This year’s Consumer Electronics Show drew huge crowds to the Las Vegas Convention Center—preliminary figures report more than 140,000 attendees—not to mention the presentation of a record number of tablet computing devices. While the vast majority of these devices aren’t solely or even predominantly for reading, much like last year’s CES, reading is once again featured as a critical aspect of what is arguably a technological revolution in computing.
To be sure, there were 2,700 companies exhibiting and there were a lot more devices on display than just tablets. But tablets as well as all manner of dedicated reading devices were just about everywhere in the Central and South Halls of the convention center. A report delivered at CES projected there would be 48 million tablets sold inn 2011 and 85 million by 2012. And it seems that digital reading devices are all the rage, all around the world and there was a particularly large contingent of both well known and not so known firms looking for retail partners for all kinds of e-readers.
But all this stuff points to reading—along with watching movies, checking email and playing games—as an important, fun and critical activity among others. In addition reading is also featured pretty quickly in any kind of marketing or promotional material for all these devices. Here’s a quick roundup of our reactions to device and other stuff from CES. Most devices will be available by early summer-- "Q1" is repeated mindlessly by almost every firm, if these devices make it to market at all and a lot of them will not!--and almost everyone declined to give pricing.
Most impressive tablets we saw: The Blackberry Playbook (7” screen, QNX OS); Motorola Xoom (7” screen, Android 3.0 or Honeycomb, optimized for tablets); a trio of new Panasonic Viera Tablets (10”, 7”, 4” screens, Android 2.2) and the Samsung Galaxy Tab (7” screen, Android 2.2), which unlike these other devices is currently available in the marketplace.
Most impressive screen technology: Mirasol Displays, a company owned by Qualcomm with offices in California and Taiwan, that is presenting a new screen technology that adds both color and support for video to what is essentially an e-ink screen (warning: I’m simplifying the technology horribly). It’s essentially color e-ink with a reflective screen that can be read in bright sunlight like e-ink but also offers color and video with low power consumption and long battery life. The firm is looking for partners and hopes to have it technology in the U.S market this year. In addition a number of companies like Panasonic and Sharp (despite its unimpressive Galapagos e-readers) offer a cool feature that allow views to move content, static reading material, video or whatever, easily and with a swipe from their handheld devices right to their larger flatscreen TVs instantly.
Most unimpressive tablets: Toshiba vaporware. Although rumors had it that the company would offer three tablets each running a different OS, they only showed a single device (10”, Android 2.2) that was essentially a prop under glass that didn’t run and that you couldn’t touch. Also disappointing were Sharp’s Galapagos Tablet/eReaders (10”, 5.5” screens). They had two devices on display that were confusing to navigate and glitchy to use. We were told by one presenter the display models were from Japan and ran the linux OS but would run on Android in the U.S. However, this presenter was overruled by another supervisor presenter (or so it seemed) who wouldn’t say what the operating system would be or when the devices would be released! The tablets on display in the Microsoft booth (particularly the Asus EP121 for $999, yikes!) were unimpressive. However Intel had a bunch of tablets from manufacturers all over the world (the 9” tablet from the Australian firm Evolve Three that could run Android or Windows 7 was impressive) that looked intriguing but the display of about 10 devices overwhelmed us with technical details about processors. Hey, it's hard writing about technology!
Tech firm/platform determined to hang in there: The book-like Entourage Edge dual screen tablet with facing e-ink and color LCD screens. While we’re a bit dubious of the longterm viability of these book-like devices, the 10” screen Edge (focused on the education market) was on display and this year the company launched a smaller 7” Pocket Edge device, that seems worth a look.
Most interesting new firm: Pocketbook USA, a Ukrainian company with offices around the world and now in the U.S. that offers a suite of 5 e-ink devices. They are a “early collaborator”—Mirasol’s description to me—with Mirasol and opened 2 retail stores in the U.S. with their devices and claim to be planning to open 20 stores in the U.S. in 2011.
Other interesting stuff: While there were no book publishers exhibiting that we could find, the New York Times had a prominent stand showing how consumers can access their content on, like, 20 different devices. Also late in the day on Saturday we heard of about a color e-ink screen from Hanvon, but we didn’t get a chance to see it. We also spent some at Copia, the social media-driven e-book retailing site, talking with Sol Rosenberg v-p, business development & content acquisition. After inking a series of significant partnerships with Microsoft, Samsung, Motorola and Android to make its Copia platform available on 100 million devices, look for a broad and channel-focused partnerships to market and promote the software as we get into 2011.
And finally while Blio, Ray Kurzweil’ s multimedia e-reading software launched in collaboration with Baker & Taylor, announced a deal that will bundle its software on Dell devices, we were pleasantly surprised to stumble on the e-reading software running on a new Windows 7 Phone in the Microsoft booth. It looked very cool and I’ll admit that I didn’t know that a mobile version of Blio had been released. (Apparently, this was a very new phone and Blio for Win Phone 7 has not yet been announced.) And let's be for real; this report covers the stuff I was able to see and there was way more stuff that I did not see. Look for more coverage of CES 2011 in the print issue.