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Now Asus Plans An E-Book Reader

  • 1:18 pm  | 
  • Categories: Media Players


Call it the EeeBook.

The electronic books reader market is red hot right now and Asus is taking notice. The company plans to introduce an e-reader under its Eee PC brand, according to a report in Taiwanese paper DigiTimes.

Asus’ new e-reader is likely to be available by the end of the year, according to company president Jerry Shen.

The e-reader market is one of the hottest consumer product categories currently. Just the last few months have seen a slew of new product announcements. After introducing Kindle 2, the updated version of its e-reader, Amazon launched a broadsheet reading device called the Kindle DX. Earlier this week, Sony introduced a $400 wireless e-reader with a 7-inch screen. Meanwhile, two other companies–iRex and Plastic Logic–plan to offer new large screen readers later this year or early next year.

Standing out from the competition won’t be easy for Asus. Asus doesn’t have the benefit of low cost or the first mover advantage in the e-reader market, two factors that ensured the company’s success in the netbooks category. The cheapest of e-book readers today is from Sony and it costs $200.  Asus will have to beat that price by a significant margin.

Most 6-inch e-readers in the market currently are also homogeneous in their form factor, looks and overall experience. Doing something innovative, while keeping costs extremely low won’t be easy for Asus. Asus did not respond to a request for comment.

And unlike in the netbook market, Asus will also have to deal with the challenge of offering access to content for the device. Just adopting an open format such as EPub wont’ be enough to draw in users. After all, then what’s there to set an Asus reader apart from a Foxit eSlick or a Cool-er?

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Photo: (AZAdam/Flickr)

Sony’s E-Book Reader Adds Touchscreen, Wireless Downloads

  • 1:50 pm  | 
  • Categories: Media Players


After letting Kindle dominate the e-book reader market for two years, Sony has fired a huge salvo in return. The new Sony Reader Daily Edition adds wireless 3G connectivity from AT&T, a larger 7-inch screen, and a touchscreen. The company has also created a feature called Library Finder that will allow users to borrow e-books from their local libraries, for free.

The Reader Daily Edition will cost $400 and is expected to be in stores this December.

“Sony has given the market what everyone was waiting for in terms of a wireless device,” says Sarah Rotman Epps, a Forrester analyst who has been covering e-readers. “Not only that, they have gone one step further, and shown their latest product is no copycat of the Kindle.”

Since Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, e-readers have become a surprisingly hot consumer product category.  Though Sony was the first to launch an e-reader, the company has lagged behind its biggest rival. One key missing feature was wireless connectivity: Until now, Sony Reader users who wanted to purchase or download books had to connect their e-reader to a PC using the USB connection. By contrast, the Kindle has always offered free over-the-air wireless downloads of books through Sprint’s network. Amazon also aggressively pursued publishers, enabling the company to offer a wide selection of popular books for download.

Now Sony is fighting back on both the features and the content fronts. The Reader Daily Edition offers portrait and landscape orientation. In portrait mode, about 30-35 lines of text are visible, offering an experience similar to that of a printed paperback book, says the company. The device has enough internal memory to hold more than 1,000 standard e-books, says Sony, and it has expansion slots for memory cards.

The Reader Daily Edition is the third new e-book reader the company has introduced in the last few weeks. Earlier this month, the company launched a $200 5-inch screen device called the Sony Reader Pocket and a $300, 6-inch touchscreen model called the Sony Reader Touch. Amazon’s Kindle 2 e-reader with 6-inch display sells for $300 and the large 9.7-inch screen Kindle DX costs $490; neither of them has a touchscreen.

Sony Reader’s second big weakness compared to the Kindle has been access to content. Amazon’s position as a leading online retailer of books helped the company offer a wide selection of e-books to Kindle buyers that were competitively priced and easy to download.

To match that, Sony has partnered with OverDrive, a distributor of e-books to libraries, to offer its customers easy access to the local library’s collection of e-books.  Sony Reader customers can use the company’s Library Finder software and check out e-books with a valid library card. Users will have to download the books to a PC first and then transfer them to the Reader. The e-books will expire at the end of the 21-day lending period.

Sony has also said it will adopt the open EPub format in a move that allows consumers to purchase or download books from the Sony store and read them on any EPub-compatible device. In contrast, Amazon uses a proprietary file format that only allows users to read books they’ve bought using the Kindle, or Amazon-sanctioned Kindle software.

“From the beginning, we have said that an open format means more choice for consumers,” says Steve Haber, president of Sony’s Digital Reading Business Division. “Now, readers can shop around for what interests them rather than be locked into one store.”

