iPad Reaction: In Which Apple Eats Plastic Logic’s Lunch, Glares Menacingly At Spring Design

[UPDATE: It’s confirmed that the iPad won’t be compatible with Adobe ePub books. That means no library books, and it takes a lot of the shine off the new iBooks. For some reason, Apple hates Adobe, and Adobe hates them back.]

A few short weeks ago, the Plastic Logic QUE ($650 WiFi/$800 3G) and the Spring Design Alex ($400 [EDIT--the Alex is now $360, I missed that]) debuted at CES, and immediately crushed my interest in them with exorbitant price points.

Today, Apple unveiled their new tablet computer, the “iPad,” (Gizmodo’s full coverage here) and made the QUE entirely irrelevant. The iPad is cheaper ($500 WiFi/$630 3G), faster, and more functional than the QUE, and it will actually be available earlier.

Not only does the iPad have a new, Apple-branded ereading program (iBooks), it can do video, internet, maps, and everything else that an iPhone can, on a grander scale. The only advantages the QUE has left are its ability to hand-write notes, and its E-Ink screen which makes for less eye strain and longer battery life. Still, the iPad has ten hours of battery life, so that last point is moot.

Basically, this spells doom for the $650 QUE, and if you were thinking about getting the Alex for $400 $360, or (God forbid) a $490 Kindle DX, how can you not scrape up a little extra for an iPad instead?

The iPad’s debut highlights the folly of “luxury” ereaders like the QUE and the Alex, which have gone in the wrong direction, trying to have an ereader that’s half laptop, with a price tag to match. Simple, affordable ereaders like the Kindle, Astak Pocket Pro, and Sony Pocket Edition are the only ones worth looking at now, at least until the Alex’s price drops by $150.

A few more tidbits, and links to more iPad coverage, after the jump.
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CES eReader Reaction: In Which My Excitement For the Alex and the QUE Is Crushed By Outrageous Price Points

So CES officially opened today and, sure enough, prices were announced for the Spring Design Alex and the Plastic Logic QUE. Up until today, I would’ve classified the Alex and the QUE as the two most exciting new ereaders. Then I saw how they’ll cost: The Alex is going for $399, and the QUE is $649 with WiFi, $800 (!!?) with 3G.

Yesterday, I guessed that the Alex would go for $350, and the QUE for $500. I considered those conservative estimates; i.e., I was ready to be pleasantly surprised. Eesh, was I ever wrong.

The big takeaway from these price announcements is simply that ereader manufacturers don’t care about the casual reader. These devices are getting more expensive, not less, and that’s not a trend that’s going to steal the Kindle’s thunder anytime soon.

But there’s more to glean from six digits and a couple dollar signs.

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Wednesday Links 10-21-2009

Wednesday again. As usual, let’s start off with ereaders and go from there.
  • The Barnes & Noble ereader (maybe named Athena or Nook) is looking pretty snazzy. It’s rumored to be priced competitively at $259; it’s got dual screens and runs on Android. Not to be outdone, so does the mysterious Spring Design’s Alex. Plastic Logic also released some details on their upcoming device, the QUE, which looks pretty sleek and will be available in just a few months.
  • Google has decided to launch an ebook store called Google Editions., which got the Frankfurt Book Fair atwitter. Walmart wants in too, so they will begin selling ebooks on Walmart.com. For the most part I find Walmart to be just about the most evil corporation on the planet, but it will be interesting to see what effect this has on ebook prices, beyond the current scuffle with Amazon–and what formats they make available.
  • German parliament bought a buttload of ereaders for some reason. And, might we see ebooks in bookstores soon? Aussies will. Corey Doctorow put an interesting piece for Publisher’s Weekly about ebooks and why he thinks they can be free. Read this interesting response to a savage review of Jonathan Lethem’s new book. Find a great “captain” Ahab or Poe tee shirt over at Novel-T.
  • For fun this week: Ugliest Tattoos is funny stuff. Until 10/25 you can get the awesome World of Goo (Mac/PC/Linux) legally and name your own price. This Brit video is pretty funny/clever.
  • And, finally, if you are the Russian spammers overloading our comments, please stop. It’s really annoying. (We’ve been scrambling to get the spam cleaned up, so we apologize to any commenters if your post gets deleted by mistake. Feel free to email us if this happens to you and we’ll get your post reactivated.)

Upcoming and Rumored eReaders

(You might have seen the outline for this post pop up in your RSS feed last week; my apologies for the oversight.)

A couple of weeks ago, I summarized new and recent ereader additions. This week, let’s look forward at some upcoming devices. If there’s a trend emerging, it’s that touchscreens and 3G access are quickly becoming standard features, which is great news.

A quick note before we start: take the information here with a grain of salt. I’ve tried to cite my sources when possible, but even cited information should be considered rumor until these devices actually come out.

The Plastic Logic Whatzamawhoozit

Even though it doesn’t have a name yet, this is the device I’m most excited about. Even the earliest videos of the PL in action (this one was posted a year ago) showed a slick touchscreen with no contrast compromise and a sleek form factor.

Barnes & Noble hopped on as the primary book provider, and AT&T’s involvement combined with the large screen suggests newspapers will be a big target.

It’ll be crucial to see exactly how the touchscreen works. Is it fast? Is the contrast still as good as it looks? Can you write freehand on it? If this video features the same screen used in the ereader, it looks pretty much unbreakable, so that’s nice.

The other big question is price. Some have reported that the PL will be competitive with the Kindle, which we’re hoping means a $300 price point. Realistically, I think that’s a little too good to be true. I’m guessing closer to $500, but I’d be happy to be wrong. I also heard a rumor about a smaller size somewhere, but I can’t find any evidence of that now.

