CrunchPad, a $250 Kindle killer?

CrunchPadMockTechCrunch founder Mike Arrington will launch a Web browsing tablet device, perhaps as soon as July. The device, described as 18 millimeters thick with a 12-inch screen, that will be sold in a variety of colors for less than $250, according to The New York Times. The first version of the device, which will have a color screen, is pictured to the right. Additional prototype photos are available here.

The CrunchPad will have a simple user interface based on four touch-screen gestures, shown in the YouTube video below, one of which opens a soft keyboard for entering text. One could conceivably use the device to participate in social networks and other collaborative Web applications.

CrunchPad will purportedly do nothing other than surf the Web. But I think that statement misses the greater significance of the device. A reader featuring rich color and the ability to play streamed video is the exemplary reader that e-book enthusiasts have been craving. It would be a simple matter to develop browser plugins that handled various e-book formats. More importantly, however, the Intel Atom-based device, will support mixed media titles with ease, making it a potentially game-changing player in the digital publishing industry.

While not an E-Ink device, and there’s no need that it be an E-Ink device, its price point and features make it a strong contender against the $489 Kindle DX for the hearts and wallets of readers. The practical question is what kind of battery life an Atom CPU and 12-inch LCD screen will deliver. Definitely a device to keep your eye on.

Borders UK introduces a £189 e-reader

Borders UK today introduced a lower-priced e-book reader, the Elonex, which it will offer alongside the £400 ($665) iRex Iliad e-book reader. The £189 ($314) Elonex, manufactured by the British PC maker of the same name for Borders UK, is a basic e-Ink screen e-reader with no wireless or other network connectivity. It supports the ePub and Adobe PDF formats and comes pre-loaded with 100 books (presumably out of copyright classics) and an SD memory slot. (A brief, not very informative review is here.)

Borders offers a catalog of 45,000 e-books, which can be displayed on the Elonex or iRex Iliad. Borders executives had previously told the Bookseller they did not consider the iRex, which includes annotation and handwriting recognition technology, “sustainable” at £400.

The dichotomy between the basic e-reader, which does little more than display pages, and a multi-purpose e-reader, like the iRex, is evolving to be the simple distinction made in this market. Amazon’s Kindle 2, however, splits the difference, doing more than a basic reader (notably with the WhisperNet delivery service, but also an increasing range of applications), at a price that, at this point, is so close to the “basic” models, it is poised to crush competitors that try to compete from the low-end. Now, if only Kindle supported ePub documents.

Plastic Logic debuts new site

logo_plastic_logicPlastic Logic, developer of an upcoming line of e-book reader devices that could give Kindle a run for the money, debuted a new Web site this week. The video content has been available online for a while, but the product pages are more complete and informative than before. A “content store” will launch with the device, according to the site. The site specifically mentions ePub, PDF, Zinio, and Microsoft Office document formats.

The company’s “two-phased entry into the market” starts in Fall with partnered trials, after which they “expect to accelerate the momentum of our sales in 2010.” Partnering for trials, such as offering a device with a newspaper service, is a dicey way to launch, because it requires the partner to succeed, and a device’s success lies beyond the partner’s ability to sell through its channel.

A word of advice to PL’s marketers: Don’t talk to customers like they are a military target. And don’t expect anything other than setbacks, because this wording sets the launch up as a series of barriers that, if not conquered decisively, will be reported and perceived as setbacks. Readers and most publishers don’t deal with “content,” either. They buy or sell books, magazines and news.

At this point in the pre-launch marketing, when building excitement among readers who are also considering their first Kindle, Sony or other e-reader, Plastic Logic needs to present a very different face than it is, engaging with readers and discussing their expectations. Since Plastic Logic’s device is apparently engineered with user’s workflow (again, the wrong sort of military way of talking about “reading”), it should be positioned to address those thinking about an e-book device purchase today.