Amazon's Kindle Fire & Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet have been added to this story.
NEW YORK (
) -- Recent weeks have witnessed some big news in the e-reader market in the shape of
Barnes & Noble's
While the retail giants are going head-to-head with their new e-reader/tablet combos, they are also looking to undercut
phenomenally popular iPad with lower priced gadgets.
Still, though, the e-reader isn't dead, even if tablet devices such as the iPad are going from strength to strength. Ownership of gadgets like Barnes & Noble's Nook and Amazon's Kindle doubled in the U.S. from 6% in November to 12% in May, according to Pew Research Center.
But as tablet masters like Apple and
, e-reader stalwarts are taking the hint.
Barnes & Noble's
, powered by
provided a glimpse
of what was to come.
Samsung also ramped up its e-reader/tablet efforts,
, with the launch of its Galaxy Tab 7.7 at the IFA show in Berlin.
The South Korean tech giant may also be preparing a major tablet running
Windows 8 operating system, according to
published media reports
. Both companies declined to comment on this possibility when contacted by
Though e-reader manufacturers clearly face intense competition -- Steve Mather, principal analyst at research firm iSuppli, said that they aren't likely to realistically challenge the hardware and app development ecosystems created by tablet giants like Apple -- e-readers aren't going to disappear anytime soon.
"E-readers have a niche and they will continue to do what they are good at, which is reading," said Mather. "Whereas tablets are more media players and lifestyle devices."
The roots of e-reader technology go back a long way, with firms like
debuting early models in the late 1990s. Earlier still, in 1971, the Project Gutenberg initiative to digitize key cultural works and popularize e-books kicked off, underscoring a desire to create a new literary medium.
From early-era e-readers to next-generation offerings,
highlights seven key technologies in the evolution of e-readers.
Lauded as one of the first e-readers, the Rocket eBook was launched in 1998 by Mountain View, Calif.-based
. With color devices still some way off, the 22-ounce Rocket Book offered a 4.5 x 3-inch black-and-white touchscreen and could be hooked up to a computer for downloading eBooks.
blog describes the Rocket Books as the
the device was sold by Barnes & Noble.
NuvoMedia was acquired by
Gemstar International Group
in 2000 and rolled into technology used to build
REB1100. RCA's Web site, however, makes no reference to the REB1100. Nate Hoffelder, editor of
The Digital Reader
, says that the devices are no longer available.
"There were visionaries way ahead of their time," added iSuppli's Mather. "But sometimes, you are too far ahead."
Another of the early e-readers, the SoftBook Reader debuted in 1998 by
. Described as a "magazine-sized" electronic device, the SoftBook Reader had an 8 x 6-inch touchscreen and weighed in at 2.9 pounds. (Compare that to the color Nook, which weighs about a pound; the Kindle 3G comes in at just 8.7 ounces.)
The SoftBook also offered a built-in modem, which meant that books could be downloaded right to the device.
Like its e-book rival NuvoMedia, SoftBook Press was bought by
Gemstar International Group
in 2000. The SoftBook Reader was eventually reborn as
color REB 1200, although, again, there is no reference to the device on RCA's.
"The only place you can find them now is
and in the hands of a few collectors," said Hoffelder.
Reader launched in 2006, but Amazon's first Kindle quickly eclipsed it a year later, when it sold out quickly after its debut thanks to something Sony's model didn't offer: a wireless connection for downloading material. (Sony's Reader required a computer hookup).
, with a larger screen and built-in PDF reader, appeared in the summer of 2009 and proved popular,
Amazon solidified its market-leader status with last year's Kindle 3, which featured 3G and an improved display. The competition has intensified this year, notably in the shape of Apple's iPad and
Barnes & Noble's Nook
. Set against this backdrop, Kindle enthusiasts were awaiting Amazon's latest venture, but more on that later.
Amazon has not yet responded to
request for comment.
Barnes & Noble Nook
Based on Android, Barnes & Noble's Nook hit the market in late 2009, offering built-in Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity via
. A Wi-Fi only version evolved the following summer, and the color Nook was announced in November. Just a month later, the
described the Nook family as its best-selling product ever and said that it now sells more digital books than physical books.
At $250, the souped-up color Nook is the cheapest tablet on the market. Barnes & Noble is also allowing Flash capabilities on the device's Web browser, a feature notably lacking on the iPad.
Furthermore, Barnes & Noble ramped up efforts to challenge Amazon at the low end of the e-reader market, announcing a
no color capabilities or applications
Touted as the next big thing in online newspaper publishing,
was showcased by telco partner
at last year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES). With its flexible screen, the Skiff device was a hot technology, but has disappeared from view since
bought the Skiff e-reader platform for an undisclosed fee in mid-2010. News reports have cited the deal as the
death knell for the e-reader
; News Corp. bought the Skiff software -- but not the hardware.
News Corp. has not yet responded to TheStreet's request for comment on this story.
Apple breathed new life into the flagging tablet market when it launched the iPad in April 2010, and has since sold more than 28 million of the touchscreen devices. Analyst firm Forrester estimates that
of the U.S. consumer tablet market in 2011, a figure that will dip slightly to 70% next year.
