Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Tablet a Day: iPad Rival Remedies or Real Pills?

In a recent Blog post I talked about some of the new multi-purpose devices that will soon be available at affordable prices, each featuring a way to buy and read e-Books. However most, if not all, were created by companies that, shall we say, are not necessarily considered top in their field. So with this in mind, I'd say those should be considered risky purchases.

And though some new digital device seems to hit the market just about everyday, two intriguing tablets have recently been announced that definitely deserve some attention and will most likely be viable alternatives to Apple's iPad.

Now it's no secret I love using my iPad for just about everything, especially reading, but I can't deny the following 7" devices look like they might deliver excellent user experiences for those who've been in "wait-and-see" mode. And that's because these tablets are made by Samsung and
RIM, two great companies with reputations of introducing innovative products that continually push the envelope.

Let's take a look:

The Galaxy Tab by Samsung looks like a smaller iPad and features just about the same level of functionality, and in some cases, even more. But what I'm interested in is what it's like to read on this 7" color screen and from what I can tell from Samsung's promotional video, it looks pretty good. The e-Book technology is called Readers Hub, which was developed by
Kobo specifically for Samsung. Here's one video that shows how it looks (The e-Book demo is about halfway through and looks very similar to iBooks so I think what we're seeing is by ePubBooks, but others I've seen looked more like Kobo's current App). The O/S driving this device is Android and it will initially feature four e-Bookstores, including Kindle. And for the guesstimated price of somewhere between $200 to $299, this slick tablet is sure to be a popular gift during the holidays. (I wonder if the release of the Galaxy Tab means the death nail for this other e-Reading device from Samsung?)

The Blackberry Playbook by RIM seemed to come out of nowhere. It's another 7" device, but the angle here is that this is the "professional" tablet. We heard that once before from the creators of the now defunct Que, the large E-Ink Reader that was supposed to be meant for serious business people. The vast difference of course is how RIM is already supported by thousands of companies who currently use Blackberry smartphones for all their employees (though I must say, I find it hard to imagine typing comfortably using a virtual keyboard on a 7" screen, even in landscape mode, but we'll have to see). Many will be very comfortable with the idea of using this tablet for both it's familiarity and anticipated quality. I say "anticipated" because there haven't been any reviews of the Playbook yet, but from the look of this video, it just might be a winner. As far as reading e-Books goes...the Playbook will launch pre-loaded with the Kobo e-Bookstore, but word is that Amazon will also be making their App available for this platform shortly after it's released. Priced somewhere between $300 and $350, I think it's safe to say this stealthy looking device has the potential to be a huge success.

One thing's for sure, as more and more tablets like these enter the market, they'll only help increase the discovery of books through the various number of e-Bookstores available as Apps or on the web. And this is just the beginning...

What do you think? Have Samsung and RIM developed real challengers to the iPad?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sony: No Baloney or Too Little Too Late?

A new suite of Sony Readers will soon be available and the big question I've been grappling with is whether or not this is Sony's last chance to be a competitive player in the e-Reader showdown.

With Amazon's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook making major inroads it's no stretch to conclude Sony has to work harder than ever to hold on to what slice of market share they have (had?) in the U.S.

It's too bad because Sony was one of the first to provide a well designed, fully functional e-Reader back in 2006. However, it never quite had a robust or easy-to-use online Bookstore to support it. Unfortunately, all these years and several models later, the latest devices still don't, especially when compared to Amazon's vibrant Kindle store. Even the valiant effort Sony has made aligning its e-Book program with big players like Google to expand their e-catalog with free public domain titles or Overdrive to enable digital "checkout" from local libraries, hasn't really seemed to capture the interest of consumers the way Amazon and Barnes & Noble have managed to do in recent months. And when Sony tried to develop a strong alliance with Borders to place devices in stores so people could try them in person, the effort simply fell flat. Yes, you can still purchase a Sony Reader from Borders, but then again, you can buy one from Amazon too.

Over the years I've owned several Sony Readers and although each scored points for having a sleek design, they've consistently fell short due to mediocre functionality and a fairly poor interface. Part of the problem is that each time a new device is released, the redesigns and navigations tend to change so dramatically, that one has to re-learn how to use it. And this can be frustrating. Apple has demonstrated time and time again how to balance the new with the familiar. In other words, if I already own an Apple product, whether it be a iMac, MacBook, iPod, iPhone, or iPad, there is a consistency to the way I'd expect to control each platform. The navigation is simple, intuitive, and new features are typically welcomed as opposed to puzzling.

Now I confess so far I haven't actually held one of the latest Sony Readers to take it for a test run, but I've watched enough demos to determine when it comes to choosing one comparable e-Reader over the other, I would guess most folks will gravitate towards purchasing a Kindle 3 or Nook.

But even for those who were/are considering one of the new Readers, I imagine the higher price tags (the lowest priced model is $179, $40 more than the Wi-Fi only Kindle) have put the kibosh on any enthusiasm they may have had. Sony publicly claims their own studies show people are not overly concerned about price point when deciding what matters most before purchasing a dedicated e-Reader. I find this surprising 'cos I've yet to meet anyone who doesn't consider cost before purchasing electronics (unless it's made by Apple). So what's going on here?

Well, one explanation might be that throughout parts of Europe and Asia, Sony Readers are quite popular and firmly established as the e-Reading device of choice. But as the Kindle expands beyond American borders, this may or may not continue to be the case. Regardless, one would expect Sony to do everything it can to attract American consumers during these tough economic times, especially as we head into the holiday season.

What do you think? Is Sony still in the e-Reader game?