At first blush, e-book readers such as the popular Amazon Kindle have no apparent place in business, but take a second look before dismissing them out of hand as mere toys for gadget freaks.
True, they're selling to consumers like the proverbial hotcakes, with analysts at the Boston-based Yankee Group forecasting revenue growth from a respectable $1.3- billion (U.S) this year to $2.5-billion (U.S) in 2013, in the United States alone.
It expects six million of the devices to be sold this year in the United States, with a compound annual growth rate of 34 per cent raising that number to a whopping 19.2 million in 2013.
This growth will be driven in part by declining price points, with $150 being the sweet spot for purchasers. Analyst Dmitriy Molchanov of the Yankee Group says, "We see the average price of e-book readers declining by roughly 15 per cent per year for the next five years, resulting in 55-per-cent increase in adoption rate year over year."
Although in North America, the readers have mainly targeted consumers, there are demonstrated business uses for them as well.
For example, SolidFX has partnered with IREX Technologies and aviation data provider Jeppesen to produce the F10 portable aviation information manager. It's an IREX e-book reader loaded with Jeppesen's worldwide terminal chart database and specialized viewing software that allows pilots to access the charts they need on a lightweight device that sips battery power and can be easily incorporated into the cockpit or tucked into a flight bag.
The display size is similar to that of a paper chart, and according to Robert Goyer, a pilot and reviewer for Flying magazine, the e-Ink display can be easily read in most lighting conditions, unlike that of a laptop.
"Portable computers are an option for displaying charts in the cockpit, but they're far from ideal," he notes in his review. "They draw a lot of power, have limited battery life and can be hard to read in very bright sunlight."
The added bonus for pilots is that, once they're on the ground, the device can be used as a standard e-book reader so they can catch up on their lighter reading on the same unit.
E-Ink technology, upon which most e-readers are based, draws power only when the screen is being changed, providing phenomenal battery life. The F10 gets about 10 hours continuous use from a single charge. E-Ink's downside, however, is that it is currently monochrome only; colour displays are in the works.
If flying is a bit esoteric, consider another area where paper threatens to overwhelm: government. To save trees and reduce its carbon footprint, the municipality of Hardenberg in the Netherlands has issued e-readers to its council members. They can read and annotate documents and take notes on the readers during meetings.
This brings up a fact that e-reader vendors, many of whom are also booksellers, don't necessarily promote too loudly: users can load their own documents on their e-readers. Even relatively inexpensive units support document formats such as PDF as well as traditional e-book formats such as Mobi and ePub, allowing business users to load catalogues, spec sheets, proposals, technical manuals and other documents onto their readers. And if the reader doesn't support a particular format, free open source utilities such as calibre will convert it into something the reader can digest.
Some readers also offer Web browsing, and can be loaded wirelessly, through WiFi or cellular connections. Amazon, for example, provides the service for purchases for the Kindle over its own cellular network, although this is a two-edged sword. It's convenient, but Amazon's licence agreement grants it permission to access customer devices without further warning and harvest information.