Is This What a Kindle Killer Looks Like?

One of the coolest things I saw and held at the O’Reilly Tools of Change conference was the Plastic Logic Reader.


As I played with it, two words came to mind: Kindle Killer. Yes, I know you won’t be able to buy a Plastic Logic reader until 2010. Yes, I know Amazon is bigger than the Milky Way, Coca-Cola, and Andre the Giant put together. I also know that what I held was like an iPod and the Kindle, even the much-improved Kindle 2, is like a Zune. During the session breaks attendees were swarmed around the Plastic Logic display asking questions and pawing at the thing. I had to trample to two authors and a developer to get my hands on one.

Plastic Logic is positioning the product as more professional and business-oriented than the Kindle, but from what I’ve seen it’s just a more compelling device, period. In my view, the Plastic Logic reader has three killer advantages over the Kindle: size, touchscreen, and file format support. Plus, I’m betting there’s an ace in the hole.

The touchscreen technology supports gestures for navigation, annotation, and note taking. You can draw on the screen, and attach notes. The touchscreen also allows for a virtual keyboard. I’ve never liked the Kindle’s look because of the keyboard. Maybe I’ve been brainwashed from years of iPod UI, but if it’s a reading device, the vast majority of the surface area should be devoted to reading.

This also relates to the size issue. The 8.5 x 11 display is much more like what I’d want to have for reading a magazine, news, or a complex work document. I know that makes it less portable, but the Kindle is 8 inches tall, so I’m not sticking that in my pocket either. Plastic Logic has a 150 ppi resolution screen (Kindle 2 is 167 ppi) which can be rotated to display content in either portrait or landscape format. Color capability is planned as well. Here are some YouTube videos on the product.

In terms of file format support, Plastic Logic wins too. For reading content, the Kindle 2 supports Kindle (.AZW, .AZW1), Text (.TXT), and Unprotected Mobipocket (.MOBI, .PRC). You can use .PDF, .DOC, and .HTML files only after they have they have been converted to Kindle-readable formats. To convert files you have to either pay Amazon a small fee (ca-ching!), or you have to attach your files to an e-mail that you send to Amazon (privacy? we don’t need no stinkin’ privacy), and they send you a link to the converted file. Come on. I just want things to work. Period. Plastic Logic supports Office file formats, HTML, EPUB, PDF, and more, out of the box.The claim is that it can display any file you can print.

That ace in the hole? Plastic Logic’s eReader already has a flexible screen. It’s just attached to a hard backing. So it’s not too hard to picture a foldable reader evolving from this product. Then you have one killer eReader. Any file format you want, big, color, foldable display in your pocket. Of course, Amazon has walked the walk. The Kindle 2 is out and you can own one. Plastic Logic is still somewhere between drawing board and reality. No word or street date or pricing, but they’re off to a very promising start.

PS: Memo to Amazon documentation department, regarding the 100-page Kindle 2 User Guide. Thanks for making it readily-available. But if you’re not going to put page numbers in the table of contents, for God’s sake give me hyperlinks to the pages. Don’t make me search or scroll up and down to find where a section might be. Never stop thinking UI, people. Thanks.

14 Responses

  1. Hey mike, that sounds and looks amazing. Hope you don’t mind me posting a link to a video on youtube.

    It truly is stunning. I’ve seen the future.

  2. Eugege-
    It is one cool gizmo. I have to temper my enthusiasm a little because it’s just a working prototype. But I definitely felt like I was holding the forerunner for what will replace newspapers, magazines, and the giant, ridiculous textbooks that kids have to carry around in their backpacks. Textbooks that I am partly responsible for ; )

  3. Indeed Mike. I agree with you on so many levels, but I also have thoughts that this is a bad thing too.

    I’ve heard about the wireless newspaper before, where the idea was you buy a product like the one you just set your heart on. And then the news is fed in wirelessly through wifi spots at a cost etc.

    Think how much lazier kids will be in the future, Mike. I like the idea of the e-reader, but it should weigh between 10 and 15 kilos, or indeed have a varying weight depending how many files you have stored on it. Now that would be cool đŸ˜€

  4. Just found out there’s a Netflix for books WAY cheaper than the $360 investment in a Kindle just to pay another $10 per book. article excerpt about Kindle 2:

    Eric Ginsberg, vice president of marketing at BookSwim based in Newark, N.J., agrees that pricing is key. His company rents books, much like Netflix Inc. rents movies, and eventually plans to also embrace the downloadable content model. But for now, with the economic recession closing the pocketbooks of most consumers, Ginsberg said his company’s business is doing well as a service renting physical books.

    “More and more people are subscribing to BookSwim because they want to keep living their lives, but they want to have budgets,” Ginsberg said. “We are following [e-book vendors] Amazon and Google and Sony but mostly right now it’s hype.”

  5. Steve-
    Thanks for the tip on BookSwim. I’ll check it out.

  6. I tnink some future laptops will be like this plastic miracle.

  7. I can see no future in these things, no one want’s to read if they were worried about batteries getting low, its inconvenient and by the way can you bring those newspapers with you on restaurants without thinking about its battery life? still nothing can replace ol’ books and newspapers.

  8. @Color Copies Dallas: battery life in e-ink devices is measured not in hours, but page turns, about 8,000 per charge. That means days, even weeks between charges, not hours.

    The absolute miracle of e-ink is that, like paper and ink, it HOLDS STILL. All other displays so far twitch and flicker, disturbing the eyes, mind, and emotions. This is the THE reason for e-ink.

  9. I have both the sony e book and the kindle. Kindle out performs the e book 1000 to 1, but this new plastic logic will outperform the Kindle in appearance and content. Please keep me informed of your progress recognizing this will not be out until 2010.

  10. Great post Mike, I am very jealous that you actually got to handle one. If it works like they say it will and they can link up with content providers to provide a seamless “iTunes-esque” purchasing experience this will truly be a Kindle Killer.

  11. The Kindle 3 , to be released in 2011, is the Plastic Logic killer!

  12. I have 16,800 pages written in Framemaker format and PDF format, formatted at 2000 words per page on B4 size pages. I can display these pages as 6 pt. fonts on A4 page sizes (like reading a newspaper).

    Kindle is worthless to me—I have thousands of large drawings that won’t fit on Kindle and cannot be redrawn without YEARS of further work!!!! Same with Sony’s eReader–worthless.

    Plastic Logic is PERFECT—the iPod of eReading!!!!!

  13. I think I may have a glimmer of where all of this technology is going (for me at least) in my everyday work world. I will use my Blackberry (or iphone) for all my calls, contacts, texting, navigation, quick lookups on the internet, and urgent e-mails, like I do now. I will listen to music on my Blackberry, or mp3 player, or ipod. I will read my technical books & drawings, magazines, and read for pleasure on a lightweight 8-1/2 by 11 inch display like the Plastic Logic eReader. Then, I will do my report typing, perform engineering calculations, and watch a movie now and then on my high powered mini-laptop computer. I will be connected 24/7, if I want to be. I will keep my Kindle 1 for pleasure reading, and eventually give it to my kids. It all seems great – when can I start!

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