Turning the Page on E-Readers

By Schiller, Kurt | Information Today, April 2010 | Go to article overview

Turning the Page on E-Readers


Schiller, Kurt, Information Today


The e-reader market has reached a crossroads. While single-purpose readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's nook captured early adopters despite colorless displays and limited features, publishers and developers are expanding the ebook market and attracting a new class of consumers. Companies are taking e-readers in entirely new directions.

Peeking Over the Horizon

Each January, the world's big players in the electronics and software companies gather in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a showcase for the latest cutting-edge products. In addition to big-ticket innovations such as Intel's Minority Report-like interactive display system and Panasonic's 3D plasma TV, this year's CES featured plenty of new e-readers, each revolutionizing the market in its own way.

As one of the newcomers, Plastic Logic's QUE reader is designed to target periodical-hungry professional readers. Lightweight with an 8.5" x 11" screen, the QUE is geared toward replicating magazine layouts. Though it can display ebooks, it also features subscription-based access to publications such as the Harvard Business Review, The Atlantic, Forbes, and The New Yorker. It also allows users to store and access PDFs, Word documents, PowerPoint presentations, and spreadsheets.

However, the QUE has its drawbacks. As with the Kindle and the nook, its display remains black-and-white, it lacks multimedia capabilities, and it features a hefty price: The basic Wi-Fi version retails for $649, while the 3G version is $799.

Another contender is Spring Design, Inc.'s Alex reader, one of a growing number of e-readers that feature more than one display. In addition to a 6" e-paper display, the Alex also has a 3.5" color LCD touchscreen. While the larger screen displays ebooks, the smaller one lets users browse the web, handle email functions, and explore multimedia content. The color screen can also be used as an extension of the larger screen.

As with the QUE reader, the Alex's price may be a concern. At $399, it costs more than the Kindle or the nook (both retailing for $259), and consumers may not consider the price to be worth its smartphonelike web browsing and email functionality.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Another new reader may offer unique insights into the ebook market for magazine publishers. The Skiff reader, which is affiliated with the Hearst Corp., has Wi-Fi and 3G, along with a sizable 11.5" high-resolution touchscreen. The screen is made of a shatterproof metal-foil material developed by LG that eliminates the need for a glass screen and improves the device's durability. However, the Skiff's high-resolution display is limited to shades of gray.

As with the QUE reader, the Skiff's main target is the newspaper and magazine markets. The format is designed to enable the device to incorporate the complex layouts of modern newspapers and magazines, along with high-resolution graphics and typography. The accompanying Skiff Store will also let users access content on a multitude of devices in addition to the Skiff.

Judging an E-Reader by Its Cover

One of the ways that e-readers are coping with different display technologies is by including multiple displays, each geared toward a specific purpose. While the Alex reader and the nook are following this market, another company is taking the idea even further.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The enTourage's eDGe (priced at $499) has multiple screens, with a battery-saving e-paper display for ebooks and a color touchscreen for multimedia and web browsing. Rather than using both screens in a relatively small area, enTourage opted for a unique clamshell design that is more akin to a laptop or netbook than a traditional e-reader.

"The eDGe is really an integration of an e-paper display and an LCD display into what we call a dual book," says enTourage's VP of marketing and business development Doug Atkinson. …

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