Last, B&N is reportedly developing “their own flavor” of ePub for the PL. I’m not sure why. Incompatibility kind of defeats the purpose of using a universal file format.

Sign up for Plastic Logic updates at their website.

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iPhone Readers: Barnes & Noble eReader

With Barnes & Noble rolling out their new “largest ebook store” and a planned dedicated Plastic Logic device to go toe to toe with Amazon (read what Nico has to share about it here), I took the opportunity to download the companion app released on the Apple App Store. The app stands up quite well, especially in comparison to Amazon’s barebones Kindle app, and hopefully is the first step in a competition between the two giants that ebook consumers will really benefit from.
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Everybody’s Making Giant eReaders

In the past few weeks, several companies have announced sheet-of-paper-sized ereaders, a trend which no doubt reflects a growing desire to crack into the lucrative business/student ebook market. The problem is that, while bigger screens are necessary for students and businesspeople, bigger screens alone will not make for a suitable device.

The fragility of the screens, the still nascent state of E-Ink, and the inadequacy of all current content interaction systems are just a few flaw that ereaders need to address before these devices become a commonplace sight on college campuses. Simply enlarging the display (and the price) won’t by itself create a perfect ereader for students and business users.

That said, though, I think this trend toward big ereaders could spell great news down the line for the state of ereading.

Here’s what’s happening, why it won’t be mind-blowing in the short-term, and how it could finally take ereaders mainstream.
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Missouri College to Use Only eTextbooks

According to a story from NPR, a small college in Missouri is testing out etextbooks this semester, in anticipation of using exclusively digital textbooks soon, presumably next fall. Evidently, the groundwork was partially laid by the school’s policy of issuing laptops to all incoming students. In addition:

Northwest Missouri State is in a unique position to go entirely digital: In addition to the laptops, students rent all their textbooks from the college. So when a comprehensive selection became available digitally, [President] Hubbard decided to make the switch.

I’ve got to admire their bravery, especially without even using dedicated ereader devices. I can’t imagine doing all my studying in front of a computer screen, but perhaps this is simply a matter of adjustment.

The article mentions good and bad feedback from students, and in addition to some obvious drawbacks, etextbooks also have some very nice advantages; I’d put searching inside them and embedded video at the top of the list.

Hopefully this news will serve to light a fire under Plastic Logic and other companies. There’s a whole lot of money to be made on students, and once colleges start working out ways to make their bookstore ducats and simultaneously go paperless, the switch might just happen with or without dedicated devices.

[via NPR]

Plastic Logic Could Be The Most Open eReader Yet

Amidst all the kerfuffle over the Kindle 2.0, Plastic Logic’s announcements today have been relatively overlooked by most blogs (TeleRead being the notable exception).

The biggest news was the variety of formats the Plastic Logic ereader will support, including ePub, PDF, and “Adobe DRM/eBook support,” which I think, and hope, means that Plastic Logic ereaders will be able to borrow library books. The device will also support the usual suspects like .rtf and .txt, and eReader format, which might take the wind of the eSlick’s sails.

In addition, Plastic Logic announced a “Publishers’ Program,” which will allow third parties to distribute ebooks directly through Plastic Logic, instead of dealing with either paper publishing houses who botch ebook distribution, or sites like Smashwords, which are just digitized self-publishers.

This platform opens the door for small presses to circumvent the models of Luddite publishers like Random House, and release cheap ebooks without paper press overhead. Hopefully, it will also spark some drive in those Luddite publishers to get on the ebook wagon and agressively push the development of ebooks and ereaders, which will get us closer to the Great eReader Adoption.

Plastic Logic seems to be aiming for a primarily business-oriented market, with its emphasis on business content, and paper-sheet, 8.5″ by 11″ form factor. Hopefully they’ll branch out to incorporate more casual users also, as, from the looks of this video, they seem to have balanced a good contrast ratio and a touchscreen interface, a combination which has so far eluded Amazon and Sony.

TeleRead is also reporting that Plastic Logic will have wireless, which, if it’s open wireless, will be a huge step in the right direction for the epublishing industry.

I said yesterday that I was more excited about this than the new Kindle. Plastic Logic has indeed delivered the more ground-breaking news, and the better news for the future of the epublishing industry. Upstage successful.

The Perfect eReader

It’s the runup to the Kindle 2.0′s announcement (I hope) during the big press conference next Monday. Over the next week, I’ll be doing a series of posts about the new Kindle and how its reality stacks up to the potential of ereaders.

Today: my vision of a perfect ereader. Tomorrow, my predictions for Kindle 2.0. Next week, I’ll compare the real new Kindle to what I hope for, and what I expect.

Today’s criteria for the perfect ereader are not realistic, mostly because intercorporate feuding is hampering the development of these potentially phenomenal devices. But also because it takes time and money to develop technology.

This list assumes an unlimited budget and unlimited time frame, with the lone goal of creating the best, most useful ereader possible for ebook readers. A tall order, but the benefits are not just a great ereader but a genuine candidate to replace paper the way Plastic Logic looks to be attempting. (In fact, the Plastic Logic reader could well be the device that outshines the Reader and Kindle, except that it’s not slated for aggressive release for another year.)

Let’s get on with it! The perfect ereader….

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Plastic Logic to Upstage Kindle


Plastic Logic makes a hell of a slick-looking ereader, but you won’t be able to get your hands on it for another year.

However, they are getting the pieces in place: according to MobileRead they’re announcing their content provider during the same press conference that we’re assuming will include the announcement of Kindle 2.0.

The video above looks great, but this thing is the size of a sheet of paper, much bigger than a regular book. This would be like the MacBook Air of ereaders (not very useful for normal people).

It’s designed to replace paper in offices, so that you can email reports to people’s Plastic Logics, and read them wherever you are. Nifty. Can we have a small one for books please?

[via SlashGear via MobileRead]