Still, it won’t be easy to beat Amazon, says Epps.

“Sony is number two in the market and though they are in a strong position to close the gap with Amazon over the holiday season, I expect Amazon to still be the market leader in early 2010,” she says.

“Amazon has built a very strong relationship with e-book buying consumers that were the first wave of adopters of electronic readers,” says Epps.

Sony’s Daily Edition e-reader will also have to contend with newer rivals vying for a piece of this fast growing segment. IRex, a Dutch company, said Monday it will launch a 8.1-inch touchscreen e-reader in the United States later this year. IRex has partnered with Barnes & Noble to use the latter’s e-books store to power its device. Meanwhile, another company, Plastic Logic, has been working to introduce its notepad-sized 8.5-inch reader targeted at business users.

“Consumers are now split between the small pocket-sized devices with 5-inch or 6-inch screens and the larger screen 8-inch to 10-inch screen readers,” says Epps. “But it is not over yet. The market is still evolving.”

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Photo: Sony Reader Daily Edition/Sony

iRex and Barnes & Noble to Launch New U.S. E-book Reader

  • 5:16 pm  | 
  • Categories: Media Players


The battle for dominance in the electronic books market is far from settled as new entrants continue to jostle their way in. iRex, a Netherlands-based company, has said it will launch a new e-book reader in the U.S. later this year. The e-reader will have a 8.1-inch touchscreen, stylus-based navigation and 3G wireless connectivity.

iRex has also partnered with Barnes & Noble to integrate the latter’s e-book store into its upcoming device.

Amazon’s Kindle and the Sony Reader have helped turn e-book readers into one of the hottest consumer electronics products. In May, E Ink, which almost exclusively supplies the black-and-white displays that power most e-readers, said more than a million readers use its technology.

Big retail book stores are taking notice. Earlier this year, Borders U.K. introduced a £189 ($276) e-book reader called Elonex. The Elonex will come pre-loaded with about 1,000 books and will support both the open-source ePub and proprietary Adobe formats.

In July, Barnes & Noble launched its own e-book store and said that it will power Plastic Logic’s e-reader targeted at business users. By partnering with iRex, Barnes & Noble hopes to expand its reach.

iRex was founded in 2005 as a spin-off from Royal Phillips Electronics. The company’s name stands for ‘Interactive Reading Experience,’ CEO Hans Brons told in an interview earlier. iRex launched an e-reader with a 10.1-inch screen last year. But the company has mostly focused on business users, says Brons.

iRex’s upcoming reader will put it in competition with the larger e-book readers such as Amazon Kindle DX and the Plastic Logic e-reader. iRex hasn’t revealed how much its e-reader will cost in the U.S.

“All 6-inch displays today use first generation technology when it comes to driving the ink particles on the electronic paper,” says Brons. “We have improved on that tech and our customers can see the difference in the brightness of the screen and contrast ratio of the display.”

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Photo: iRex DR 1000s Reader (barisione/Flickr)

Sony to Introduce $200 E-reader

  • 6:16 pm  | 
  • Categories: Media Players


Amazon watch out as Sony is set to launch an all-out offensive against the Kindle.  Sony plans to introduce two new e-readers priced at $200 and $300, according to a release from Sony.

The two new models—PRS-300 branded as Sony Reader Pocket and PRS-600 called Sony Reader Touch–will be available at the end of the month.

The  aggressive pricing on the new devices puts Sony ahead of its rivals. Amazon’s Kindle 2 retails for $300, while the large screen Kindle DX costs $490.  Even the cheapest of e-book readers today such as the Cool-er cost $250.

Specifications of the two Sony e-reader devices had leaked late last week.  The $200 Pocket will have a 5-inch display and will be available in colors including blue, rose and silver. The device can store about 350 standard eBooks. The $300 Touch will have a 6-inch touch screen display. Users can take handwritten notes with the stylus pen or type with the virtual keyboard. All notes can be exported and printed. But unlike the Kindle, both models do not have wireless connectivity.

Sony is also likely to cut prices of e-books in its store to match that of Amazon and the newly launched Barnes & Noble e-book store. New releases and bestseller titles in the eBook Store will be available for $10, said Sony.

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Photo: Sony PRS-700 Reader (Eirik Newth/Flickr)

Why 2010 Will Be the Year of the Tablet

  • 11:38 am  | 
  • Categories: Media Players


After years of enticing rumors, ambitious prognostications and flat-out blather, 2010 may finally be the year that the tablet PC evolves from being a niche device to becoming a mainstream portable computer.

