The interest in e-readers, which has led to a number of recent announcements, cuts to the core of a very important issue in the rollout of new services.
The question focuses on how different or better a new approach has to be to succeed. The issue is summed up nicely in an InformationWeek post by Jonathan Salem Baskin. He questions whether the new technology is different enough from the old "technology" -- a book -- to gain market share commensurate with the attention it is getting. He says that books are just fine, and don't need replacing-especially by something that changes a process that is deeply engrained in the way people do things and brings them some level of comfort.
Baskin's point is a good one, and it's ironic that it can be raised in relation to the very thing, a book, that epitomizes -- along with cave paintings -- the great leap taken by our forefathers into mass communications. Gutenberg's press so revolutionized the world that it still has a strangle hold on the way things are done.
On a less philosophical level, the question clearly is whether the e-reader wannabes have done enough research to be sure that the market is big enough to support them. It seems obvious that they would have done their homework, but the Museum of Failed Products most likely has a special wing for modern communications initiatives. In general, the problem is that technologies come along that the engineers and marketers think are so cool that the real research-which may produce information they don't want to hear-tends to not be done or, if it is done, somehow dismissed.
There certainly is a lot of vendor interest in e-readers. It seems that the research I noted this spring is coming to fruition. This week, Barnes & Noble introduced the Nook. Computerworld says that it runs on the Android operating system and will be available late next month for $259. It features a black-and-white main display and a 3.5-inch color touch screen that offers a virtual keyboard for searches. It weighs 11.2 ounces and measures 7.7 inches by 4.9 inches by .5 inches. The story provides more details on the device and the way in which it is being supported and marketed by Barnes & Noble.
Spring Design says that its Android based e-reader, Alex, will feature two screens, a removable SD card and Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity options. The reading screen will be 6 inches and the color LCD display-used to browse hyperlinked information-will be 3.5 inches. TG Daily quotes Spring Design CEO Priscilla Lu as saying that the two screens are highly integrated.
In still another significant bit of e-reader news this week, Plastic Logic released plays for the QUE proReader, which this report in The Wall Street Journal says will be released at the Consumer Electronics Show in January. The story says that the device is the first to replace silicon and glass electronics with plastic.and that investors have fed more than $200 million into the project. Plastic electronics hold the promise of being more flexible and durable than the older elements, and stretch battery life from hours to days. The story, in a section looking at the competition, sites two versions of Amazon's Kindle, three Sony devices, the Alex from Spring Design and devices from six or more competitors. The piece doesn't mention the Barnes & Noble initiative.
There is no shortage of e-reader news. The key question is whether all of this activity is based on thorough research or is a case of competitors reading too much into the e-reader market.