E-readers displayed at Computex portend big growth

E-reader shipments hit 1 million last year and will grow to 30 million by 2013, says In-Stat

E-book readers may have been overshadowed by netbooks, smartbooks and laptops at Computex Taipei 2009, but products on display portend big things to come.

E-readers such as Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader Digital Book will likely face growing competition in the e-reader market later this year due to the number of such devices already available from Taiwanese manufacturers and on display at Computex.

Device maker Netronix showed off several e-readers at the show, ranging from its EB-500 with a 5-inch screen to its EB-600 and EB-600 Cookie, both with 6-inch screens, a prototype for a new 8-inch screen e-reader and its EB-900 with a 9.7-inch screen.

The company also offered its Mentor model, which also boasts a 6-inch screen but comes in a variety of colors, including yellow, pink and baby blue. A Netronix representative said the company could make any color a customer wants.

Netronix is a contract manufacturer, not a retailer, so it's looking for big companies to order its e-readers then put their own brand on and sell them.

The company says its Mentor e-readers can last for 8,000 page turns on one battery charge, compared to 7,500 for Sony's PRS-505/SC. Amazon doesn't break down its battery life into the number of page views.

A group of high school students at Netronix's Computex booth said they all want e-readers this year because they're "cool." When asked if the fact Netronix had comics in their e-readers had anything to do with their enthusiasm, they said, "maybe, but [the e-readers] are just so cool, so light and you can put all your books in them." Many Taiwanese students carry around bags of books so big that some parents buy small suitcases with wheels to ease their burden.

E-readers were also on display at Freescale Semiconductor's office in Taipei during Computex. The Kindle and Sony's Reader Digital Book are both made using Freescale chips.

Taiwan's Unihan, a subsidiary of Asustek Computer that develops non-PC products, also displayed an e-reader with a 6-inch screen at Freescale's office. Unihan is also a contract manufacturer, so it won't market the device itself. It will sell the design to a customer and then make money on the manufacturing.

Glen Burchers, director of global marketing in consumer electronics at Freescale, said his company has had "a lot of interest" from e-reader makers recently.

Freescale also had a large e-reader from iRex Technologies, a spin-off from Philips Electronics, at its office, meant for university textbooks, newspapers and other large reading material.

E-book shipments are taking off worldwide, says market researcher In-Stat, with worldwide shipments expected to grow from almost 1 million units in 2008 to close to 30 million units in 2013, due in part to the popularity sparked by Amazon's Kindle.

Competition for Kindle and other e-readers will also likely come from existing products. Amazon created a Kindle application for the iPhone's App Store so users can read Kindle books on their iPhones. Mary Lou Jepsen's company, Pixel Qi, has released a netbook-sized 10.1-inch color screen with an e-reader setting that displays everything in black and white while conserving power, which could lead netbook developers to offer the function as an add-on later this year. The screens will be in netbooks before the holidays, Jepsen has said. She was formerly the chief technology officer at One Laptop Per Child.

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