The e-Paper Books – Alternatives to Kindle (Part – A)

It feels good when technology leaps forward. Especially, when the advancement challenges an incumbent and robust industry. Kindle does that. Using electrophoretic display (patented technology from E-Ink Corp) which happened with over ten years of research at MIT (by Prof. Joseph Jacobson and a company which I personally admire a lot – Philips N.V.), Kindle offers great value to readers with access to a little over a million titles sourced through sale deals with publishers.

A perfect device for a bookworm! And for environment, spreading education and lowering the distribution & logistics costs etc. (Can you make out what all businesses it threatens to kill?).

In America, Amazon relies on WhisperNet for downloads alongside a DRM system (suspect draconian?) to safeguard the interest of publishers. On an average a book costs around US$10, and that a downloaded copy cannot be shared nor moved out of one’s device. A model similar to iPod or iPhone from Apple. Grossly speaking, Kindle & its book-world is following the example of American Telecom Industry where the device and service provider are bonded together.

From Asian perspective one wouldn’t support such a closed & rather expensive (IMHO does the term ‘extortionist’ apply here?) DRM based business model at all. For country like China or India the social duty of taking technology and knowledge to the poorest of the poor has a higher priority than earnings-per-book sold in the market. Although, with volumes the profit made is comparable if not bigger than earned from most other matured markets in the world.

An ecosystem where the device and its content are separate from each other allowing growth in a mutually exclusive manner leads to a social change that compares with what the Indian mobile ‘device’ + ‘network-provider’ model has brought about in our country. Something similar is required for books & education industry using Kindle & alternatives as well. Where the cost of delivering, connectivity and assistance to man-kind achieved is at a revolutionary level. Besides result of such a fiercely competitive environment is amazing.

Well not everything is cupped in e-paper book market. There are a lot of alternatives over Kindle from around the world now and it is expected that at least one from these will rise monstrously. Even for key raw material from e-ink – the electronic-paper screen – there is a choice of Japanese suppliers Sipix and Bridgestone(yes, it’s the rubber tyres company we know) lately. Good going, I’d say.

So here is a two-part series where we list down and evaluate most of the e-book options available now in the market place. Hopefully, some of these guys will adopt openness in selling their standalone device and let others sell the content with consumer-interest in mind i.e. at a reasonable price. The problem will then remain of only publishers to cup in – essentially a middle man between author & reader.

ILiad from iRex Technologies, The Netherlands

iRex Technologies, the distributor of iLiad is a spin-off company from Philips. Largest among the e-books available, iLiad Digital Readers come with a large 10.2 inch e-ink’s e-paper Screen, Wacom Penabled TouchScreen and wireless connectivity. It is capable of displaying document files in most of formats including PDF, Mobipocket, XHTML and plain text. It can also display JPG, BMP and PNG images, but only in grayscale(16 shades).

iLiad utilizes Linux operating system and is able to run third party applications. Developers and users wishing to create or run third party applications can request shell access to the manufacturer as well. The price tag in Europe for the book is Euro 649.
The size & price of the book indicate that the company is not focusing at this part of the world yet.

Hanlin V5 eReader from Jinke Electronics, China

Hanlin V5 comes with 8-shade Grayscale 5 inch e-paper screen. The device has multiple language capability (though Hindi is not included in the list) and as their website claims, it has 30 days battery-backup time for average 300 page reading bookworms! It can be connected to network using USB, and has open access to content over the web.

Based on Linux OS, Hanlin V5 supports most formats like PDF, DOC, WOLF, MP3, HTML, TXT, CHM, FB2, Djvu, PNG, TIF, GIF, BMP, JPG, PPT, EPUB, LIT. The retailing price of Hanlin V5 is US$249. While this one does seem a strong contender in the game but their website and sales-strategy both need fixing.

Nook from Barnes & Noble, USA

Nook was launched last month at a retail price of US$259. It comes from Barnes & Noble – a more than 100 year publisher & the largest book retailer in United States.

The device is based on Google’s Android platform and includes Wi-Fi and AT&T 3G wireless connectivity, a six inch E Ink display, and a separate, smaller color touchscreen that serves as the primary input device.

The best part is Nook has a “lendme” feature which allows one to lend a title for upto two weeks to another user (the most kickass option I have yet seen among e-Paper books). And do I have to comment on “hacks” that would be possible on Android platform in future?

Well that’s three books to ponder upon for now. I really do not know which electronic book will the community finally buy into.

Yes, I am eager to know the future 🙂

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