Next-gen eReaders promise new features

By Steve Safran 

It used to be you had two primary choices for digital books: Amazon’s Kindle or Sony’s E-Reader. The Barnes & Noble Nook recently hit the market as well. But at CES 2010 we’re now seeing a bunch of new entries into a market the CEA predicts will double in 2010 and double again in 2011.

The very bendy Skiff Reader

Skiff and Sprint are teaming up on the Skiff Reader, which features an 11.5-inch touchscreen that’s made of a super-thin piece of stainless steel foil. It can, accordingly, bend. It should be noted that Skiff is backed by Hearst, which no doubt hopes to sell its publications via the reader.

Also being shown off at CES, a prototype of a full-color eReader from Liquavista. This shows some promise, as it’s clear eReaders won’t be black-and-white for very long.

Samsung joins the market, with an oddly pricey line. Its entries will be $399 and $699 when they hit shelves in the spring.

The Alex eReader will use Google’s Android platform to offer web browsing and video capability and can run Android apps. (This is sounding more like a tablet, isn’t it?) Techcrunch writes about one advantage: “Users can… click on hyperlinks within online books that lead to relevant information or multimedia content found online in order to enrich their reading experience.” Interesting.

DMC Worldwide’s Copia eReader promises a social component, one that would allow you to share what you’re reading with friends. Copia is also open software, so we may see it on mobile phones, laptops and tablets.

But wait – there are more! There’s the iRiver Storybook; a “dualbook” called the eDGe from the oddly capitalized company enTourage; Blio, free ebook software from technology pioneer Ray Kurzweil; and 10 different models from Singapore-based Gajah.

Crazy, right? How many of these can the market bear? The obvious question facing us is whether any (or all) of these devices can “save” print. It is the wish of newspapers and magazines that people will purchase their products for consumption on eReaders. But is that realistic? And then there’s the whole issue of tablet computers. Will people continue to buy eReaders, or will they opt for the (rumored) Apple iSlate, Microsoft’s tablet, or the many other fully-functional tablet computers hitting the market?

The local media should watch this space closely and look at any opportunities it has to create content that will play nicely with this next generation of devices.

Prototype of HP Slate tablet

Update: At CES, Microsoft unveiled a prototype multi-touch HP tablet running on Windows 7. Ballmer didn’t provide many details, other to say it will be available later this year.