The tipping point comes via word to from a well-connected industry executive that mainstream heavyweights Dell and Intel are collaborating on a touchscreen tablet due for release next year. Though our source has learned little about specifications of the device, what’s apparent is that the tablet will serve as a subscription-based e-reader for displaying newspapers, magazines and other media, giving Amazon’s Kindle — particularly, the nearly $500 large-format DX model — a run for its money.

As notable as the format is the business model: The tablet will be free for consumers who opt into a contract subscribing to one or more digital media subscriptions, according to our source. That’s similar to how telecom companies currently subsidize cellphones when customers agree to two-year contracts.

Our source, who requested to remain anonymous due to a non-disclosure agreement, said the companies are aiming to launch this product in about six months.

Dell and Intel are just the latest examples of a growing trend. MKM Partners analyst Tero Kuittinen said he, too, has heard rumors about not just Dell, but also handset makers Nokia and HTC delivering tablets by end of first quarter 2010. Nearly everyone has now confidently reported that Apple is launching a tablet by early next year. Singapore start-up Fusion Garage and TechCrunch are rushing to release the CrunchPad touchscreen tablet by this November.

Market research firm Display Search now projects the touchscreen market will triple in the next few years, from $3.6 billion to $9 billion.

“The iPhone was a big catalyst for the whole touchscreen industry, even if it’s just from a 3.5-inch mobile phone,” said Jennifer Halgrove, an analyst and director of display technologies with Display Search. “It encouraged people’s imaginations, and now companies are saying, ‘Oh, I can make a bigger one, and I can also have this user friendly interface.’ That really opened this industry.”
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Plastic Logic E-Book Reader to Use AT&T Wireless

  • 12:01 am  | 
  • Categories: Media Players

Plastic Logic

Electronic books reader manufacturer Plastic Logic announced Wednesday that it will offer wireless access in its upcoming devices through AT&T’s 3G network. The e-book reader expected to launch early next year will also have Wi-Fi connectivity.

“Built in 3G access adds mobility to the product and allows users access to books at all times, wherever they are,” Daren Benzi, vice president of business development at Plastic Logic told

The move also positions Plastic Logic  squarely against Amazon’s Kindle e-reader that uses Sprint’s wireless connectivity for over-the-air book downloads and basic internet surfing.

Since Amazon launched the Kindle in 2007, the e-books reader market has taken off with more than 15 models of e-readers available today.  E-readers with 6-inch displays, such as those seen in the Kindle 2 or Sony Reader, are the most popular among consumers. But earlier this year, Amazon launched the Kindle DX with a 9.7-inch screen for $490.

Plastic Logic is targeting its e-readers at business users. The device is about 8.5 x 11 inch, the size of a large notepad, less than 0.25-inches thick and has a touchscreen interface. The company has not disclosed pricing for the product.

On Monday, book retailing giant Barnes & Noble said it will power the Plastic Logic devices through its new e-books store. Barnes & Noble’s e-book store will have more than 700,000 titles, compared to the 300,000 odd books that its closest rival Amazon has. And because of  the wireless capability of the Plastic Logic devices, the combination will be a completely integrated experience for consumers, says William Lynch, president of Barnes&

Lynch did not comment on whether Barnes & Noble would eventually sell Plastic Logic devices at its stores but said the e-book store partnership with the latter is not exclusive. “We are open to working with other manufacturers,” says Lynch.

The Plastic Logic Reader will offer users more than just newspapers, books and magazine content. It will support the document formats such as PDF, Word, PowerPoint and Excel, some of which current e-readers cannot.

Plastic Logic is also counting on AT&T’s wide network of Wi-Fi hotspots to please its customers, says Benzi.

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Photo: Plastic Logic Reader/Plastic Logic

more than 200 countries and regions. AT&T is also the nation’s largest Wi-Fi provider,

New Barnes & Noble E-book Store to Power Plastic Logic Reader

  • 6:41 pm  | 
  • Categories: Media Players

Plastic LogicBarnes & Noble is getting into the e-books business, all guns blazing, as it announced a new expanded e-book store that will be available across different devices such iPhone, BlackBerry and the yet-to-be released Plastic Logic e-reader.

The company’s e-book store will have more than 700,000 titles, compared to the 300,000 or so that its closest rival Amazon boasts. More than half-million public domain books from Google will also be part of Barnes & Noble’s electronic bookstore and can be downloaded for free, it said. Sony has a similar deal with Google to make the public domain books available for its e-book reader customers. But Amazon does not offer the free books to its Kindle customers.

