The e-reader market is moving faster than Tour de France cyclists on an oil-slicked hill. We’ve already seen a few crashes — iRex filing for bankruptcy, Spring Design suing Barnes & Noble (NYSE: BKS), the Plastic Logic Que stuck in limbo — and we’re sure to see more. The big question as we head into the second half of 2010: who will still be on their bikes at the end of the next holiday season?
The latest news is a stage win, at the very least, for Amazon (NSDQ: AMZN) and a possible crash for new competitor Barnes & Noble. As Engadget reported, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office just awarded the e-tailer a patent on a “handheld electronic book reader device having dual displays.” The drawings resemble the first Kindle, with its slender vertical bar to the right of the main screen; the second display was dropped for the Kindle 2. The patent application was filed on March 29, 2006 by inventors Gregg Zehr and Symon J. Whitehorn with Amazon as the assignee; and kept secret for more than four years.
The possible problem for Barnes & Noble, already facing a lawsuit over design? The Amazon patent describes a second display that includes “graphical elements” that correspond to portions of the first display and is responsive to user input to one of those elements. It also includes a page turner that could, among other ways, be activated by a user’s touch and numerous other details. The Nook for B&N has a horizontal color display below the main screen for navigation and interaction. The two look different and B&N’s approach is more sophisticated — it’s also roughly four years older — but I have to think the B&N patent attorneys and those for other e-reader manufacturers are already at work trying to figure this one out.
Price wars continue: Meanwhile, the price wars continue and there’s no reason to think we’ve seen the end of it for the year — although I also expect more advanced versions in the next 12 months that will start at a higher price. Sony is the latest to cut prices after B&N started the current trend by cutting the 3G Nook to $199 and Amazon took it a step further by taking Kindle 2 to $189. B&N introduced a less expensive Wi-Fi Nook at $149, while Amazon cut the larger-screen Kindle DX price to under $400 when it came out with a new version last week.
Sony, which has been offering coupons to offset the price of its lower-end units, cut across the board: The Pocket Reader dropped $20 to $149, the Touch Edition dropped $30 to $169 and the Daily Edition — the only one with 3G — dropped $60 to $199. The 3G model started the year at $399, a hard-to-sell price given the competition; this puts it in line with the 3G Kindle and 3G Nook (which includes Wi-Fi) but people who ask me about e-readers rarely mention Sony (NYSE: SNE). Their lists these days are Kindle, Nook — and iPad.