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Content Is King For e-Reader Category

3/12/2010 04:53:00 AM Eastern

LAS VEGAS — E-book readers have
reached critical mass as evidenced at last
month’s International CES, where more
than two dozen exhibitors vied for a piece
of a mushrooming market.

Sales may reach 6 million units this
year, market research firm Yankee Group
projects, and the category could billow
into a $2.5-billion business by 2013.

But growth could also be blunted by
new classes of convergent devices that incorporate
e-book capabilities, including
smartbooks – a hybrid of netbooks and
smartphones – and tablet PCs and media
devices, led by Apple’s iPad.

In the meantime, e-reader entrants
at last month’s electronics show
ranged from major CE players (Samsung,
Audiovox) to a phalanx of smaller
suppliers that warranted their own
TechZone section at the Las Vegas
Convention Center.

The devices they showcased were differentiated
by form factor
(clamshell and ultra-thin
tablet designs); functionality
(color-, touchscreenand
handwriting-capable
displays); and connectivity
(Wi-Fi-, 3G- and Bluetooth-
enabled).

But perhaps the most
critical distinguishing factor
was content, as companies
play catch-up with
market share leaders Kindle,
from Amazon.com, and
Sony’s Reader.

To that end, at least three
suppliers, Skiff, DMC
Worldwide and the aforementioned Audiovox,
announced comprehensive content
strategies to support their hardware.

Hearst subsidiary Skiff introduced
what it described as the first e-reader optimized
for newspaper and magazine content,
along with a service and digital store
that, like Kindle, will allow consumers to
wirelessly purchase and access a wide variety
of newspapers, magazines, books,
blogs and other content from multiple
publishers over Sprint’s 3G network.

The quarter-inch-thick Skiff Reader
measures 11.5 inches diagonally, weighs
in at 1 pound, and features a flexible
1,200 by 1,600-pixel UXGA e-paper
touchscreen supplied by LG that’s made
of stainless-steel foil. The device is also
Wi-Fi-enabled, can go more than one
week between charges, and will be sold
through Sprint’s retail and online stores,
although pricing and additional distribution
channels were not disclosed.

Skiff, along with semiconductor supplier
Marvell, has also introduced a reader
development kit designed to encourage
the creation of other reading devices
that can be supported by the
Skiff store platform. The kit
features software and a reference
design that includes
Marvell’s Aarmada systemon-
a-chip (SoC), which integrates
an application processor
with a high-performance
controller for driving an epaper
display.

Meanwhile, DMC, which
helped pioneer sub-$100
calculators and LED wristwatches
in the 1970s, and
produced and distributed
Bell South phones in the
1980s and 1990s, has developed
a device-agnostic Web platform
called The Copia in conjunction with the
debut here of a six-model line of wireless
reading devices. The e-readers, branded
Ocean and Tidal, include both monochrome
e-paper-based touchscreens and
panels with Wi-Fi or 3G wireless connectivity,
and advanced color e-readers
designed for rich content.

The e-readers can instantly connect
to TheCopia.com, a social-networking,
content delivery and e-commerce platform
that enables readers to purchase,
share and comment on books, newspapers,
magazines and other entertainment
content. Books include bestsellers,
popular titles, textbooks and
public domain titles, with new content
added regularly.

According to executive VP Ben Lowing,
students, book groups and other
readers can highlight, annotate and connect
to each other directly from the company’s
e-readers to the online Copia community.
A private, limited-invitation beta
test of TheCopia.com was slated for this
month, with a public beta launch expected
in March.

The e-readers themselves feature 6-
inch and 9-inch capacitive touchscreens,
802.11b/g Wi-Fi connectivity, four-directional
tilt-sensors, 4GB of internal
memory and MicroSD card slots. The models will be available for direct purchase
online in April and at retail by
June with suggested retails ranging from
$199 to $299.

Elsewhere, Audiovox entered
the e-reader fray with
an RCA-branded line
called Lexi that’s supported
by content delivered
through Barnes
& Noble’s BN.com
e-commerce storefront.
The platform,
which also fuels the
Best Buy-funded iRex
reader and the bookseller’s
own Nook device, offers more
than a million e-titles as well as an expansive
library of periodicals.

The Lexi itself features a 6-inch E Ink
display with 800 by 600 pixels of resolution
and 16-level gray scale, plus 2GB
of onboard memory and a rechargeable
battery that delivers 7,000 left- or righthanded
page turns. The device will be
preloaded with Barnes & Noble’s desktop
reader Windows/Mac software and
will also contain Adobe Reader Mobile
technology, making it interoperable
and fully compatible
with PDF and ePub
formats. Lexi will carry
a suggested retail
$230 and is expected
to hit stored in May.

“We believe the
key to success in the
e-book market is the
combination of highquality
readers with
unique features coupled with a comprehensive
catalogue of digital content,”
said Tom Malone, president of Audiovox
Electronics.

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