E-readers With China's 3G Standard on the Way

A Chinese company is developing an e-reader it hopes will emulate the success of the Amazon Kindle and may market the device outside China.

Hanwang Technology is aiming for an October launch of the e-reader, which will have a 6-inch screen and support China's homegrown 3G mobile standard, said Lu Jianying, a product manager in Hanwang's international business section.

The company is cooperating on the device with China Mobile, a state-run carrier charged with promoting the Chinese standard, TD-SCDMA (Time Division Synchronous Code Division Multiple Access). Hanwang could switch the device to support other 3G standards for sale outside China, Lu said.

Hanwang, best known for its handwriting recognition systems, so far only offers e-readers that plug into a PC to load books and other content. Its 3G reader and another upcoming model that supports Wi-Fi will be its first that allow wireless downloads.

But the company's e-readers include entertainment and other functions uncommon in rival devices. Hanwang's latest e-reader, targeted at students, plays songs and displays comic-style cartoons in addition to e-books. It also has language study features such as multiple Chinese-English dictionaries and an option to display translations beside the original text for some books.

Hanwang e-readers also let users scribble notes in their e-books with a stylus and store or erase them later. They allow voice recording and playback and can read e-books out loud to users. Hanwang also aims to launch an e-reader with a 9-inch screen in October.

Hanwang e-readers use digital paper display technology from E Ink, the same technology used by the Amazon Kindle.

The devices are expensive. Hanwang's e-reader for students costs 2,880 yuan (US$422), compared to $299 for the newest Kindle.

Hanwang's e-readers are already well-known in China, and it aims to sell 500,000 units this year.

But one obstacle for Hanwang is the large volume of free reading material Chinese consumers can find online, including pirated books, said Frances Guan, an analyst at In-Stat China. Competition from free content makes it more difficult to earn revenue by selling e-books in China, Guan said.

Books, like computer software and DVDs, are widely pirated and sold at subway entrances and indoor bazaars in China. Pirated copies of everything from the Harry Potter series to self-help books like The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People are peddled on street corners in major cities, sometimes for little more than $1.

Many Chinese consumers already download reading material to their mobile phones, but that content is sometimes pirated as well and usually free. Beijing commuters often stand lined in subway cars with their heads lowered toward text-filled screens on a mobile phone or Sony PSP.

When asked how Hanwang would combat competition from pirated e-books, Lu, the company product manager, said it could not block users from downloading certain online content but that its future e-readers will bar copying directly between devices.

Still, Chinese consumers may grow more accustomed to buying content for mobile devices as 3G services expand in the country, Guan said.

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