Spurred by the threat of the rumored Kindle E Ink machine from Amazon, Sony is considering a WiFi-enhanced successor to the Sony Reader, as well as a push to get E Ink machines into the classroom. Sony CEO Sir Howard Stringer says Sony isn’t making the current Sony Readers as fast as it can sell them. For what it’s worth, the large Borders store closest to me has moved eight since the readers came out in late ’06,
I wish Sony luck on the K-12 front, but one problem will be E Ink as the technology now exists. The display is slow, and that means that this might not be the best machine for, say, annotating books, Web browsing or word-processing. Perhaps for K-12, Sony would do to keep positioning the machine as auxiliary gizmo, not a main computer—and I suspect that would indeed be the strategy, now that so many middle-class kids, at least, own PCs. It will also help to improve the search capabilities, add color when its available, and lower the price. With these improvements, however, Sir Howard would get a bonus—not just a more school-friendly-machine but also one more appropriate for library use. The contemplated WiFi could only help, in terms of easier uploads and downloads in K-12 and other academic environments.
Adherence to e-book standards would help, too, in terms of encouraging school and library purchases. One solution to facilitate this would be for the IDPF to pick up the OpenReader specs while having more reliable enforcement than OpenReader standard has had so far. I’m skeptical that Sony will get too far in the long run with its proprietary BBeB format, which Adobe’s Bill McCoy has correctly warned will be left behind by a reflowable XHTML-based standard.
Q: Could you give us an update on the Sony Reader?
Stringer: We are very happy with it. It’s selling as fast as we can make it. We’re not making enough. We’ve been very cautious in launching it because, as you know, it failed in Japan two years ago. This is a totally different version with totally different economics and software, and we understand that Amazon is also coming on with something in the relatively short term. So, we need to get a second reader out. We probably need a Wi-Fi component.
But we’re very pleased that the acceptance from the consumer is unusually strong. I don’t want to be a salesman, but people love the device. How many ultimately can be sold is a question mark. I think the next iteration will be the educational marketplace. We’ve sent some to England. I haven’t heard back from the English publishers that I’ve sent them to, but clearly there is a component in the English-speaking world where you can stack so much educational content that kids can take [the entire content of] their whole [collection of] textbooks [in their Sony Reader].
We didn’t go there [into education] at first because there was a lot of caution. A lot of my contemporaries in Japan weren’t sure about this. This has been a peculiarly American dynamic. We’re well aware of the potential publishing costs and paper costs, and it has a unique ecological advantage.
Detail: While the Sony has lived up to my expectations that it would be a successful niche machine, remember that it is a long way from a mainstream product with an iPod level of popularity. A successful school and library push could be just what Sony needs.
(Via Fugubot at MobileRead.)