Let’s face it, Amazon’s implementation of Android has to be a sore point for Google. The most popular Android tablet ever, the Kindle Fire, is completely cut off from everything Google has developed to try to integrate and monetize the OS. Is it any surprise that they would want to come out with something in the same size and price range that would blow the Kindle tablet option out of the water? Unfortunately for them, this first attempt at entering the tablet market is going somewhat less smoothly than Amazon’s.
Sources originally reported that a 7” Google tablet costing as little as $150 would be available sometime this May. Running Android 4.0 and powered by NVidea’s Tegra 3 quad-core processor, it was clearly an attempt to show off what a “pure” Android tablet was capable of in this price range. Sadly, we now have news indicating that the design being collaborated on by Google and Asus is running $249 per unit. The inability to keep costs down has brought along a delay until June and may force the elimination of some of the advantages the device was supposed to offer.
Prices on tablets are falling across the board. The iPad remains prohibitively expensive for many, but with an option like the $199 Kindle Fire there is still hope. Amazon did an impressive job of putting out dirt cheap hardware with the hope of making money on the resulting media sales and sales tracking indicates that they have been successful. Anybody hoping to compete with Amazon in the 7” tablet market will have to at least match the price they are offering and even then bring something impressive to the table.
While the obvious way to bring down costs would be to step down from the expensive Tegra 3 processer, Google is apparently trying to avoid that. This makes sense if they are trying to bring something out that really demonstrates the potential of the Android iteration (5.0 Jelly Bean) due out this June. They have to be forward-thinking and prepare to compete against anticipated Windows 8 tablets as well as the Kindle Fire, so cutting corners on performance would not work well.
Does Google have a chance of beating out Amazon? I would say no. The strength of the Kindle Fire isn’t in its power or in its benchmark ratings. Google Play is a step in the right direction, but aside from the App selection (which remains insufficiently moderated at the moment despite recent improvements and any other advantages it may offer) it can’t compare to what Amazon’s store integration brings to the table.
We can hope that this delay turns out to be more of a shift in focus than a fumbling attempt to get back on track with the original plan. An Android 5.0 tablet meant to compete against Windows 8 tablets by offering a superior price and experience would make sense and do a lot to secure the future of the OS if implemented well. An overpriced Kindle Fire competitor aimed at a noticeably different segment of the tablet customer pool than the Kindle would just be disappointing.
A while back, as some of you may remember, we mentioned the news that Barnes & Noble(NYSE: BKS) and HP(NYSE: HPQ) were teaming up to offer the B&N reader software as a prepackaged tool in many new HP computers. Well, it looks like Amazon(NASDAQ: AMZN) has taken the cue and moved with it. Today we got a press release announcing that, in the near future, Kindle software will come pre-installed on many ASUS models including the 1005PE line of Eee PC Netbooks and their UL Series of notebooks.
This isn’t necessarily quite as pointless as it seems at first glance. While there is no doubt that preloaded software isn’t a new concept, the implied partnership in this area bodes well for upcoming months; rumors that the upcoming Eee Pad tablet device will be unveiled by the end of this month lend some weight to this development. In spite of the shortcomings compared to an e-Ink display, these devices are useful and well-regarded as reading tools. Having an existing partnership for users’ ebook consumption needs addresses a key point in the obviously inevitable comparisons to the iPad that consumers will have to be making. There is some hope, it can be hoped, that a valid competitor is about to enter the market.
Asus has this strategy of throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. So earlier this month Asus officially acknowledged that they have an e-Book reader in the pipeline. There were rumors about an Asus e-reader that has a 5inch OLED screen that carries the model number DR-570. But this is called the DR-950 and it has a 9inch e-Ink display. The same kind of display that is used on the Kindle.
It has a resolution of 1024×768 and has support for ePub, PDF and HTML. There’s also text-to-speech and RSS reader, which are good features to have. Onboard storage is 2-4GB and it is expandable via an SD card slot. There’s a 3.5mm headphone out and a USB port too. The 0.35inch thinness is pretty impressive and Asus is even considering putting in WiMax into that frame. There’s already WiFi and HSDPA built in. The eInk screen has a touch-sensitive layer on top of it, so there are concerns about the display losing some clarity and readability.
The rumors about the DR-570 refuse to die down however and Digitimes insists that Asus will ship two readers and not one. The current time frame is Q2 2010, so we will know soon. The OLED screen will definitely be no match for the eInk screen in terms of battery life and readability but it will be able to display color and video. So it will likely be a color eBook reader. It must be kept in mind that Asus also has a tablet device planned. So if they release a touchscreen OLED e-reader, it will definitely cannibalize any market that the Eee Pad has.
As for the e-reader competing with the Kindle, it can be safely assumed that there is no way Asus can catch the Kindle bookstore and the International Kindle’s free wireless anywhere in the world. So Asus has to be satisfied with only a niche market.
If you are new to eBook industry and would like to catch up on all of the relationships between different Amazon Kindle and other different devices and companies in the e-Book universe. This picture created by techflash.com is just the right thing for you. There is also PDF version available that has every arrow linking a related story on techflash.com. You can download it by clicking on the picture below. It will really be worth your time.
eBook Universe by techflash.com
I guess this picture really is worth a thousand words… Great work, TechFlash!
Asus has released more details about its upcoming eReaders. Not too surprisingly, Asus will be selling two separate models: a high end device and a budget reader. The budget reader is to be called the Eee Reader in keeping with Asus’ popular line of netbooks. Like the Eee PC, the Eee Reader will compete using a low cost, no frills approach.
The high end reader, on the other hand, seems to be the complete opposite. Pictured here (as a conceptual design), the eReader will have 2 screens and open like a conventional book. This could be a way to help facilitate the jump to digital for dead tree diehards, but I think it would look and feel a bit strange. What’s more, the hinge only seems to be the tip of the iceberg. From the article:
Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a web cam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the Internet.
This looks like a horrific example of feature creep. Asus could build and sell a touchscreen laptop, but it would be foolish to market it as an eBook reader. The success of the Kindle, and monochrome eInk in general, shows that a device needs to focus on what it does best and then leave it at that. If someone is looking to buy an eReader with Skype functionality, they are going to just buy a netbook, tablet PC, or smart phone instead.
Asus has announced plans to release their own eReader device. Details are scarce at the moment, but the reader will be part of the eee line and will, at the earliest, come out late this year.
So far, there doesn’t seem to be anything to indicate that Asus will be able to compete with the Kindle. But they do have one thing going for them: brand recognition. Asus has been one of the leaders in netbooks with their eee PC. By making a reader that belongs to the same family as their successful netbooks, there is some chance of brand loyalty coming into play.
Really though, I don’t know how Asus is planning to be competitive. They are, at best, a late entry into the eReader market. It is possible that they will offer some sort of well designed content delivery system, but will it make a difference if whispernet has been around for so much longer? There best bet would probably be to latch onto Barnes and Noble’s store, where Asus would only have to focus on hardware. Maybe when more details become public, we’ll have a better idea of how this will play out.