Amazon Kindle DX and Plastic Logic Mean Business in E-reader Battle

Jan 22, 2010

Personal e-reader devices appeared on plenty of wishlists during the recent holiday season, and Amazon's Kindle seems to have taken an early lead in reaching out to readers. However, a new battle is looming in 2010 as newcomer Plastic Logic attempts to woo an emerging corporate market with its QUE proReader, an e-reader device that is designed to appeal to professionals more interested in the latest work papers than fiction bestsellers.

Amazon's Kindle DX, which debuted on January 19, and the QUE proReader, which will ship in April, both aim to outdo the current e-reader device selection with bigger screens, flashier features, wi-fi and 3G network access and more flexibility to view a range of non-book sources, like newspapers and technical documents. However, where Amazon's Kindle DX aims to be a more broadly appealing update to its consumer-friendly Kindle brand, Plastic Logic is hoping the QUE will provide a carefully tailored eBook solution for the business community.

Since the original Kindle launched in November 2007, Amazon has made a strong bid to become the dominant force in e-reader devices, as well as the top online store for digital books. A second generation version came out in February 2009, and a version equipped with global wireless access debuted in October. Its latest version, the DX, is one-third of an inch thick and boasts a bigger screen - 9.7 inches, 2.5 times the size of the original Kindle's 6-inch display - and high-resolution screen that displays in 16 shades of gray to enhance graphic-rich content from sources like newspapers and textbooks.

The DX boasts a native PDF reader and the ability to auto-rotate the display, annotate and bookmark text, and edit, highlight and clip key passages. Users can tap into Amazon's Kindle Store to shop for more traditional consumer fare or download business or professional documents - a key selling point Amazon Kindle vice-president Ian Freed emphasized in a statement announcing the DX.

"Documents look so good on the big Kindle DX display that you'll find yourself changing ink toner cartridges less often and printing fewer documents," Freed said. "We're excited to be able to offer Kindle DX to customers worldwide so they can carry all their personal documents along with their whole library in one slender package."

As Amazon aims to entice both business and pleasure readers, Plastic Logic has more focused ambitions, touting the QUE as "strictly business" and offering extras designed to accommodate the wide array of digital work documents that go beyond standard eBooks to encompass things like technical manuals, e-mails, PowerPoint presentations, and corporate reports.

Founded in 2000 by researchers from Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory, Plastic Logic's first product is the QUE, which will be available in 4GB and 8GB versions. It's the size of a standard 8.5 x 11 inch sheet of paper with a 10.7-inch screen. It's about one-third of an inch thick, like the DX, and weighs a pound, displaying text in a black-and-white format designed in collaboration with IDEO and using E Ink Vizplex technology.

The QUE proReader's home page provides a customizable dashboard of business content, including daily newspapers, e-mail and appointments imported from Microsoft Outlook, as well as access to the QUE Store, where it has teamed up with Barnes & Noble to sell digital books, business periodicals, news and publications. It too supports PDF, along with Microsoft Office and ePub documents, and can convert and transfer content from PCs, Macs, and BlackBerry smartphones.

Like the DX, it comes equipped with wi-fi and 3G wireless network access. In another strategic move similar to Amazon, Plastic Logic is racing to line up partnerships with content providers to deliver news and other web publications from sources like Dow Jones and Forbes.

While QUE may tout a sleek design and slick business-friendly interface, content management strategist Scott Abel, president of The Content Wrangler, Inc., said that he doubted it could do much to unseat the current king of e-readers, Amazon.

"The best one's probably the QUE," Abel said. "The most advanced one, the QUE. The one that will survive? Probably Amazon," thanks to its brand recognition, strong in-house content distribution network, and lower price, he added.

However, the QUE's focus on something besides standard book format may represent a larger move towards multi-functional devices that can support a variety of content.

Some competition might also force Amazon to rethink its proprietary device-content partnerships and open itself up to a wider array of formats and functionality, Able said, similar to how Apple migrated away from offering mp3s with tough digital watermarks toward offering more open formats for a slight mark-up.

"Why can't everything be a book? That's where QUE is going," Abel said. "A sales and marketing brochure is a book, a white paper is a book. Why shouldn't it be written to the same standards and have interaction, if interaction is the best way to communicate something? QUE isn't limiting itself on what a book is. It's just a container for the content."