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Extra, Extra, e-Read All About It: More e-Readers Debut

New developments in the e-reader market occurred at a rapid-fire pace this month, with iRex Technologies announcing a possible Amazon Kindle competitor, Sony opening up its eBook Store to e-readers other than its own, and both Sony and Astak launching new low-cost models.

In addition, Sony said it plans to offer a wireless e-reader but didn’t disclose a time frame. Said Bob Nell, business development director for Sony’s digital reading division, “We are absolutely developing a wireless device. We understand the value and benefit of it.”

Since Amazon began supplying 3G cellular access to e-books with no separate service fee, it set a new benchmark that competitors plan to emulate. Upcoming competitor Plastic Logic, as well as iRex and Sony, for example, all plan to field 3G-connected e-readers.

With the worldwide e-reader market expected to reach 2 million units this year and 40 million units by 2012, according to Forrester Research, suppliers are jockeying for position in the market.

iRex’s model will ship by the end of the year with an 8.1-inch screen for less than $400, said the Netherlands-based company, which is a spin-off of Royal Philips. Analyst Insight Media said the device could become a competitor to the Kindle depending on the e-bookstores it works with and whether its 3G service is offered at no charge.

iRex already supplies e-readers overseas and offers a business-aimed e-reader in the U.S. through a U.S. distributor, but its new device will be its first for U.S. consumers.

Said an iRex spokesperson, “Despite the flurry of recent product developments, the e-reader market is still in its infancy. The market opportunity is immense, and while Amazon has taken an early market share, its business model leaves significant opportunity for competitors.”

For its part, Sony fired a salvo at Amazon this month by announcing it will open up its eBook Store to e-readers from other suppliers. The company said it will switch later this year to the popular ePub e-book format, which uses an Adobe copy-protection system. The format is read by e-readers from such companies as Astak and Interead (Cool-er) but not by the Amazon Kindle, which uses a proprietary format.

Sony’s own e-readers will also be able to display books purchased from other e-bookstores in the ePub format. Amazon’s e-books, by contrast, display only on its Kindle e-reader or an iPhone.

In another Sony development, the company introduced its lowest-priced e-book reader, the Reader Pocket Edition, at $199. It sports a 5-inch screen, the company’s smallest to date. The unit stores about 350 standard e-books and provides up to two weeks of reading on a single battery charge. It uses a PC connection to download books.

A second new e-reader from Sony is the $299 Reader Touch Edition with a 6-inch touchscreen to control page turning, highlighting, note taking and navigation through the device with the swipe of a finger or stylus pen. Users can take handwritten notes with the stylus or type with the virtual keyboard. The unit has an onboard dictionary that lets users look up a word by tapping on it. It has Memory Stick Pro Duo and SD cards slots.

Both Sony models will be available at the end of August.

Astak, based in San Jose, Calif., plans August shipment of a $199 e-reader with 5-inch screen. Called the Pocket Pro, it will join the company’s earlier model with 6-inch screen. Like the Sony models, they use a PC connection to download books.

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