Amazon, Kobo, and Sony: I Hope You’re Just Being Weasels

Amazon, Kobo, and Sony are lobbying the FCC not to consider e-readers as the same product category as tablets and other computers, in order to be exempt from certain disability-related regulations. From The Verge, “[A]s it would detract from the core experience and push up the price.”

To further enhance its argument, the coalition says many Americans are now choosing to own both a tablet and an e-reader and that the differences between them are widely understood.

I’m not so sure this is a hot idea.  

(And to be clear, I’m not addressing the importance of accessibility for the purposes of this post, which is a whole other thing, and of course they should just suck it up and make their devices usable for everyone because humanity.) 

For one thing, I have no idea what exactly would have to change on these devices to make them compliant, but I seriously doubt it would even be noticed by consumers who didn’t need or weren’t looking for those features (ask an average user if they know where the accessibility features are on the iPad). I suppose it’s possible we’re talking about some fundamental hardware differences, but since iPads seem to be in no trouble of being altered, I don’t think that’s it. Chances are that these guys have determined that whatever it takes to get these things “up to code” would cost more in time and resources than just lobbying to wriggle out of it would.  

But in the bigger picture as far as the products themselves are concerned, I’m surprised that these companies would want to draw such a definitive line between e-reader and tablet. In making the argument based on the fact “that e-readers do not feature LCD screens, a camera, or ship with built-in email and instant messaging apps like iOS or Android tablets,” it sounds to me like a declaration that the evolution of this product category is over.  Already!

As much as I love having a dedicated, doesn’t-do-much-else reading device — mine in the amazing Kindle Paperwhite (with more here) — I would also be thrilled if it had basic, bare-bones functionality for things like email, Twitter, and reading-based apps like Instapaper. The “experimental” browser on the Kindle is close to basic usability, though it’s still a little too limited to be a go-to tool. Nonetheless, the option to hop into less graphics-intensive operations like tweets and email would be a welcome addition to a premium touchscreen e-reader. I keep hoping this will happen. 

But according to the logic of these companies trying to weasel out of some regulations, this can’t happen. I hope this isn’t really where they see the future of these devices. I honestly can’t imagine it is. 

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