Crowded E-Book Market Makes Room for ASUS DR-900

Quick — how many e-book reading devices can you name? Had I asked that question two or three years ago, most folks could probably come up with only a handful. However, that was before the “e-book-splosion” that I witnessed at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. When an entire section of floor space is devoted to a device type at the CES, you know it’s a hot market. Even with a gaggle of e-book readers already available, ASUS figures there’s room for at least one more. ASUS today officially introduced the DR-900 at CeBIT in Hanover, Germany although it didn’t specify pricing or availability.

The DR-900 is akin to Amazon’s Kindle DX (s amzn) due to the large 9″ display, but the resolution is a lower 1024 x 768. Unlike many e-book readers available today, ASUS opted to use a SiPix panel from AUO Optronics — AUO purchased a majority share of the California-based SiPix in May of last year. ASUS paired touchscreen functionality with the display panel and went with a minimal amount of buttons. That’s good and bad — good because there are fewer distractions, but bad because the page turn buttons are only on the right side of the device. Lefties will have to adjust unless turning pages via touch is an option.

Like many other e-book devices, the DR-900 will support Adobe PDF (s adbe), text files, MP3 audio and the EPUB format. Wi-Fi is included while 3G connectivity is optional. ASUS claims 10,000 page views on a single charge, which is stellar. I see the Bookstore section on the DR-900, but ASUS hasn’t announced a bookstore or any content partners. And that could be the Achilles Heel for some. While not everyone wants to be locked together with a content partner like Amazon, bookstores offer a wider assortment of new content.

Although the e-book game is fairly new, ASUS is a relatively late entrant. The entire market reminds me of the early digital audio player days. In the late 1990’s, every company that could made an MP3 player and there were dozens of products to choose from, even thought they all did the same basic thing. Over time, the market matured and only a few brands survived as companies couldn’t differentiate their products or didn’t have the “holy grail” — a solid music synchronization solution. Is it just me or are e-book readers the digital audio player market all over again? And if it is, which devices will still be around two or three years from now? Google Books (s goog) is nice, but I think devices tied to bookstores with fresh, new content will hold and maintain their position.

Image courtesy of ASUS

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