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.

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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.

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