RealTime IT News

Dual-Screen, Android E-Reader 'Alex' On Tap

The e-reader market just got more competitive as Spring Design unwrapped details of an Android-powered, dual-screen device coming this year.

Called Alex, the wireless device will allow readers to browse the Internet and access content over Wi-Fi and 3G, EVDO/CDMA and GSM connectivity, according to the Fremont, Calif.-based company.

The device will show e-books on a monochrome electronic paper display (EPD) screen but also present multimedia links to supporting information and third-party content on a second, color LCD.

The company is banking on extending the reach of its device by "potentially creating a whole new industry for secondary publications that supplement and enhance original text," said Spring Design, which has been showing the device to book stores, newspapers and publishers over the past two years.

Though the company expects Alex to be available by the end of the year, no carrier, pricing or partnership details have been disclosed.

Alex will come with a removable SD card for storage, providing users the ability to "expand their text with multimedia 'add on' editions," the company said. Alex features a 6-inch E-Ink EPD display and 3.5-inch color LCD display, earphones and speakers.

Users can create their own images and notes and capture them to augment the original text or dynamically grab relevant content with Link Notes, Alex's multimedia authoring tool. For example, readers can capture and cache Web content from their online experience on the LCD screen, and toggle to view it on the EPD screen without taxing the battery life, according to the company.

A new kind of e-book experience?

Browser features such as bookmarking, history, and security settings are built in and the device.

"This is the start of a whole new experience of reading content on e-books, potentially igniting a whole new industry in multimedia e-book publishing for secondary authors to create supplementary content that is hyperlinked to the text. We are bringing life to books with audio, video, and annotations," said Dr. Priscilla Lu, CEO of Spring Design, in a statement. "This gives readers the ability to fully leverage the resources on the Web, and the tools available in search engines to augment the reading experience."

Without carrier and pricing details, it's too soon to tell if Alex is going to be runaway success in the burgeoning e-reader market, but overall, the sector is poised for growth which may benefit all players in the mix, said one analyst.

"I see this as one of many category-bending, dual-screen devices and tablets that will hit the market in the coming year. It's too soon to say whether any one device will gain significant market share, but collectively, they'll help catalyze growth of digital reading as a behavior across many devices," Sarah Rotman Epps, Forrester research analyst, told InternetNews.com.

E-readers, once assigned to a niche demographic, are poised to cross-over to the mainstream as more devices at different price points with diversified feature sets start surfacing on the market, according to Epps, who said she just increased forecasts for holiday e-reader sales.

"This holiday season, e-readers will be one category that's a breakout success," Epps said. "Lower prices, more content, better distribution and lots of media hype are contributing to faster-than-expected adoption of e-reader devices in 2009."

She now estimates e-reader sales to hit 3 million units in 2009, up substantially from an earlier tally of 2 million units. This is due to the promise of a strong November and December, when Epps is forecasting sales of 900,000 units, momentum she expects will carry over to 2010.

"Based on a number of factors, we expect sales in 2010 to double, bringing cumulative sales of e-readers to 10 million by year-end 2010," she said. "If the category expands beyond e-ink-based displays in a substantial way, 2010 sales can easily surpass this projection."

Taking on Amazon's Kindle

The emerging market is seeing unprecedented competition as newcomers jump in to take on Amazon's rapidly expanding Kindle e-reader family.

While industry watchers, including Epps, widely expect a branded e-reader to come out soon from Barnes & Noble, the bookseller is already partnering with iRex Technologies and Plastic Logic in their respective device debuts by having its online bookstore come preloaded on those e-readers.

High-flying Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) isn't sitting on the sidelines as it just introduced a new international version of Kindle and cut the price of the Kindle 2.

Sony (NYSE: SNE) is also making aggressive moves into the sector with the recent launch of an e-book publishing portal. It also recently unveiled the Reader Daily Edition, with a 7-inch screen that, like the iRex, costs $399, includes a touch screen and supports the EPUB standard.