Hot For The Holidays: eReaders

IREX eReaderRetrevo recently released the results of a Gadgetology survey that indicates eReaders are going to enjoy a better holiday season than in previous years. 21% of respondents said they would buy a reader device this year. They even beat out MP3 players on holiday wish lists.

I’m not surprised by any of this. Every few weeks there’s more eReader news – a product announcement, a rumor, a review – plus prices have dropped for both Amazon and Sony’s offerings. The real excitement is coming from companies that aren’t the usual suspects in the American market: ASUS and IREX.

ASUS’ eReader hasn’t been officially announced yet – according to Wired we’ll probably get the first peek at CES in January – but it seems likely that the Eee-branded reader will take the form of the dual-screen concept seen on many a tech news site. Whether this or a different device will end up being the sub-$200 product ASUS is promising remains to be seen.

ASUS ebook concept

Several of the features this eReader is rumored to have seem a bit over the top: color touchscreen, webcam, and a mic for making Skype calls. It makes me wonder if ASUS is going to use a low-contrast screen that gives a similar effect to the e-paper/eInk ones we’re used to or if the screens will be more akin to those you’d find on a notebook.

Though the Eee reader has me excited, I was particularly impressed with what I saw of IREX Technologies’ offering last week. It’s speedier than every other reader I’ve used and has a nice-sized 8.1-inch screen (great for reducing the amount of page turning). Capacitive touch will have to wait for models coming out next year, but the IREX eReadercombination of pen/stylus input and button navigation controls will satisfy consumers looking for intuitive ways to navigate their eBooks. I particularly like that newspapers will have a similar look to their paper counterparts, allowing users to pick articles and browse in a familiar way.

With 3G provided by Verizon Wireless and a partnership with Barnes & Noble, the company is challenging the Amazon Kindle on every front except cost. The $399 price tag is a bit 2007.

In this aspect, IREX is taking a page from the Apple playbook. CEO Hans Brons is clearly convinced that they’ve created a superior device that will be worth the premium. I don’t know if I’d call it the iPod of eReaders, but so far I’m intrigued. Plus, I like the ideal of openness IREX is upholding.

IREX eReaderThe reader’s Linux-based OS will be open to developers to create apps that will in turn drive adoption. Brons specifically cited the Amazon Kindle disappearing books incident when speaking about the balance between openness and DRM requirements for publishers. DRM content won’t be locked to one device. Readers will be able to access their eBooks from other devices, including their computers, with ease.

It wouldn’t surprise me if, this time next year, studies and sales will show that eReaders are doing even better amongst consumers. If the publishing industry steps up and begins to deliver more content to electronic devices, then the eReader will finally have its iPod moment.

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