After two overwhelming weeks with Projection Summit and InfoComm, the war of the Electronic Book Reader (EBR) is going on with no sign of slowing down - or is it? Sure the announcements are coming in from everywhere and the sky is the limit (not true since the Chinese took the Hanvon N510 into space on their Shenzhou-7 mission). So what is the real limit for these devices?
Insight Media Analyst
First of all, since the introduction of the iPad, the EBR has made a very fast transition from a clearly defined product (electronic book reader) to a less defined want-to-be tablet. Technologies and functionality and were added in a very fast and not always completely understandable manner. Anyone need a second display on the EBR to add some color and web browsing? Are two large 14.1" displays better than one?
The newly released Kno EBR does exactly this - combine two LCD 14.1" displays in a side-by-side book type format (see photo). This raised some eyebrows as it is targeted at the textbook market, and it may be a good fit, but at 5.5lbs, students may not find this a logical way to go. Of course if you want full color, fast displays and decent battery life like the promised 6-8 hours, the outcome is a beautiful but heavy device that can double as exercise equipment in the classroom.
Only a few of the Chinese-based EBRs announced at CES have made it to the North American market so far. As many recognized, selling a device is only possible with the infrastructure behind it to support a sufficient stream of content. The days of fast moving EBR companies driving the market may be starting to end as the market matures. The large publishers are now trying to take control of this market as their content is king. They want to see this content sold in every significant book store on the planet - which is good for consumers too.
However, content distribution deals take time as they require business negotiations and lawyers with lengthy contracts. In the end, these business relationships will be established and consumer may indeed be able to buy any EBR / Tablet and any book they desire from any retail store. But is this a realistic dream or just wishful thinking? So far in any product category of the world (ignoring the iPod and the PC for a moment) the mass market always drove the product development towards standardized interfaces and interchangeable products. Now let’s talk about the iPod and the PC, which still enjoy a kind of "monopoly". First of all, this kind of high market share comes with a price; just ask Microsoft what governments demand from them. Secondly, everyone is out to eat your lunch and have they many helpers to get it.
So have we reached this level of mass market appeal that drives these kinds of developments? Certainly not, we are still in the phase of everything goes (at least for some time). New products enter the market and leave before we even had a chance to get our hands on it.
On the other hand, manufacturers are gearing up to increase EBR output and manufacturers are starting to have supply choices. As Qisda reported, they are ramping their EBR production volume to over 50,000 units per month in the second half of 2010. Assuming that they are using SiPix displays, this would mean that they are finally getting their production issues under control. Now, with an expected total market volume of 10 million units for 2010, Qisda would end up with less than 10% market share at the end of 2010.
The market is changing quickly. Taiwan continues to be EBR island as Delta is using Bridgestone displays and Polymer Vision has a new home and investor with Wistron. But Plastic Logic is still not shipping and iRex has just filed for bankruptcy protection (we would love to see the Que EBR on our desk and we wish iRex good luck in finding an investor).
All this shows a healthy mix of business development in every direction. The EBR market is changing from a technology and entrepreneurial-driven segment to a mainstream and maturing business segment. In the long run this step is important for the industry as a whole and hopefully will continue this successful run of products for year to come.
Based on the first ideas for EBR going back to the 1970’s and first hardware devices in the late 1990’s (Softbook and Rocketbook), the EBR is somewhere between 12 and 40 years old. Seems to be a good time to go out and make some money.