RealTime IT News

New E-Reader Set to Rock Digital Book Market

iRex eReader
Click on the graphic for a larger view. Source: iRex

A new e-reader backed by Verizon, Barnes & Noble and Qualcomm is getting ready to take on the leaders Amazon and Sony in the budding e-reader market.

The iRex DR800SG, due out next month, sports several features the popular Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Kindle doesn't: an 8.1-inch touchscreen, the ability to connect to the Internet overseas and support for open digital book formats. The manufacturer, iRex Technologies, already sells a popular e-reader in European markets,

"People want an enjoyable, easy reading experience with no-hassle access to content. Our strategy -- based on giving consumers choice -- and the partnerships we have in place make it easier for them to purchase a device, access content and enjoy it wherever they are," Kevin Hamilton, North American CEO of iRex Technologies, said in a statement.

"With the DR800SG, we bring to market all that readers have been asking for: a stellar device that puts the reader in the driver seat with regard to where they buy content and what they do with it."

For stateside wireless Internet access, the iRex device will use Verizon's 3G network, but it will also leverage a Gobi multi-mode 3G embedded module containing Qualcomm's mobile broadband technology that supports global connections. The Kindle's wireless modem only works on the Sprint U.S. network.

The iRex e-reader, priced at $399, will be sold at Best Buy stores next month and through a partnership with B&N (NYSE:BKS), will link to the book chain's e-bookstore. It will also support NewspaperDirect's PressReader software, which provides some 1,000 newspapers and magazines in digital format.

"Unlike Amazon's Kindle, which offers limited Web site content from only 58 titles, PressReader allows users to download over 1,000 full-content newspapers in their original format, with all the articles, pictures, cartoons and advertisements found in the printed editions. This ensures that all 1,000 publications on the iRex are recognized as audited paid circulation by international audit bureaus, a critical factor for publishers looking to increase revenues and reach," says a statement at the NewspaperDirect Web site.

Another difference between iRex and Amazon's Kindle: the DR800SG device also supports the industry standard EPUB file format, which means readers can buy books from other stores using EPUB and transfer the content to the iRex.

Contrasting approaches

"The iRex supports multiple formats, including the industry standard EPUB and multiple DRM solutions, rather than a single, 'closed' proprietary format that locks content to a specific device," iRex said in a statement. Amazon's Kindle content can only be read on Kindles and the iPhone.

There is also a color version of the iRex slated to be out by 2011, while Amazon, to date, has said any color Kindle's would be years away.

But Amazon isn't the only contender in the nascent e-reader market. Sony (NYSE:SNE) scored a coup by unveiling the Reader Daily Edition, with a 7-inch screen that, like the iRex, costs $399, includes a touchscreen and supports EPUB.

The Reader Daily Edition is Sony's first e-reader to have wireless 3G connectivity and is set to go on sale in time for the holiday season, which means it will beat out Plastic Logic's device, also being synced up with the B&N e-bookstore, that's due out in early 2010.

Meanwhile, Taiwan-based PC hardware maker Asus is prepping a budget-priced e-reader for release later this year, with the potential to take on more expensive devices from Amazon, Sony, Plastic Logic, and now perhaps, iRex Technologies.

Asus, most recently known for pioneering and helping to popularize the low-cost netbook PC category, is set to release its e-reader dubbed Eee Reader for about $160 -- a price tag that recent research indicates as the sweet spot for enticing new buyers.

Sony also recently introduced two lower-budget e-reader models without 3G support: the Touch Edition, with a 6-inch screen and a suggested retail price of $299, and the Pocket Edition, with a 5-inch screen, and a suggested price tag of $199.

Page 2: The price is right?