The first Wi-Fi-connected e-readers are expected to officially debut at International CES in January, delivering a lower-cost alternative to 3G wireless e-readers such as the Amazon Kindle.
Second-tier suppliers Foxit, Interead (Cool-er) and Aztak are planning or considering a Wi-Fi e-reader, and two of the three said they hope to introduce the products at CES.
Modeled on the success of the Kindle, which is forecast by Forrester Research to capture 60 percent share in 2009, Wi-Fi e-readers enable over-the-air downloads of e-books via Wi-Fi networks and hot spots. The devices would carry lower prices and face fewer challenges in coming to market.
A Wi-Fi radio, said Astak, would cost a supplier about $15 to $20, compared with a $65 to $70 3G cellular radio.
Yankee Group consumer research director Carl Howe noted that embedding a 3G modem in a product “adds about six months of certification delay, since it has to go to the [Federal Communications Commission]. Wi-Fi does, too, but it’s licensed under a different code that doesn’t have that kind of delay.”
Studies show that most wireless e-book downloads occur at home or the office. “Wi-Fi is middle ground. It hits some very specific use cases to buy an e-book from home or the office, probably getting about 50 to 60 percent of the use cases out there,” added Howe.
The three companies planning Wi-Fi e-readers, however, are also considering 3G e-readers in the future. These may follow 3G e-readers due by the end of the year from Barnes & Noble, iRex and Sony, with a fourth expected from Plastic Logic early in 2010.
Aztak said it could offer several 3G e-readers, with some shipping late this year. The 3G wireless models might include one with a “flexi” 9.7-inch screen plus a mobile Internet device (MID) with a color screen that can also be used in monochrome mode for e-reading. Such a dual-purpose screen will be available by year’s end from Pixel Qi, with whom Aztak said it has “held extensive in-person discussions,” according to Aztak global business development director Bob Barry.
Foxit is also considering a 3G model for next year as well as an e-reader with a larger screen, it said.
In other e-reader developments, Interead expects its Cool-er, which lacks wireless, to be featured on QVC on Dec. 4 at a discounted price with free bundled e-books and accessories, said Phil Wood, Interead marketing director.
Another company, Ectaco, began shipping late in October one of the lowest priced e-readers to date at $149. The jetBook-Lite allows users to side-load e-books from BarnesandNoble.com. It does not use the popular E-Ink screen that improves text display and battery life, but it offers 23 hours of reading on four AA batteries.
For its part, Plastic Logic announced that its Que e-reader will be sold in Barnes & Noble bookstores alongside the bookseller’s own Nook e-reader. Barnes & Noble is providing the back-end e-bookstore for the Que, which is expected to offer one of the largest e-reader screens, and to be one of the first e-readers to use a plastic screen.