E-reader comes to BlackBerry

Bookseller unit offers beta version; smartphones still need better screens, battery life to succeed with e-reading, says analyst.

Bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. announced a beta version of a free e-reader for BlackBerry devices that allows users to purchase e-books much as they already can via the iPhone and other smartphones.

The beta is available at Fictionwise, the e-book company that Barnes & Noble recently purchased. The software works with any Research In Motion Ltd. BlackBerry released within the past few years, Barnes & Noble said.

There have already been 1 million downloads of Fictionwise's eReader application, according to Fictionwise. The BlackBerry version gives users flexible controls to adjust font sizes and improve readability in certain lighting conditions, according to a statement. Bookmarks, a linked table of contents and text search are also available.

Barnes & Noble said the eReader is available for 300 handhelds and cell phones, giving access to 60,000 titles at eReader.com, including popular fiction.

Even though the BlackBerry e-reader capability is welcomed, Rob Enderle, an analyst at Enderle Group, said smartphones still don't have big enough screens with the proper display for long periods of reading.

"The smartphone [including BlackBerry] is an interesting way to get people interested in e-books, but in general, it has the wrong kind of display and the wrong size display, and the battery life is not right for reading for long periods," Enderle said.

Even the iPhone, which has been celebrated for its clear display and screen size, is not good enough for much e-reading, Enderle said. "Phones and smartphones some of the time may be adequate [for e-reading], and it's fine for short subjects," he said.

Any phone or smartphone with an LCD is not as good as the Kindle and Kindle2 from Amazon.com Inc. or the e-readers from Sony Corp., he said. Those e-readers are also larger, so users don't need to constantly flip pages as they would with smartphones.

Eventually, smartphone companies will enhance their screens and batteries to accommodate e-reading, but it will be a slow change, Enderle said. "The screen has to come close to the quality of paper, with better contrast and resolution to make it easy on the eyes, and there has to be longer battery life," he added.

Enderle predicted that smartphones will move toward embracing e-reading. "The e-book trend will eventually have to be embraced by smartphones, but it's a slow-moving trend."

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Matt Hamblen

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