Electronics giant Sony has unveiled the Sony Reader, a portable electronic book about the size of a paper back which sports a 6-inch black-and-white “electronic paper” screen from E Ink. Sony hopes the paper-like display—and partnerships with leading publishing houses—will make electronic books and its portable readers take off in the same way Apple’s iPod and iTunes combination lit up the consumer electronics industry.
Sony says the Reader’s screen provides a clarity and resolution rivalling traditional black-and-white printing (technically, the 4-level greyscale display is 800 by 600 at about 170 ppi). The 6-inch diagonal screen is not backlit, and is easy to read in full daylight from virtually any angle. And, because it’s an electronic display, text can be zoomed up to 200 percent—no need to reach for those reading glasses. The Reader measured 6.9 by 4.9 by 0.58 inches (175 by 124 by 14 mm) and weighs less than 9 ounces (250g), and features a rechargeable battery (us USB or an AC adapter) which should be able to provide more than 7,500 page turns. The Reader has onboard storage for about 80 average-sized books (we’re guessing that means 64 MB of flash memory) but optional MemoryStick or SD cards provide more storage. The Reader can display texts in Sony’s proprietary BBeB Book format and Adobe PDF, plus display JPEG images and play unencrypted MP3 files (but what can’t, these days?).
How does on get content into the reader? Sony’s (Windows only!) Connect Software and Connect Store enable users to browse and buy available titles using their PCs, and transfer to the material to the Sony reader. Sony says that blogs, personal documents, and other items can be viewed on the Reader, which is true only if they’re converted to Sony’s BBeB format using supplied software. Sony has set up deals with major publishers like HarperCollins, Penguin, and Random House to sell ebooks via the Connect Store.
As good an idea as eBooks seem, they’ve been attempted many times and have never really caught on in the consumer marketplace. In the instances of desktop computers, laptops, PDAs, and tablet PCs, consumers don’t really seem to like reading on-screen. But even electronic paper technologies have failed: Sony recently launched a similar device in Japan called the Librie, which failed due to high prices and rights restrictions imposed on available content. (The BBeB format has various DRM capabilities intended to support both book purchases and limited-time rentals.) Time will tell if Sony’s second shot at an ebook reader meets with any more success: it’s scheduled to be available in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2006.