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E-reading SaaS wars next to e-reader wars

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Core information:

Monday’s announcement from Amazon, Free Kindle for Android App Now Available [June 28], has generated quite a stir on the web. My time duration (of the first 24 hours) and subject specific search brought back ~277 000 hits. From these I would just mention two which might best express the reasons for this excitement:

With Kindle for Android, Amazon’s Winning Strategy Is Complete to which I would add the following image and acompanying text from the Amazon Kindle site to make it crystal clear:Our Whispersync technology synchronizes your Kindle library and last page read across devices, so you can always pick up right where you left off. Buy a book once, and read it anywhere.

Let the e-Reader Content Wars Begin which I would rather call: e-reading SaaS wars.

This is in addition to the device wars started a week before:
War of the e-readers: Kindle, Nook & Kobo
Barnes & Noble Introduces NOOK Wi-Fi® and Lowers NOOK 3G Price, Giving Book Lovers Greater Choice and Even Greater Value [June 21]:
– At Only $149, Wi-Fi-Only Addition to NOOK Family is the Most Full-Featured, Low-Cost eBook Reader on the Market, Now Available Online at http://www.nook.com
– Bestseller NOOK 3G is First Dedicated eBook Reader with Free 3G Wireless and Wi-Fi Connectivity Available at $199
– Latest Software Update to Both NOOK Models Offers NOOK Customers Complimentary Access at All AT&T Wi-Fi Hot Spots and Improved Reading Features
Amazon Kindle Now Only $189 [June 21]
• to which Barnes & Noble responded with a Product Comparison Chart, NOOK 3G and NOOK Wi-Fi and eBookstore factsheets, emphasizing that on $189 Kindle 2 there is no:
– color touch screen;
– Wi-Fi®/802.11b/g, Free Wi-Fi® in all Barnes & Noble stores and Free Wi-Fi® in all AT&T hotspots;
– memory expansion (via MicroSD);
– browsing and exclusive content in Barnes & Noble stores;
– EPUB and eReader formats supported;
– digital lending; and
– replaceable battery
(indicating just Word document support and text to speech as missing features)

The 3d, latecomer to this competition, Kobo has been represented in this battle by his business partner/shareholder, the US Borders Group:
Borders Offers Best eReader Values on Market [June 22]
– Company Bundles $20 Gift Card with Purchase of Kobo eReader
– Company introduces application for the iPhone and the iPad
which were added to Borders’ previous market offensive actions
:
Borders(R) and Aluratek Partner on ‘Libre’ eBook Reader Pro [June 1], First $119 Device Featuring Link to Borders eBook Store Available for Pre-Order at Borders.com
Borders Launches New E-commerce Site [May 27]
– Borders.com features unique Magic Shelf™ technology and exclusive video programming that brings a real bookstore experience online
In-store kiosks will introduce Borders.com shopping option in Borders stores nationwide
for which they have secured all the necessary vendor alliances.
Borders(R) Launches Digital Initiative [May 07]
– Pre-Orders Now Open for Kobo(TM) eReader;
– eBook Store and Apps Unveiled Next Month
Spring Design and Borders Announce eBook Agreement [Jan 7]:
“an agreement in principle to feature the upcoming Borders eBook store powered by Kobo on the new dual display Alex(TM) eReader later this year”
Borders Partners With Kobo to Deliver eBooks [Dec 15, 2009]:
“Through the partnership, Borders will launch a new eBook store integrated into Borders.com and powered by Kobo. In addition, Kobo will power a Borders-branded eBook store for multiple mobile devices. Sales through these Borders-branded eBook stores will be booked by Borders. Kobo’s mobile applications are device neutral, which will enable consumers to purchase eBooks from Borders on popular smartphones such as the iPhone, BlackBerry, Palm Pre and Android, as well as other devices. Borders and Kobo plan to launch these new services within the second quarter of 2010.”

Borders’ offering is therefore coming quite close to that of Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Because of the choice of e-readers it is even technically more flexible. From e-reading SaaS point of view their current [June 30] state is as follows:

It looks quite similar in concept and plan to that of current Amazon (see the picture in the beginning) and Barnes & Noble as well.
Note: from B&N’s product comparison chart it is clear that they are equal to Amazon’s offering from e-reading SaaS point of view, only the Android smartphone support is not there yet, see B&N Reader for Android Phones?.

Such a look however is deceiving. First of all the Kobo e-reader has just USB and Bluetooth connectivity (see Kobo’s eReader Device Comparison) nothing like Kindle 2’s USB and 3G, or Nook’s USB and 3G/WiFi. Also the $120 priced Aluratek‘s Libre Pro has just USB connectivity. For at least this very reason the “last page read across devices” functionality is not available in Borders’ current e-reading SaaS experience, supplied by Kobo. Competition however will force both Kobo and Borders to introduce e-readers with WiFi and/or 3G connectivity when their e-reading SaaS should also be upgraded for the smooth sharing and syncing experience provided now by both Kindle and Nook.
Note: without the WiFi / 3G connectivity – in addition – you cannot get e-books directly to your reader, your free e-reader desktop app (PC or Mac) should be used first and then the purchased e-books loaded over through the USB or Bluetooth connection. This is considered to be rather inconvenient by today’s standards.

The wars for both e-reading SaaS and e-readers is therefore very important to create a level playing field (in the US) in terms of complete experiences and affordable offerings. We should therefore welcome these wars as essential to mass adoption of e-reading (in the US, which then could be followed by other countries quite soon).

Additional information:

Kobo e-readers are already sold in other countries as well: currently in Australia, New Zealand and Canada. The Canadian Indigo Books & Music Inc, Canada’s largest book retailer, is actually the 58% majority shareholder of Kobo, while – in addition to Borders’ – there are other shareholders from Australia and Hong Kong as well. This coalition is definitely aiming at taking the international market not only in e-readers but in e-reading services launched by local book retailers as well. See: Kobo Powers its First International eBook Store.

The hardware used by Aluratek in his Libre Pro is from the Chinese manufacturer, JCNIP:
JCNIP M218A e-book device coming this month
[Sept 5, 2006]
JCNIP new ereader—M218B [Oct 11, 2007]
which appeared under Dr. Yi brand for their original Chinese market as: Dr. Yi-M218ADoctor M218A + EasyDoctor M218A + enhanced tradeDr. Yi M218B (sources translated by Google). Their latest model, the rechargeable battery powered M218C is sold currently in China for 999.00 yuan, i.e. for ~$150.

This hardware has also been introduced into the US market much earlier by ECTACO:
New jetBook e-book reader from ECTACO set to change the way we read forever! [Mar 21, 2008]
ECTACO Inc. releases the most affordable eBook Reader – the jetBook-Lite [Oct 27, 2009]
Ectaco Jetbook – a brief review [Feb 5, 2010]
Ectaco jetBook Lite eBook Reader Now $99 [June 17, 2010]
The $99 price is clearly showing that e-reader wars will continue to that price level, which could be reached by some other e-readers eas early as by Christmas this year.

All these devices are using a really low-cost, unique and almost unknown screen:
TOSHIBA MATSUSHITA DISPLAY TECHNOLOGY CO., LTD. STARTS MASS PRODUCTION OF 5-INCH VGA MONOCHROME REFLECTIVE-TYPE TFT LCD
[Jan 16, 2007] Features both High Resolution and High Reflectance
This manufacturer has since been renamed:
Toshiba to take over LCD joint venture with Panasonic [Apr 1, 2009]

Barnes & Noble Introduces NOOK Wi-Fi® and Lowers NOOK 3G Price, Giving Book Lovers Greater Choice and Even Greater Value

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4 Comments

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