E Ink Holdings, the firm behind the allegedly easy-on-the-eye daylight readable electronic paper that once made your Kindle or Nook so great, has just reported  its first loss in 10 successive quarters.
The company made a net loss of NT$787 million (a little under $27 million) for the first three months of 2012, after it saw a 63% slump in revenues from the previous quarter to NT$3.84 billion. The company says it's due to "off-season effects and inventory adjustments at clients." Yes, we're inclined to believe that the shift from the always-lucrative holiday season quarter to the dim, wintery first three months of the year could quite definitely adjust how many e-reader devices the average consumer buys. But a 63% slump in revenues is pretty enormous.
Because what we think is happening is that the era of the e-reader as a must-have device is drawing to a close. Back in March some research suggested  that expectations for e-reader sales for the quarter were way down on the previous year's, and those predictions now look to have been right on target.
In fact, we called this back in 2010 , though we thought 2010 itself was going to be the "Only Year Of The E-Reader," and the phenomenon bathed a little longer in the limelight than we thought.
The reasons why that time is over are a perfect storm of innovative competitors. It starts with Amazon's own Kindle Fire, a full-featured tablet PC at a bargain-basement price, sporting a forked version of Android beneath Amazon's own content-centric UI and thus capable of playing nicely with apps. You know, those lovely toys we like to play with for gaming, social networking, emailing and whathaveyou...all making the most of the full-color LCD screen. Amazon's sold so many of these that they now make up  over 50% of all Android-powered tablets. Which, since they only were launched at the latter half of 2011, is a storming success.
The thing is, say e-ink afficionados, those Fire screens don't really work in the daytime, nor are they as gentle on the eye as e-ink, which is supposedly closer to the look and feel of real ink on real paper partly because of its high contrast, and partly because of the smooth edges e-ink can give to digital fonts.
And that's where the iPad 3 comes in , of course. Its high-resolution LCD screen is astonishing, and it packs more pixels than probably any computer display you've used--e-book text on its screen is so flawless it's like reading a slightly glowing magazine page. And Apple has sold a ton  of them, alongside its already hugely successful iPad 2.
Then there's the rumors  of a super-low-price Google-branded Android tablet coming sometime soon. Would you hand over cash for an e-ink e-reader, knowing that for only a few dollars more you'd soon be able to buy a tablet that not only can display e-books, but also play videos, let you browse Facebook, get your Angry Birds game on, do some Instagramming, even, crazily, actually generate some content for work? The e-reader isn't going away overnight, of course...and its sales trajectory will soar onward for a few years yet. It's just that rocketing above it, faster, higher and more powerfully, is the tablet PC. Innovation in action.
[Image: Flickr user quinn.anya ]