Kindle vs. Nook: Ignore the battery life

Misdirection. While a magician purposely distracts you with a gratuitous flourish or chatter, the Houdini wannabe performs the sleight-of-hand unobserved.

Whether on purpose or by accident, I think Amazon is performing an ingenious misdirection in the wake of the introduction of the cheap "All-New" Nook and the cheaper Kobo eReader Touch Edition e-book readers.

Essentially, Amazon is engaging Barnes & Noble over how long two months is.
Okay, that's probably misleading, but Amazon is managing to misdirect the conversation away from the real difference between the new Nook and the new Kobo from the old Kindle that could threaten Amazon's e-book dominance.

As reported here (and everywhere), last week Barnes & Noble unveiled its new cheap touchscreen "All-New" Nook e-book reader. In attempting to emphasize how much better its new Nook is compared to Kindle in a "we're a distant number two, so anything's fair in love and e-books against the giant market leader" way, Nook claimed a battery life of two months, more than twice as long as that old-fogey Kindle.

Amazon immediately got its panties in a wad, arguing its battery life was based on someone reading an average of an hour a day. Those fibbers at Barnes & Noble measured Nook's battery life figuring average reading of a half hour a day. So, Amazon says, if we use Barnes & Noble's 30 minutes reading a day average, Kindle's battery also lasts two months.

Amazon, you ignorant slut, Barnes & Noble cleverly retorted. Barnes & Noble cited side-by-side tests to prove Nook's battery life was — oh, hell, read the Wall Street Journal piece or the CNN report on the e-book battery dust-up, because this whole battery issue is about as stupid as the Apple-is-tracking-your-whereabouts kerfuffle.

But Amazon doesn't care about the battery comparison, not really. But it's exactly what Amazon wants us talking about.

The Wrong Arguments

First off, measuring an e-reader's battery by time is dumb, bordering on false advertising.

Back in the early days of e-book readers — 2007 — Amazon and the companies that followed all measured e-book battery life by page turns.

This makes perfect, logical sense. Power is necessary in an e-ink-based e-reader only when you turn a page (assuming the Wi-Fi is off). So, the more you read, the faster the battery will be drained. Don't read at all and nearly no battery power is needed. Your e-reader will retain its power for months, which makes measuring the battery life of an e-book reader by time as relevant as measuring the duration of an airplane flight by inches traveled.

E-reader battery life ought to be measured by how many books you can read on a single charge. It's not as exact as page turns, but at least it's easy to grasp and not as stupidly illogical as a time measurement.

Second, why are we even arguing about e-ink e-reader battery life? You don't have to charge it every day. Or even every week. The battery lasts a long time. Period.
But, as originally posited, this whole battery discussion is a misdirection.

The Right Argument

By bickering about battery life, Amazon avoids the important difference — Nook and Kobo now have cheap e-readers with touchscreens and hardly any buttons.

For the same price, Kindle has no touchscreen and way too many buttons, mostly on its mostly unnecessary QWERTY keyboard.

I hate to use a cliché like "game changer," but a touchscreen on a cheap e-book reader is a, um, paradigm alterer.

(Yes, Sony beat everyone to the e-book touchscreen years ago, even before Kindle, but the Sony Touch Reader is $230, nearly $100 more than Nook and exactly $100 more than Kobo, lacks Wi-Fi, and doesn't have a natural book store partner as Kindle, Nook and Kobo (with Borders) does. But that's also a misdirection.)

An E-Reader for The Rest of Us

In 2010, despite Amazon's claimed e-reader success in Kindleland, less than 10 percent of all books sold in the U.S. were e-books. This year, industry types think the number could more than double.

This still leaves around 80 percent of the so far e-reluctant book reading public to sell e-book readers to.

Touch will be the key attraction to reach this mass of physical book lovers. As Todd Humphrey, executive VP for business development of Kobo, observed, a book doesn't have any buttons.

Exactly. Lovers of physical books are used to a tactile reading environment where nothing except a stiff spine and unruly book jacket flaps interferes with getting lost in a well-told tale.

Nook's and Kobo's touchscreens return the e-book to a more natural book reading experience. I can now buy my 85-year-old mother one, assured she'll actually understand how to use it. See, mom? Just touch the edge of a page like a real book, and the page turns.

And that's the point Amazon is trying to disguise with this whole battery life misdirection. If I were Barnes or Noble (metaphorically speaking), each time some fool reporter asked about battery life, I'd wave my hands with a gratuitous flourish and pronounce:

"Nothing up my sleeve... Voila! Touchscreen!"

For the latest tech stories, follow us on Twitter at @dvice