I’ve written several posts about the emergence of electronic ink / electronic paper technologies. In a nutshell, these technologies allow information to be displayed on a medium which is (a) thin, (b) flexible (to at least some degree), (c) readable in bright sunlight, and (d) power-efficient (power is used only when changing the page, not for display per se.) As I wrote in 2004:
“These technologies could have major implications for the display of long text documents, eliminating the current undesirable alternatives of reading it on the screen or going to the trouble of printing it out, and I think they could have tremendous influence on the future of the media industry (especially periodicals.)”
A couple of years ago, Sony launched the Sony eReader, a 9-ounce product that can store about 80 average-sized books. Downloading is via an i-Tunes-like interface from a PC. My perception is that eReader has not been a runaway success, although it has developed some niche markets–it seems to be popular, for instance, among fans of romance novels, especially really hot romance novels.
Today, Amazon launched a product called Kindle, which has some interesting attributes:
1)It includes a wireless connection–and the connection is EVDO (cellular) so you don’t have to hunt for a hotspot.
2)It is marketed as a vehicle for access to periodicals, not just books. Those mentioned in the announcement include NYT, Washington Post, Le Monde, Fortune, and the Atlantic Monthly.
3)Quite a few blogs are available. Instapundit and Michelle Malkin, for instance, are each available for a subscription fee of $1.99/month.
4)You can send it your own documents for convenient reading: irritatingly, however, the formats supported do not include PDF.
5)88,000 books are now available, and downloading a book is said to take only about a minute.
The big questions, it seems to me, are these: Will people who already carry a laptop/notebook with them everywhere (in addition to a cell phone and possibly an iPod) be willing to tote around yet another electroic device–even one that weighs only 10 ounces? And will conventional screen technology improve to the point of making the reading of long documents a less-frustrating experience, eliminating the need for a dedicated reading device?
Disclosures: I’m a shareholder in Royal Phillips Electronics, a supplier of electronic ink technologies, and currently have a small short position against Sony.