Good news for readers: Asus plans to shake-up the e-reader market. The company that pioneered the netbook says it plans a dual-screen e-reader that could sell for as little as $164.
The Times of London reports on what it describes as "the world's cheapest digital reader."
The newspaper quotes Asus President Jerry Shen as saying the device will be released this year and come in both budget and premium versions.
"Unlike current e-book readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an e-book much like a normal book, using the touch screen to 'turn' the pages from one screen to the next," the newspaper reported.
"It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current e-book readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature 'speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype', allowing cheap phone calls over the Internet."
The device is expected to be called the Eee Reader, a take-off on Asus' Eee PC netbook line. The Times speculates, correctly I think, that price will be the primary driver for the budget model. The premium version will offer more features, but at a higher price.
The newspaper also doesn't speculate on screen size, likely to be small, especially if the unit offers dual screens. It is unlikely the Taiwanese company, which seems to have spoken to the newspaper, would not have corrected such a major error, so hinged screens seem to be part of the design.
(The screen shown in the mock-up illustration appears much too large to me).
The price of the deluxe model was not included in the newspaper's report. Given Asus' track record, it seems likely the company would seek to offer a dramatic improvement in feature set at the same price as other current higher-end models, such as Amazon's Kindle.
Also not included in the speculation is word on what e-book format(s) Asus will support. Sony has said it will use ePub, an open e-book format, in new models. Google has followed suit. Others have wondered whether Acrobat might play a larger role as the market develops.
I would like to see Amazon license its Kindle format and allow other e-reader customers to purchase its books online. Competition demands another format as well, though it is unclear whether ePub or another e-book format can reach critical mass with publishers and consumers.
If another format does not emerge, however, Amazon will continue to enjoy a huge advantage over competitors, if they are even able to survive.