At just about 1 percent, e-book sales are a fraction of the $25 billion book publishing business in the U.S. but it is a category that is growing rapidly. So far, Amazon has been the most successful at seamlessly integrating its online book store with its Kindle e-book reader because of the over-the-air wireless book downloads feature.

Through the partnership with Plastic Logic, Barnes & Noble hopes to counter Amazon’s Kindle threat. Plastic Logic is expected to start shipping a new device early next year that could be a rival to Amazon’s broadsheet Kindle DX launched last month. Plastic Logic’s e-reader is 0.27 inches thick and has a 8.5 x 11 inch E Ink touchscreen display that makes it seem almost like a large notepad.

Barnes & Noble’s e-book store will support the EPub format that has also been adopted by Sony. Yet Barnes & Noble’s e-bookstore won’t be accessible by Sony Reader, the company said. Amazon Kindle users, also, won’t be able to download books from Barnes & Noble’s e-book store.

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Photo: Plastic Logic E-Reader/Plastic Logic

Amazon Shaves $60 Off Kindle 2 Price

  • 4:03 pm  | 
  • Categories: Displays

Kindle 2

Amazon has lowered the price of the Kindle 2 e-book reader by $60. The Kindle 2 will now sell for $300 instead of the $360 it was introduced at earlier this year.

Amazon’s move has put Kindle in a better position to compete with its rivals by bridging the price gap.  Sony’s basic e-book reader costs $280, while lesser known brands such as the Cool-er will set you back by $250.

The Kindle 2, with its 6-inch screen, is the successor to the original Kindle that was first introduced in 2007.  Kindle 2 has a revamped design, slimmer profile and longer battery life compared to its predecessor.

Amazon has hinted that an increase in the number of Kindles manufactured have helped bring down the cost of the product. But the company hasn’t disclosed, till date, the number of Kindles it has sold or how much revenue it has made from the device.

Amazon did not reduce the price of the $489 large screen Kindle DX introduced just weeks after the Kindle 2.

Are you more likely to buy a Kindle 2 now?

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Bookstores Aim at Amazon With E-Readers of Their Own

  • 6:05 pm  | 
  • Categories: Media Players


In a few months when best-selling author Dan Brown’s new book The Lost Symbol hits Borders, chances are some customers will be stepping into the chain’s British stores to buy the e-book and a reader instead of the hardcover book.

Last week, Borders U.K. introduced a £189 ($276) e-book reader called Elonex. The Elonex will come pre-loaded with about 1,000 books and will support both the open-source ePub and proprietary Adobe formats. It will be “completely compatible” with the 45,000 odd e-books sold through the Borders website, says the company.

“Digital bookselling is still in its infancy but we believe it is here to stay,” says Peter Newbould, commercial director at Borders. “By launching the e-book reader, we hope to bring new customers into the market.”

Borders is not the only big chain store to embrace the e-book reader trend. Its biggest competitor Barnes & Noble is reportedly working on introducing an e-book reader of its own. And online, — which once called itself “Earth’s biggest bookstore” — has scored a hit with the most popular e-book reader to date, the Kindle, enabling it to generate an estimated $310 million in revenue.

“The big book stores are seeing Amazon take more and more market share of digital book sales,” says Sarah Rotman-Epps, an analyst with Forrester Research. “E-books are a small part of the market but it is one of the growth areas and retailers don’t want to stand back and let Amazon get ahead.”

Since Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2007, e-reader and e-books sales have exploded. In May, E Ink, which almost exclusively supplies the black-and-white displays that power most e-readers said more than a million readers use its technology. Though still a small percentage of overall book sales, e-books have been one of the fastest growing segments in the market. Book sales fell to $24.3 billion in 2008 from $25 billion the year before, e-book sales nearly doubled to $117 million in 2008 from $67 million, a year ago.

Continue Reading “Bookstores Aim at Amazon With E-Readers of Their Own” »

Why E-Books Are Stuck in a Black-and-White World

  • 2:40 pm  | 
  • Categories: Displays


Electronic book readers may be the future of publishing, but in one important respect, they’re still stuck in 1950: Almost every e-book reader on the market has a black-and-white display. Most can’t display more than a handful of different shades of gray.

That’s why display makers are racing to bring color to the world of e-books. Their goal is to make Gray’s Anatomy and its more than 1,200 full-color illustrations as interesting as the next Dan Brown novel.

The hitch is that color e-ink technologies aren’t anywhere near ready for prime time. Amazon chief Jeff Bezos recently told shareholders that a Kindle with a color screen is “multiple years” away.

