Earlier this week, I ranted about manga publishers and their head-in-the-sand attitudes toward digital distribution of books.  One of their seemingly cited reasons for not supporting digital books is the lack of e-readers in circulation.  Sony and Amazon seem to be trying to rectify that.

Thursday, Sony announced a new e-reader, not to replace their current model, the PR-505, but in addition to it.  The PR-700 has some new additions, though it’s not a Kindle-killer yet.  The biggest change the addition of a touch screen.  You can now turn pages with the swish of the finger, instead of having to use external buttons.  The screen also now has LED side lights, to make up for the lack of back lighting.  You can also make notes in the text via an onscreen keyboard and highlight text, something that students will no doubt love. The screen remains the same at 6in., but a faster processor means less wait time for the turning of pages, and more memory and external SD slot means more space to store books, both also big pluses.

Only real downside of this model so far is the lack of wireless connection.  It still relies on a computer connection to download books and a wired connection to get them on the e-reader.  Sony says they are working on a wireless model, which is what they really need to push their line into the mainstream.  The big question I see for that is, will it be compatible with Amazon.com?  Whether Sony likes it or not, Amazon.com has become the place to get book, print or digital.  They can compete on the hardware, but is the software going to play ball?  The PR-700 will retail for $399, and will be available in time for the holiday season.

Conveniently, the next day after Sony’s announcement, images and information about the new Kindle were Kindle side by side comparison“leaked”.  Even though Amazon.com has denied rumors of a new Kindle this year, we all knew they were working on a “version 2″.  The design has been changed somewhat in response to criticisms about the original, though they kept the “PC beige” color.  It will remain about the same size, with the biggest changes being in the button layout, that many people also complained about the first one.  The Scroll wheel has been replaced with a joystick and the keyboard layout is more like a blackberry than a keyboard.  It seems they’ve opted for miniUSB charger which is good, but has made the battery inaccessible to the user and removed the SD slot, which isn’t.  The wireless EV-DO network through Sprint remains the same.  There is no word on when it will be released or a price, though the changes seem too minor to justify an increase.

With these two news releases, we see the importance of competition in the marketplace.  Sony probably wouldn’t have worked for it new innovations if it wasn’t for the Kindle’s sudden popularity.  Necessity may be the mother of invention, but competition can really foster some great innovation.  Sony’s touchscreen brings the e-reader one more step closer to replicating the printed experience.  I think, before the Kindle 2.0 is released, we may see a few more changes to it, which will make the next few years very interesting for consumers and publishers.

As e-book readers become better, more sophisticated and convienent, they will find their way into more hands.  If I were to choose now, the Sony would win out by a sliver, as I value the SD card over wireless.  And frankly, there are no books available wirelessly that I care about, nor blogs I can get feeds for.  But that touchscreen and faster load is really attractive.  As is the SD slot that lets me put my own books on, including scanalations if I so choose.  It’s not the right choice, but right now, Manga publishers are making it the only choice for manga readers.

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2 Comments for this entry

  • Curt Sampson says:

    Actually, I don’t buy the idea that Sony wouldn’t have been working on the Reader if it weren’t for the Kindle. The PR-500 is an obviously evolution of the Libretto, which came out (in Japan only) a good two or three years ago, certainly well before the Kindle was even announced.

  • Yeah, and it’s been 2 years between the PR-500 and 505, which wasn’t much of an upgrade. The 700 is a much more of one, and probably wouldn’t have come out in the US if it wasn’t for the success of the Kindle. The Kindle ignited people’s interest in e-readers more than Sony ever did, and now that people are seriously considering e-readers, Sony has to have their hand in that pie too.

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