January 28, 2010 7:35 pm

E-reader rivals hope for boost from iPad

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this month, e-readers were among the hottest products.

No fewer than two dozen were on display, each positioning itself as a winner in the era of digital reading. Now those plans look tentative at best.

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With the iPad, Apple hopes it has stolen a march on the current crop of e-readers. Unlike the Amazon Kindle, the Sony Reader and Plastic Logic’s Que, the iPad has a responsive full-colour touchscreen, an elegant interface and lightning-fast page turning.

“Many consumers who were thinking of a dedicated e-reader device are going to be reconsidering in the wake of the iPad launch,” said Michael Gartenberg, analyst at Interpret, a technology and media consultancy.

But its rivals appear less concerned by the threat than excited about Apple’s entry. They hope the iPad gives the e-reader market the same boost the iPhone gave smartphones.

“The iPad’s focus on reading is a validation of the digital reading experience,” said Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading division. “The paradigm shift we’ve been speaking about is happening, and the momentum is building at an amazing pace.”

As many as 5m e-readers were produced last year, and analysts expect the number to double in 2010. Given the sheer size of the market, it seems likely that many e-readers will still be sold this year.

Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Collins Stewart, said he still expected Amazon to sell 1.5m Kindles this year. “We are not changing our estimates for Amazon Kindle and think it will remain one of the most compelling e-book readers,” he wrote in a research note.

Moreover, the current e-readers are lightweight and falling in price. And some consumers may still prefer the E-Ink displays used by e-readers, which are easier on the eyes than the LCD display in the iPad.

“When you look at people who are buying e-readers this year, they’re doing it because they want an optimised reading experience,” said James McQuivey at Forrester. “The people who are buying Kindles are unlikely to be swayed by the iPad.”

Though e-readers have failed to gain traction in the classroom, educational publishers were effusive about the iPad’s potential.

“Apple’s new iPad adds to the potential opportunities for personalised learning and learner engagement,” a Pearson spokesperson said.

With an intuitive touchscreen interface and rich colour graphics, the iPad could become a powerful learning tool. CourseSmart, which makes an application that serves textbooks to the iPhone and iPod Touch, said it had begun work on an iPad version of the software, which would make available more than 8,800 e-textbooks.

Another way Apple may seek to enhance e-books is by integrating them with the broader online world, bringing in additional content such as commentary from authors and critics, and allowing friends to share updates and comments online.

“It’s the marriage of digital reading with a rich digital web experience,” said Mr McQuivey. “That’s the killer app of digital reading that no one has touched.”

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