad thing. Even the advent of the e-book hasn’t killed off good old-fashioned paper books. Nor is it likely to for decades, at the least. Wouldn’t it be great if e-readers also became one of those ubiquitous things we take for granted in our lives?

Previous articleMarvin for iOS: The Joanna perspective
Next articleMaybe books should be ‘mere content’
TeleRead Editor Chris Meadows has been writing for us--except for a brief interruption--since 2006. Son of two librarians, he has worked on a third-party help line for Best Buy and holds degrees in computer science and communications. He clearly personifies TeleRead's motto: "For geeks who love books--and book-lovers who love gadgets." Chris lives in Indianapolis and is active in the gamer community.


  1. Great for consumers, yes. Not so great for an industry that’s grown used to making money hand over fist by selling shiny toys to bored rich snobs who care far more about the bling than anything of substance. And you know what? We used to warn them. We used to try and explain the words “diminishing returns” to these people. But nobody listened. Now they can reap what they’ve sown.

  2. I would tend to agree that we don’t need something new every year and I certainly don’t see the need to replace something that’s doing everything I want it to just because there is a new version.
    However, if it weren’t for some of this innovation we’d all still be using a Nokia 3210 (or whatever 4-digits apply) with physical buttons and a monochrome screen.

    The biggest change for me was my first (cheap) smartphone which allowed me to handle email, browse the web, log into servers using SSH, FTP and remote desktop, read ebooks, navigate using GPS, check train and tide times and the weather, translate languages, play chess, tune my guitar, keep playing in time, read my bible, report holes in the road, securely store my passwords, handle my banking and possibly a load of other things I’ve since deleted. (This list just got longer and longer as I checked my apps).

    Or perhaps the biggest change was my first mobile phone plus texts (and maybe the inclusion of a camera). Virtually ubiquitous communication may have made the most difference.

    Extra bling? You can keep it. But I’d be loathe to lose the above and I’m open to genuinely new ideas that are well implemented.
    I do miss week-long battery life though.

    Steve Prior
    Go to any book. Anywhere. Easily.

The TeleRead community values your civil and thoughtful comments. We use a cache, so expect a delay. Problems? E-mail