txtr, a Berlin-based startup, is building an e-reader that it hopes will be Europe’s answer to the Amazon Kindle. Christophe Maire, CEO of the company, sat down with me in Paris earlier this week and gave me the details. He is one of the co-founders of gate5, a German navigation/mapping service that was acquired by Nokia in 2006. While Maire went to work for the Finnish phone giant, his co-founders started txtr, and Maire only just joined as the CEO.
txtr, expected to become available in the first half of 2010, has the same sized e-ink display as the smaller Kindle. By eliminating the keyboard, and making some design adjustments, the company has given the txtr device a smaller footprint. It’s based on an ARM CPU, can handle a microSD card, and has both USB and Wi-Fi service.
The device comes with txtr Net, a wireless service that uses a 3G network to download and sync books over the air using KPN’s mobile data network. The device is powered by a stripped-down version of Linux, and backed by a publishing platform and e-commerce system that are as simple to use as Amazon’s one-click service.
But the similarities end there. Unlike Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook (which reviewers are saying needs some time to mature), txtr is a white-label platform for publishers and carriers. Maire said that there is a lot of interest in txtr, especially among the carriers. “We are going to be launching soon in Germany first,” he said. Maire is sewing up deals with publishers. Maire believes that txtr (the e-reader and a full-blown platform) can go global, because the platform is easily modifiable and uses a wireless network based on GSM technologies.
“Large publishers need to move, or run the risk of becoming like the music industry,” said Maire, pointing to how record labels are now beholden to Apple and its iTunes store. Amazon can do the same to the book industry, he said. txtr might help, but I don’t think Amazon is married to the idea of its own dedicated device. If something new becomes hot — say, the much-rumored iPad from Apple — it would be happy to adapt to that platform. More importantly, the Kindle will eventually become more than just a book reader (GigaOm Pro, subscription req’d).
Maire said that this concept of services attached to a device is going to become a prevalent business model in near future. I totally agree for it’s my belief that the real utility is in connectedness, whether it is a device, a web application or a person.
Photos by Om Malik/GigaOM