IREX Technologies has announced a new entry into the e-reader space that is sure to turn some heads and offer yet another competitive alternative to Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s new product lines. Additionally, the new, 8.1-inch IREX DR800SG, adds Verizon to the list of carriers who sense an opportunity in this emerging space. Verizon will be the 3G partner for the device adding on-the-go content connectivity. The move pits Verizon against AT&T and Sprint as U.S. carriers partnering with e-reader devices with the hope that such support can be a catalyst for new data-driven revenue streams. A carrier gets revenue from the bandwidth used to send books and other content over the air to e-reading devices. By and large, the bandwidth cost for books is absorbed by the retailer. Additionally, Verizon could easily become a channel partner selling e-readers in its stores (as it does with netbooks).
Also notable for the device is that it will be priced at $399, far lower than many of IREX’s previous offerings, and will be available at both Costco and Best Buy in time for the holiday shopping season. Best Buy says it will train its associates on the fine points of e-readers, but Costco is generally a self-service shopping experience, so it will be somewhat of a merchandizing challenge to sell the IREX to a Kindle-conscious consumer.
Barnes & Noble (www,bn.com) is the lead online bookstore partner which is good news up to a point. While Barnes & Noble will have a sizeable selection priced competitively (competitively to Amazon, that is), B&N offers titles in the .pdb (Palm Database) format deployed by Fictionwise, a nine-year-old online e-book, e-tailer B&N recently purchased. The .pdb format is one used by many mobile devices and PC-based readers, but goes somewhat against the trend of adopting .epub as the universal e-book format. Nothing will keep publishers on the sidelines longer than a format/DRM fray. The IREX DR800SG, out of the box supports many formats including .epub. The decision to partner with B&N is a pragmatic one from a business standpoint given B&N’s name and reach. With multiformat support, however, it does not box consumers into a one channel e-book purchasing choice (ala Amazon). Consumers (like me) can even easily download books from their public libraries for free using OverDrive’s Adobe Digital Editions supporting technology and read them on the IREX devices. Choice, not to mention value-priced devices, is what will drive the ebook space.
IREX, a spin-off of Phillips, has the vision and technology chops to be a major player in the e-reader space. IREX could be the first to come out with an affordable color device and may be the device the successfully works with newspaper companies (through some major partners) to offer a reading experience that does more than render PDFS of news pages.