Adobe support for ePub fuels e-book wrangle | (signaling the arrival of critical mass for e-readers?)

Adobe fired a warning shot at Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader last week as the battle between open and closed format content in the electronic book publishing market heated up.

In what has been widely interpreted as an attack on the Kindle’s use of a proprietary format, Adobe issued a statement demonstrating its support for the ePub open standard.

I’m not entirely convinced yet that e-readers, at least in their present form, are a successful proposition. Asking the public to carry around yet another device in addition to computer and mobile doesn’t seem a workable model. I tend to lean toward the argument of folks who say that such ‘tween gadgetry is destined to be absorbed into one or both of the established technologies. It is so reminiscent of the Newton-Palm-Blackberry PDA market, which eventually did merge into smart phones.

But as a sign that e-readers are indeed an established activity that will be with us in the future regardless of whether it stands on its own or merges into something else, nothing so far is quite as significant a statement as a company of Adobe’s rank weighing in.

And for anyone at all interested in this technology, the question of standardized vs. proprietary format would be key. Although it is not unheard of that a vendor-based format trumps the market, PDF being a case in point, most examples, particularly involving hardware – and I’m thinking here about U.S. vs. rest-of-the-world mobile phone proliferation, as well as about the history of Apple’s Macintosh computer – show that it also usually slows down the market.

Just as I’d be willing to bet that single-function e-readers will be a niche gadget at best, that more of us will be e-reading on smaller computers or larger smart phones or some such eventually, I’d also be willing to bet that “eventually” will be sooner rather than later if e-readers all coalesce around PDF, even if just as a least common denominator in addition to whatever higher-function proprietary approaches they want to offer.