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Alternatives of Kindle – The Business Overview (Part-B)

Earlier, we saw how the e-paper book business is evolving around us lately in the first part of our series  The e-paper Books – Alternatives to Kindle (Part – A). We discussed a couple of suitability issues, particularly that of separation of selling content business from that of selling devices, that fit the needs of our part of world – Asia and also listed some of the devices (Iliad, Hanlin and Nook) which are now pitched in the world market.

While there is no dearth of technology, nor of entrepreneurs (did you hear of Notion Ink from IIT Kharagpur?)  involved in e-book business, but not everyone who is in process of making a portable readers is betting on the electrophoretic paper. There are alternative paper/screen technologies under consideration such as LiquaVista’s ElectroWetting Screens (spun off from Philips, Netherland again), Qualcomm’s MEM (Micro Electro Mechanical) based screens and Kent’s Cholesteric LCD’s which promise to overcome the limitations of e-ink’s electronic paper.

In fact, for Japanese (who dislike GrayScale e-paper screens) there is FLEPia from Fujitsu already in the market using a colored cholesteric LCD screen from Kent that supports multimedia (video) files as well. The e-book features an 8-inch Color XGA TouchScreen, 4GB memory via SD card (can store of up to 5,000 paper-based books), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, WiFi, and a USB port and costs approximately US$ 1050. FLEPia is equipped Windows CE 5.0 and allows MS Office documents but is a Japan-only eReader at present. While Fujitsu has not declared any plans for international sales of FLEPia at this point, but theirs seems to be a case of benchmarking quality & price for the hi-budget segment only.

Well so much for Flepia, let’s look at a few more viable options of eReaders for an Asian newbie. And yeah, one of my critic in the last post quite innocently pointed out the genuine concern of availability of other eReaders over the Kindle. Well its simple: Awareness leads to demand leads to availability in that order! Besides we already have a couple of techies in India looking at releasing such a product lately.

Here a few more options:

Sony Reader (PRS 300 & PRS 600)

Sony is the first large consumer electronics company to have released its own eReader. As early as in 2006. Yet they have been able to sell only 3 lac units to date, globally. They have two versions of readers: PRS 600 & PRS 300, where former has a touchscreen and the latter does not. The book comes pre-bundled with proprietary DRM software and its own e-book library access within the Sony Connect (Replica of iTunes/Whispernet) to manage your books. Essence you gotta pay Sony for everything you read.

The Sony Reader is priced competitively at US$199 & US$ 299 respectively. But, if I were forced to choose between a Kindle & Sony now, I would go for Kindle for the reason that it looks better than the Reader (and has better access to publishers). But then both are not as cool as the Nook from Barnes & Noble or the next option listed here:

The Cybook Gen3 from Bookeen.

Bookeen is a French company vying to capture your book space, with its Cybook Gen3. Priced at US$ 350 the device is available on sale through the company website. The device comes with MobiPocket Reader application for DRM protected content, but does allow access to free content through USB via internet.

Very soon Cybook Gen3 is poised to be replaced by Cybook Opus, which too will feature a 4 level Grayscale e-ink screen display and stereo earphone connector for voice delivery of your favorites. A noteworthy point to consider while buying an open-to-any-content book like Cybook Gen3 is that when closed content is sourced on Adobe® ePUB/PDF Reader format (via firmware upgrade), the Mobipocket supported books (Due to DRMs tussle) cannot be rendered at the same time. So you cannot have both the worlds of DRM guys together.

eSlick Reader from Foxit Softwares

A pretty slick looking reading device from originally a PDF parsing company – Foxit Softwares, eSlick seems a great option for us Asians. It is priced very competitively at US$260 with the kind of features at disposal. The worldwide selling strategy of the company is also quite clear with exact shipping fares indicated on their website.

The device has a 6″ e-ink paper screen and comes along with mp3 music support, USB connectivity, 2GB SD Card and options of black, gray and white skins. Since, Foxit Software is behind the device the file formats supported on this book are PDF/ePub/PDB/txt and all other formats which can be converted to PDF and then read through. They have limited warranty for the Asian market as of now.

Well there are a couple of more e-books in the marketplace, but I’ll focus on Kindle next (In Part-C) which apparently is leading the industry as of now. While I am eager to know how these devices are going to alleviate the agenda of environmentalists, kill some traditional modes of content-delivery (paper mills) and reduce search time of books (and news) for a typical bookworm, but a more interesting aspect would be to note how the business model of eBooks evolves around the new technology.

Yes I have to confirm here that I missed all the action when thirty five years ago the Apple’s & Microsoft’s happened with advent of new technology. Not this time!

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