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Summary:

Updated with comment from Sony: Everyone talks about how great “choice” is, as if having an alternative to the existing status quo is automatically good. But what if the alternative is lame? Then there really isn’t much of a choice, is there? Sony today introduced two […]

smallreaderUpdated with comment from Sony: Everyone talks about how great “choice” is, as if having an alternative to the existing status quo is automatically good. But what if the alternative is lame? Then there really isn’t much of a choice, is there? Sony today introduced two new e-book readers, including one “affordably” priced at $199 and the other with a touchscreen for $299. But neither option offers the e-reader killer app — wireless access (GigaOM Pro subscription required). That’s right, to compete with Amazon’s Kindle, and the upcoming Barnes & Noble e-reader, Sony has lowered its price and added touch.

Amazon’s Kindle, the current hot e-reader, was the first device that let users buy books and download them, quickly and from nearly anywhere. It was a revolution in e-book purchasing. So, unfortunately for Sony, it doesn’t matter how great its devices are. Its new e-readers are stuck in 2006.

The Sony Reader Touch Edition, has a touchscreen, which may be cool — but we’ll have to actually see it in action first. The press release claims users will be able to take notes, highlight, turn pages and more with the “swipe of a finger” or the included stylus. The device also supports handwritten notes, which makes me nervous remembering the nightmare that was the Apple Newton’s handwriting recognition.

Unlike the Kindle, which you can’t buy in a store, you will be able to check out the new Sony Readers at your local Sony Style outlet toward the end of August. Like the Kindle, both Sony devices read PDF and Microsoft Word documents, which is nice, but is far from a compelling reason to buy the thing. The new devices, of course, don’t connect to either of the high-profile e-book stores, Amazon’s Kindle store nor Barnes & Noble’s newly launched entry, but instead uses Sony’s proprietary e-book store, which has more than 1 million titles (mostly public domain titles from Google’s Books project) — but, because your device has to be connected to your computer to buy books, it’s not the great leap forward we’ve been hoping for. Update: Sony sent us the following statement:

“The touch and pocket are part of a new Reader line. We’ll be releasing further information on a wireless device later this summer.

Wireless is a great feature and it’s something that has really appealed to the early adopters of eReaders. However, while we will soon provide a wireless option, it’s not something we’re ready to talk about today.”

  1. Good point. But I do wonder whether the intended market – those who are voracious readers but casual tech users – would really see the lack of wireless as a detriment. To a tech nerd, certainly, this lacks the cachet and convenience of a kindle. But to the person who’s used to buying Harlequin romances or Victorian lit at a second hand book store? Wouldn’t this be an upgrade for them?

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  2. [...] Post By Google News Click Here For The Entire Article August 4th, 2009 | Category: [...]

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  3. Jordan, I wish to differ from the opinions presented by you in this post.

    I think Kindle alternatives will serve a big growing market where users want

    1. Some company not to wirelessly access the device without the user’s permission (1984 fiasco anyone?)

    2. To not pay a premium in advance for Whispernet access (or the like) when they will probably not be using it that much. (Users will be OK with loading the eBooks they want when they have access to Wi-fi or the computer)

    3. The ability to read PDFs bootlegged from the recesses of the Internet (and not keep paying some company to upload it from the computer back onto their purchased device)

    Like it or not, the third point will be of utmost importance to any device hoping to cater to the 15 – 30 age group.

    That said, I am looking forward to eBook readers which have the PixelQi screen. They wont have the price premium attached with the eInk screens, and hopefully we will see the price point of the eBook readers dropping below the $150 mark.

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  4. This reader device whether Kindle or any from Sony is NOT GOING TO BE A MASS MARKET device anytime soon. I do not see anyone wanting to carry another device to read just books.

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    1. @Sundar – why not? People carry actual physical books, lots of them, everywhere they go, and they’re ALOT heavier and take up more room. The Kindle and e-books are competing with that.

      The trick is if you can get the reader to go electronic, and if you do, then the discussion becomes what the best device is best for that. Is it a multipurpose/swiss-army-knife type of device like a webpad or netbook, or is it something that gives you an experience that best approximates reading a book. That, quite frankly, is the BIG question for e-books.

      From what I’ve seen, hardcore readers want an experience closest to that of a book. I don’t think a swiss-army-knife product is going to be the big reader device market, but instead an affordable e-book reader.

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  5. @sundar – do you actually have a Kindle? Have you ever used one to download and read books? We have 3 at our house. A friend of ours is a grandmother who just bought 2 for her grandkids. It is not perfect but I can tell you the connection/relationship aspect with Amazon is exquisite. I love mine and use it all the time – in Starbucks, commuting, sitting in the sun by the waterfront. Many companies are focusing too much on the reader (as Sony will soon learn, sadly) and missing the customer connection.
    Around 35% of Amazon’s current book sales are for the Kindle editions. That is not a small number. Even in spite of the (way overblown) 1984 fiasco, Amazon customers remain some of the most loyal in the industry. I think this is with very good reason.

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  6. The lack of wireless is actually a “feature” in the mind of many people now. I’d rather manually sync my reader via usb than allow Amazon to remotely access (and modify) the contents of the reader at any time via Whispernet. Look into the whole 1984 involuntary recall fiasco Amazon got caught up in.

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  7. More eInk. More ePub. More flat FAIL.

    We need more than this.
    http://ebooktest.blogspot.com/2009/07/dumb-ebooks-must-die-smart-ebooks-must.html

    And I used to be a big Sony/ePub supporter. Not any more.

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  8. As long as Sony made them available worldwide, I’m happy. So are the rest of the world, I believe. Kindle is great or so I heard, but its US-only exclusivity really hurts us. I hope Sony will do a good job distributing it worldwide.

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  9. Well. I’ve got a 505 (LOVE IT) and I want both new devices. I don’t miss the wireless — the whole point is stocking up on a bunch of books in one reader and taking them wherever so buying through the device is just a convenience factor. If I’m going anywhere my laptop is going with me so again no connectivity is missed. The wireless aspect is a feature I’d like to have ‘just because’ but it’s not something I see as really necessary and I don’t want it to be stuck on a private network only. That said, the Kindle is too attached to Amazon. I want all the readers to break free from a single story regardless.

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  10. The Kindle is said to be the iPod of books, and the iPod has not had a wireless connection for years (only iPod Touch/iPhone now has)
    I have a Kindle 2 and for me Wireless is not the killer feature at all. In fact the current wireless implementation is annoying, as you are forced to buy eBooks wirelessly and therefore you can not buy them when out of US or Sprint coverage.

    Rather than a “locked wireless” feature, I would prefer an truly open e-book reader, able to shop from more stores than Amazon (from Amazon too of course) and with pdf native support. Ah… and with no back door please!

    The new Sony models are welcome. More competition can only be good for us readers. The immediate effect has been the drop in Kindle price :)

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    1. Jose

      To be fair, iPod came out at a time when bandwidth, especially on the wireless networks was pretty restricted. It would have been horrible user experience and not to mention costly. The wireless download services have failed mostly because they came to market too soon.

      I think the fixed wireless connectivity of Kindle is its killer app. I have bought a book when told about it at say while having a coffee. Most of the time I would forget the name of the book and wait forever.

      Regardless, I like the Amazon model and also like that there are rivals who are going to put pressure on them to open it up. Let’s just put it this way: Amazon is going to be degrees more open than Apple ;-) or Sony

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      1. Om,

        I can counter your example – all Sony nneds is to add a “Want it” list so you can enter the title immediately and then buy it next time the eBook synchs with a PC. Might even work with the touch screen pen input.

        Kevin

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