Compared to standard e-readers, the iPad's key selling point is its versatility; iPad users can watch videos, download apps, play games, surf the Web, etc.
Keen to tap into the burgeoning e-book market, Apple's iBookstore boasts more than 200,000 titles -- far fewer than Amazon's 950,000-title offering.
iriver Story HD
Though hardly a household name,
is helping push e-readers further into the mainstream, recently forging a deal with retail giant
to sell the company's Story HD device.
Unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas earlier this year, the Story HD is touted by iriver as the first e-reader to be fully integrated with Google's eBooks. The South Korean firm has also described the device as possessing world's highest-resolution 6-inch e-reader screen.
Powered by an applications processor from
, the Story HD comes with built-in Wi-Fi. The 7.3-ounce device also offers access to more than 3 million free e-books according to Target, as well as thousands of titles for sale.
Target began selling the e-reader for $139.99 on July 17.
Samsung Galaxy Tab
Samsung briefly cranked up its e-reader push with the launch of its Galaxy Tab 7.7 at the IFA show in Berlin. The latest addition to the Korean tech giant's
family of Android-based tablets
, the Galaxy Tab 7.7 is the company's first to feature an ultra-high definition
With a smaller screen than the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and a slightly smaller and lighter form factor than the Galaxy Tab 7, the company's latest tablet has already been touted as
Clearly keen to stake a claim on the e-reader market via tablets, Samsung says that its Hub Services provides access to more than 2.3 million books, 2,000 newspapers and 3,000 magazines. Other features of Hub Services include 15 million songs and a Social Hub which aggregates email and social network connections, according to Samsung.
The Galaxy Tab 7.7 also offers both voice and video calling, providing further evidence that the tablet and smartphone worlds are colliding.
A big question mark, however, hangs over the Galaxy Tab 7.7 following Samsung's decision to
. Samsung, locked in fierce patent lawsuits with Apple, took the move came after a German court ordered the firm to stop selling the new tablet, according to published media reports.
"Samsung respects the court's decision (The District Court in Dusseldorf) made on September 2 and therefore decided not to display the Galaxy Tab 7.7 at IFA," explained a Samsung spokeswoman, in an email to
The tech giant, however, believes that the court's decision limits consumer choice in Germany. "Samsung will pursue all available measures, including legal options, to defend its intellectual property rights and ensure its innovative products remain available to German consumers," added the spokeswoman.
Amazon Kindle Fire
Amazon debuted its Kindle Fire in New York in late September, sending shock waves through the gadget market thanks to its $199 price tag. With a list price well below Apple's $499 iPad, Amazon hopes that the Kindle Fire will carve a foothold in the tablet market, building on the success of the original Kindle.
The 7-inch color touchscreen tablet also features the 'Silk' Web browser, which divides the browsing work between the Kindle Fire's own hardware and servers hosted within Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). The end result is faster Web browsing experience, according to Amazon.
There have already been forecasts that Amazon could sell
Kindle Fires in the fourth quarter of 2011.
Inevitably, the low-price tablet/e-reader will weigh on
, although this is a price the Seattle-based firm seems happy to pay. Long term, Amazon sees the Kindle Fire as a launch pad for e-commerce and electronic content offerings such as its Prime Instant Video service.
Amazon, for example, is offering a 30-day free Prime Instant Video trial to customers who purchase the Kindle Fire.
With Amazon on a mission to bolster its digital content story, the Kindle Fire's launch has also been cited by analysts as evidence that the Internet giant could
The Kindle Fire ships to customers on Nov. 15.
Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet
Barnes & Noble entered the tablet market in early November,
the Nook Tablet, a 7-inch touchscreen offering that will go head-to-head with Amazon's Kindle Fire.
The 7-inch touchscreen device, available on Nov. 18, comes preloaded with Netflix and Hulu Plus, and includes free Wi-Fi at
Touted by Barnes & Noble as its fastest, lightest tablet, the new Nook weighs under 1 pound, and contains a 1-Ghz dual-core
processor. The tablet also offers 11.5 hours of battery life, 16 gigabytes of built-in memory, free cloud storage, and a high-resolution display.
Speaking during the launch, Barnes & Noble CEO Bill Lynch took a
at Amazon's Kindle Fire, saying that its memory is "deficient for a tablet."
The Kindle Fire comes with 8 gigabytes of internal memory.
Lynch also dubbed the Kindle Fire a "vending machine" for Amazon's services. "Nook, first and foremost, is about creating innovation in digital reading," he said.
Barnes & Noble also made a song and dance about the Nook Tablet's battery life, which offers 11.5 hours of reading time or nine hours of video watching.
The embattled bookseller priced the e-reader/tablet at $249, but slashed the price of its existing Nook Color from $249 to $199. There had been speculation that Barnes & Noble's Nook Tablet would be priced at around $199, the same as Amazon's recently launched Kindle Fire, although Barnes & Noble clearly wants to
its bottom line.
--Written by James Rogers in New York.
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