Well, this isn't a huge surprise, since we've seen the rough outline of a nondescript, details-scarce reader from Barnes & Noble tucked away in FCCland, but the Wall Street Journal has "people briefed on the matter" who are saying the reader will be out possibly as early as next month. Word is the reader will have a six-inch E-Ink screen, with a touchscreen interface and virtual keyboard, and it will also have a wireless internet hookup to that great bookstore in the sky. With an IREX wireless reader already featuring the B&N ebook store, and a Plastic Logic device doing B&N exclusively, we'd say Barnes & Noble is certainly working this from a number of potentially redundant angles. It's unclear what particular innovation or distinction a Barnes & Noble-branded reader would bring, or who might build it, but our fingers are crossed for one particular avenue of one-upmanship: price.Not only that, but it may be running Android:
Barnes & Noble's rapidly-approaching eReader will be an Android piece, according to our source. And it really should be, according to me.
The leak came from someone who (quite convincingly!) claims to work for B&N developing mobile apps—his background knowledge of their app projects was startlingly deep, at any rate—and makes quite a bit of sense as an alternative to the brutally dumb software of current ebook readers.
Think about it. At six inches, it's a smallish device, and we've seen Android on similarly-sized screens already. Wireless connectivity is built into the OS. Extraneous, inappropriate software and settings could be easily stripped out and replaced with relevant ones. A custom-designed interface could be easily dropped in. Apps—oh, sweet apps—could be a huge boon. And hey, E-Ink Android drivers have already been demonstrated on video. Not to mention the fact that B&N has conveniently skirted releasing an Android app, despite putting quite a bit of effort into iPhone and BlackBerry versions of the mobile ebook sofrware.
Simply put, this would be pretty fantastic, and it's eminently plausible.
Stay tuned. If anyone is going to bring a serious challenge to the Amazon Kindle, it will either be Apple and/or Barnes and Noble. Both companies have physical stores to show off their eBook readers -- giving them a distinct advantage over Amazon. I can see Amazon entering into some type of partnership with Apple and/or opening their store to any eBook hardware willing to purchase from them. I also imagine we will soon see a stronger partnership between Sony and Borders which will further catalyze innovation and competition. Eventually, I think the publishing industry will have to settle on a standard format for eBooks -- just like the music industry finally settled on MP3s. Nobody wants to have their electronic book collection tied to one manufacturer or device.
I suspect the world of eBooks will look very different twelve months from now. And I mean that in a very good way.