Taking note of the 400 year anniversary of Henry Hudson’s trip up the Hudson River, Hans Brons, CEO of Netherlands-based IREX Technologies, stepped to the podium at the New York Historical Society yesterday and wryly told the assembled press corps that the Dutch were returning to Manhattan “once again not knowing quite what to expect.”

He can certainly expect that IREX will make an already unpredictable e-book market even more volatile and interesting. Brons was there to unveil the latest entry in the digital reading device derby, the DR800SG, a $399 3G wireless stylus-touchscreen e-book reader with a 8.1” screen, designed and priced to compete with the Amazon Kindle ($299-$489) and Sony’s just announced wireless ereader, Daily Edition ($399). The device will go on sale at the end of October, but Brons also announced plans for still more IREX devices, including plans to release a true finger-tip touchscreen in 2010 (the DR800SG requires the use of a stylus to activate the screen) as well as an affordable full-color e-ink touchscreen device by 2011.

Brons was at the press conference and panel discussion to launch IREX’s presence in the American e-book market and he was accompanied by Kevin Hamilton, CEO of IREX USA, and William Lynch, president of B&N.com, which will offer retail access to its 700,000 (500,000 are public domain) titles, as well as a representative from Verizon, which will provide the 24/7 wireless connectivity for the device. The device will also offer access to more than 1000 newspapers through NewspaperDirect service.

But most importantly, the new IREX device signals another small step in the evolution of the e-book market away from strictly proprietary formats. Indeed, Brons was there to announce that IREX is not only offering a new device but a new business model: open platforms as opposed to Amazon’s current (and formerly Sony’s) model of proprietary file format and hardware and restricting consumers to a single retail channel.

Hamilton says IREX believes in an open platform, “consumers should be able to buy books from any retailing source and use their books on different devices.” Hamilton went on to emphasize IREX’s support of the open ePub standard as well as what he called a new relationship with book publishers. Taking note of Amazon’s $9.99 e-book price point—a longtime point of irritation for publishers who feel the price is too low—Hamilton said, “We will not dictate prices; publishers will control their prices, their formats and their customer relationships.”

Lynch emphasized that the BN.com e-book store will support more than 350 different devices and outlined plans to emphasize the IREX device in its overall marketing efforts as well as plans to offer consumers free wi-fi service in all of its stores. Lynch declined to say whether B&N would sell the IREX reader in its stores, “discussions are on-going.” (IREX has an agreement to sell the device through Best Buy chain with more retailers to come in 2010.) Lynch also acknowledged B&N’s partnership with PlasticLogic to offer yet another wireless reading device while declining to rule out offering even more devices. “We get approached all the time by device manufacturers,” he said.

The device itself follows the minimalist designs of the Kindle and the Sony Readers. It uses a stylus touchscreen but can also be controlled completely by a slim navigational bar, oddly located on the left side of the device, very likely making it the only left-hand oriented device in American consumer appliances. The device offers a 16-tone grayscale for photos; USB cable to upload personal or other kinds of documents; book marking and there will be note taking functionality to come through forthcoming software updates. Brons even outlined plans for advertising support on the device (“stay tuned,” he said) as well as plans to solicit third-party applications for the device, much like the iPhone app store.

And although it seems unlikely that software developers will flock to create applications for an introductory b&w device with somewhat limited computing power, it was another example of IREX trying to show the American market that it plans to offer consumers something a little bit different in digital readers.