Are enterprises ready for e-readers?

E-readers offer cheaper documents, faster updates -- so where are they?

Obstacles For E-Readers

Although E-readers are starting to appear on the radar screens of businesses, obstacles to widespread adoption remain.

NPD's Rubin noted that the perfect business-oriented e-reader would have the wireless connectivity of the Kindle and the power of a tablet PC. However, he added that it also would need better search capability and support for both PDF and HTML.

One key roadblock to adoption is that e-book vendors are focusing on consumers, not on business. As a result, many books on the New York Times bestseller list are, or soon will be, available as e-books, but that isn't the case for thrillers such as 'The Field Manual For Satellite Dish Realignment.' One reason for that is the widespread use of other types of devices.

"For vertical market apps, a tablet PC or good old notebook PC might be better," Gartner's McGuire said.

Another issue could be called the consumer-first policy for technology adoption in the enterprise. As was the case with the iPod, Wi-Fi and Skype, support within companies for new types of devices often evolves only after employees start using those devices on their own for work-related tasks. Given that tendency, enterprises may well wait for e-readers to be used more widely by consumers.

"As folks buy these devices, enterprises will begin to publish to them -- as we've seen with the iPod," Melissa Webster, digital media analyst at IDC, said.

Yet another problem blocking the e-reader's path into business is poor graphics quality. For instance, NPD's Rubin, who tested the Kindle, said he was disappointed when reading an e-book by Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert. Graphs and images available to readers of the paper version were missing from the e-book, he said.

To address this failing, Adobe, the vendor behind the PDF format, is introducing a e-book software suite with enhanced graphics.

E-readers, then, are in that early stage in their appeal to enterprises: There are many potential advantages to companies, but also many impediments to adoption. So the question remains: Will e-readers ever span the gap between paper documents and laptops in the enterprise? As more big players like Sony and Amazon.com become involved, and as more enterprises dip their toes in the e-reader waters, that answer may become clear before long.

Ed Sutherland is a freelance writer who for years has commented on the rise-and-fall of countless technologies.

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