Spring Design E-reader Offers Web Browsing

The company wants to grab a share of the growing e-book reader market, now dominated by the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader.
 Spring Design Dual-Screen E-book Reader
(click image for larger view)
Spring Design Dual-Screen E-book Reader
Spring Design on Monday introduced a dual-screen e-book reader that tries to beat market-leading devices from Amazon and Sony by including full Web browsing on a color screen, in addition to the typical black-and-white electronic paper display.

Called the Alex, the device makes the use of an e-reader more versatile by linking the Web to content on the six-inch E-Ink display, Spring Design said. For example, a publisher could include a hyperlink that would take the reader to a Web page that would be displayed on the device's 3.5-inch LCD display.

The smaller display is an integrated mobile device powered by Google's Android operating system, the vendor said. The Alex also includes support for Wi-Fi and 3G data networks.

Spring Design, however, did not announce any partnerships with wireless carriers or content providers, both of which would be key to making the device useful. The company said it is in discussion with potential partners and plans to release the device to "selected strategic partners" by the end of the year. No timetable was given as to when the Alex would be available through retailers. Pricing also wasn't disclosed.

Spring Design has been working on its patented dual-screen design since 2007, and is targeting the professional, educational, and entertainment markets. The device comes with a removable SD card for external storage and to add text and multimedia content.

The device includes an authoring tool to add notes and images to other content. Users will also be able to capture and cache Web content and toggle to view it on the electronic paper display. The browser includes bookmarking, history, and security settings.

"This is the start of a whole new experience of reading content on e-books, potentially igniting a whole new industry in multimedia e-book publishing for secondary authors to create supplementary content that is hyperlinked to the text," Priscilla Lu, chief executive of Spring Design, said in a statement. "We are bringing life to books with audio, video, and annotations."

Given the fact that Spring Design has yet to release the Alex or announce partners, it's impossible to determine whether the device will be a serious competitor to Amazon's Kindle and the Sony Reader. Both devices account for the majority of e-reader sales today, but the market is still in its infancy.

The market, however, is expected to grow. This month, Forrester Research upped its projection for e-reader sales this year to 3 million from 2 million, with 30% of the purchases occurring during the holiday season. E-readers sales next year could exceed 6 million units, according to Forrester.

With the market expected to grow, other hardware manufacturers are lining up with new products. Those include IREX and Plastic Logic, which plan to release e-readers this year and early next year, respectively.

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