Book and Reading News

Dual-screen Android e-readers multiply

Spring Design's Alex e-reader
Spring Design's Alex e-reader

Last week, Barnes & Noble leaked information about a dual-screen e-reader running Google’s Android OS that it will announce this week. Today, Fremont, Calif.-based Spring Design sought to beat B&N to the punch. It announced an e-reader device, called Alex, with the same features, a six-inch E-Ink display for e-book content supplemented by a 3.5-inch touch-enabled LCD screen that allows Web browsing.

Unlike B&N, Spring Design is talking explicitly about augmenting e-book content with Web and multimedia, which I speculated about last week. This is potentially exciting stuff, promising to add to the reading experience (if done right) and support better annotation (though no clear explanation is given about social features that might be enabled by annotation in the Alex). According to the press release:

The revolutionary Alex livens up text with multimedia links, adding a new dimension to the reading experience and potentially creating a whole new industry for secondary publications that supplement and enhance original text.

Whether text needs “livening up” with multimedia or not is debatable. Text on the electronic page certainly needs to be networked and extended to provide new reading experiences.

Book provider partners and wireless service providers have not been signed up, but Spring Design expects to begin shipping the Wi-Fi, 3G, EV-Do and GSM compatible Alex later this year. Pricing is not specified.

The company describes its device as the “first Google Android-based e-book with full browser capabilities and patented dual screen” despite the B&N leak of last week.┬áIt’s an ominous sign for a market when everyone is racing to pre-announce hardware. If the number of Android dual-screen gizmos keeps multiplying at this rate, there will be tribble-load of them in weeks. There’s my second Star Trek reference of the day.

Notable question: Since Android is the common feature of both these devices, and both rely on two screens, does this point to a generation of two-screen Android devices? Video players, for example, that let you watch a movie on one screen and use Facebook or Google Wave in another? Now, imagine an Android-powered TV….

Thanks to Christopher Dawson for the pointing to this news.

10 replies on “Dual-screen Android e-readers multiply”

They can pump out as many different designs as they want, most people, including those sitting on the fence, will not buy these eReaders until the prices for these devices come down. A LOT! Myself among these.

I use my Palm IIIc and SmartPhones for reading ebooks – have for over 6 years, and now have well over 300 ebooks, but no matter how exciting they make these new devices sound, I am not buying one until they are sub-$100 Cdn. Until then, my PDA’s and SmartPhones are just fine for reading my eLiterature.

I was just remembering my first cell phone. They had been around for about a decade, but the thing had a belt clip I never used because it weighed so much it pulled my pants down. All you could do with it was talk, the display was black-on-white, and it had no signal about half the time. And it cost a fortune.

E-readers are going to a fundamental device function in the future. Soon they will have color, personal organizers, a video phone, email, full web browsing, and a monthly service charge. It all levels-out after a while.


When the e-reader becomes that fundamental device, what’s the difference between it and a tablet, a smartphone, an iPod Touch? That’s a convergence device, which suggests that the the dedicated e-reader is a transitory thing. I don’t think Amazon or B&N will be concerned about making and selling the devices when this happens, they will want to be selling books.


Good points. I tend to view it from the perspective of the non e-reader owner who is presented the choice between another device and adding an e-reader app to their phone or laptop. Having been a big fan, indeed and advocate of PDAs (see the books I wrote about Newton and EO, for instance), my experience is that such specialized applications become must-haves when they are an add-on rather than a dedicated purchase.

Screen geometry, battery life and color, I think, will be factors in the length of dedicated e-readers’ market life, but cost is the prohibitive issue, as most people who would buy a smartphone will use the voice and data services daily, but most readers buy one to three books a year. For we, the active readers with dozens or hundreds of books a year, the dedicated e-reader makes a lot of sense, but there my not be a mass market for them.

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