Sony Makes Renewed E-Reader Push to Take On iPad

Just a few weeks after expressing doubt about the viability of the tablet market, Sony has decided to go ahead and challenge the iPad, but only in one area: The Japanese electronics giant announced in Tokyo that it plans to launch an e-reader and online content distribution service in Japan by year-end.

Sony said it also plans to launch its e-book operations in China, Australia, Spain and Italy this year.

Sony has released e-book readers in Japan in the past, but they never caught on due to a combination of a lack of content from local publishers and the poor quality of screen resolution, especially when attempting to read outdoors.

Amazon managed to reverse the video quality problem and content issue with its Kindle e-readers, while Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) is gaining ground with the enormous success of the iPad, which can serve as an e-reader among its many functions, thanks to the launch of an iTunes-like book store for the device. Apple also made efforts to reach out to book and magazine publishers to get them on board before the iPad launched.

Sony meanwhile is chasing partnerships as well, starting in its native Japan. Along with the new reader, it announced partnerships with telecoms operator KDDI, printing firm Toppan Printing and the Asahi Shimbun newspaper.

"An e-book business does not make much sense if it does not come with enough content in terms of both quantity and quality ... You have to build a system first to ensure that," Sony Electronics Senior Vice President Fujio Noguchi told a news conference, as reported by Reuters. "I don't think we are running behind."

It will be coming behind Apple, though: Apple launches the iPad in Japan later this month.

The runaway success of the iPad would seem to make a single-purpose device like an e-reader DOA on launch -- particularly if Sony opts to launch its new lineup without a color screen like the iPad uses.

But don't bet on it, said Sarah Epps, analyst for consumer product strategy at Forrester Research.

"Sony makes a lot of single-function devices, like digital cameras and its handheld video recorder. E-readers are a similar type of product," she told InternetNews.com. "It does one thing well and enables you to read e-books. Our data suggests that there is a continued market for single-function e-book readers, in addition to a bigger market for multifunction tablets like the iPad."

She felt color would not be an issue, as well. "The vast majority of books look totally acceptable in black and white," she said. "Color is a red herring for e-book readers. If you mean magazine content, there's a lot of other factors than color, like having something that has a faster refresh rate for videos and interactive elements and fast touch response. But if it's just for reading long-form text, then black and white works fine."

The black and white e-book as a technology still has a lot of room for improvement, Epps added.

"The companies that will be successful in selling dedicated e-book readers will be those that optimize the book-buying, book-reading and book-sharing experience," she said. "Right now, Amazon has mastered the transaction. The book-reading experience is pretty good on the Kindle. Where I think there is room for improvement is book sharing. Right now, the [Barnes & Noble] Nook is the only device that lets you lend a book to a friend, but I think that's the beginning in more social behavior around e-books."

In the analog world, people recommend books to friends, share them, and give them as gifts. In the digital e-book world, that's not so easy.

"All those behaviors have yet to be replicated and enhanced in the e-book world," Epps said.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.


iPad, Apple, Sony, e-book, e-reader