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new cool best high technology gadgets gift Asus ereader.jpgYet more confirmation has emerged that Asus plans its own e-book reader, according to The Times of London, who reported the story on Sunday.

It’s not especially clear what the Times was able to elicit from Asus versus an earlier report from DigiTimes, which quoted Asus president Jerry Shen (or paraphrased a comment he made, at least) committing to an e-book reader. An Asus representative in the U.K. appears to have confirmed this, with the additional details that there may be a value-priced as well as a premium version.

I assume that the following details are sourced from Asus, then: “Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the
Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book,” the Times of London reports.This, in theory,
enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the
touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives
the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web
page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for
the device to be used like a laptop.”

The paper also points out two other salient points: one, the reader uses at least one color display, and two, Asus is known for its inexpensive EeePC line. That, in a nutshell, is why I’m a tad suspicious.

Amazon’s Kindle 2 is priced at $299. The Kindle DX is a whopping $499. Sony’s Reader Pocket Edition, however, lowballs the others at $199. Nevertheless, all made concessions to hit those price points.

How much would a second, color screen add in terms of price? Plus
touchscreen functionality? And keep in mind how much power a notebook’s
display draws – for a given battery, roughly a quarter to a third of the total available power goes to the display.
Can we assume that Asus has some access to color E-Ink low-power
technology that Amazon or Sony do not? I don’t think so. As far as I know, color e-ink is at
least a year or two away from low-cost, commercial availability, meaning that Asus would probably have to turn to more conventional, power-hungry displays. (EDIT 9/8: Michael Miller provides an update on color e-ink, which could be available next year.)

The need to design a thin, attractive product leaves little room for a
battery. Balancing that against a pair of displays and Wi-Fi implies
either a painfully short battery life, or a clunky form factor. Could
Asus give each display its own battery to balance a dual-screen
e-reader? Possibly. But even if that could be achieved, I’m not
convinced that such a device could be manufactured all that cheaply.

I will say this, though: traditionally, once the Taiwan ODMs and OEMs
commit to a market, they do so quickly and usually as a group. When
that happens, prices fall. Just the threat of Asus entering the market
could have an effect on the prices Amazon and Sony charge. And that’s a
good thing.

Picture credit: The Times of London


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