“There’s no doubt color displays can offer much more compared to black and white, which is why we are working on it,” says Sri Peruvemba, vice president of marketing for E Ink. “And so far we have hit all the milestones that we had set for ourselves.” Last week E Ink was acquired by Taiwanese company Prime View International for $215 million.

E-book readers have become the hottest consumer products of the year. Since the first e-reader was introduced by Sony in 2006, and particularly since the introduction of’s popular Kindle in 2008, demand for e-readers has taken off. More than 1 million black-and-white displays have been sold so far, says E Ink, whose black-and-white displays power most of the e-readers on the market. And there are more than 15 e-reader models currently available or in the works.

With the exception of the Flepia, though, almost all e-readers are monochromatic. So what’s the technological holdup? To understand that, you first have to understand how E Ink’s black-and-white displays work. Electronic ink, pioneered by the company, is composed of millions of microcapsules. Each microcapsule has positively charged white particles and negatively charged black particles suspended in a clear fluid. When a positive electric field is applied, the black particles are attracted to the top and become visible to the user. That makes that area appear black. The reverse is also true: A negative electric field draws white particles to the top, making the area appear lighter. For an electronic display, the ink is printed on a sheet of plastic film, and a layer of circuitry is laminated to it to drive the ink.

For a color display, E Ink needs to put a color filter on top of its black-and-white display. A color filter usually has four sub-pixels — red, green, blue and white — that are combined to create each full-color pixel. That also means reduced brightness of display.

“With four sub-pixels, we get only a fourth of the area that we use today in the black-and-white displays. That means the resolution of the black and white display needs to get higher for the color filter to be effective,” says Peruvemba. A 6-inch E Ink black-and-white display has a SVGA resolution of 800 x 600 pixels. To put a color filter on top would require the underlying display to have almost double the existing resolution.

The color filters also block a large amount of light, making the displays look dull and washed out, says Young. “The challenge is to balance the color output of the filter with the amount of light blocked by it,” he says. The good news? When E Ink figures it out, its black-and-white displays will be better than ever, says Young.

E Ink says it is on track for large scale production of color displays at the end of next year. At the recent DisplayWeek conference in San Antonio, Texas, E Ink showed off prototypes of its color screen. Meanwhile, E Ink rival Kent Displays has already seen its color screen included in the Fujistu’s Flepia, the only color e-reader available today. The Flepia is for sale in Japan only.

Other contenders in the race for color e-reader displays include Pixel Qi, the startup founded by former One Laptop Per Child project CTO Mary Lou Jepsen, and Qualcomm. Qualcomm could improve its existing line of low power displays called Mirasol and introduce a color version next year.

There’s a caveat. E-readers with color displays can’t match up to the standards set by LCD and now OLED displays. “Color displays for e-readers doesn’t have anywhere the contrast ratio of LCDs or OLED,” says Barry Young, managing director of the OLED association. “For color electrophoretic displays, the contrast is down to about 20 to 1, while for LCDs it is in the 1,000s to 1 and for OLEDs is 10,000s to 1 range.”

“People don’t like color screens that are dark,” says Raj Apte, manager of prototype devices and circuits for PARC, formerly known as Xerox PARC, “and so far, the displays for e-readers we have seen lack the brightness that makes color screens attractive.”

E Ink’s rivals are facing their own challenges. Kent’s color screens are based on cholesteric LCDs (liquid cyrstals where the molecules are arranged with their axes parallel to each other in one layer and then are displaced a little for each following layer to give them a helix-like structure.) The advantage with cholesteric LCDs is that they consume much lower power than traditional LCDS and are bistable — which means they can retain their image even when the power is lost. These LCDs stack red, green and blue films to create a color display. The trade-off for them is the refresh rate, says Young.

“It operates in three stages, so we are looking at a refresh rate of probably a second for a page compared to say a Kindle 2’s 250 milliseconds,” he says.

The stacking process also raises questions of whether Kent’s displays can be thinner than its competitors. “Thickness is just an engineering issue that can be solved with the use of the right substrate,” says Asad Hussain, vice president of technology for Kent Displays.

A problem that won’t go away as easily will be in convincing e-reader makers to choose Kent Displays over rival E Ink, which has proven its mettle. A 16-year-old private company, Kent has been showing demos of its color screens for years. But so far, other than Fujitsu, it hasn’t found any takers, at least none announced publicly.

Hussain blames the reluctance of e-reader manufacturers to introduce color displays. “Right now black-and-white displays have momentum and though everyone wants color, no one is willing to make the shift.”

Check out our detailed comparison of how the four color e-reader display technologies

Continue Reading “Why E-Books Are Stuck in a Black-and-White World” »