After Hours

ASUS is preparing a low-cost touchscreen ebook

ASUS popularized the netbook phenomenon with its Eee PC, now it wants to do the same thing in ebooks with a low-cost touch-screen device that will arrive before the end of 2009.

ASUS popularized the netbook phenomenon with its Eee PC, after OLPC had created the category. Now, the company wants to do the same thing with ebook readers, a category that Amazon and Sony have pioneered and turned into a niche market in recent years.

According to a report on Monday in The Times of London, the ASUS e-book (which was first announced at CeBIT in March) is on tap to be released before the end of 2009 and will cost much less than Amazon's $300 Kindle. The Times reported the ASUS device will likely be priced around 100 British pounds (about $150 US dollars).

According to The Times:

Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. 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. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature "speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype", allowing cheap phone calls over the internet.

ASUS has said, "Our ethos is innovation - as our brand is less well known, we have to run faster than the competition to develop new types of products. Any such product - including an ereader - has to have the right combination of functionality and price."

In terms of running faster than the competition, the ASUS device could potentially preempt a similar device that Apple is expected to announce in early 2010. What makes this even more interesting is that there was a 2007 rumor that ASUS was helping Apple build a tablet device. Since Steve Jobs has reportedly killed the tablet project twice before, it's possible to conjecture that Apple is now building a tablet on its own while ASUS took its earlier designs and developed its own product.

At $150, it's doubtful that an ASUS ebook would include a 3G cellular connection like the Amazon Kindle and the forthcoming high-end Sony ebook (or an Apple device, which would presumably have 3G and connect to iTunes). That could limit the appeal of the ASUS device because Amazon's Whispernet is its killer feature, allowing consumers to buy ebooks from anywhere and without a connection to a computer.

About

Jason Hiner is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He writes about the people, products, and ideas changing how we live and work in the 21st century. He's co-author of the upcoming book, Follow the Geeks (bit.ly/ftgeeks).

17 comments
The Management consultant
The Management consultant

With the release of Nokia's new low end mini laptop this category of hardware is going to see a number of new entrance to the market this year.It is forcast that this sector of the market will see dramatiic growth.However the most interesting features will be mobile telcon convergence with touch screen suggesting smartfone capabilties such as telco conferencing,video streaming, on mini laptops.Asus has shown commitment to development of opensource based products.Rumours abound with Toshiba planning the launch of a new mini enterprise laptop this coming year possibly in conjunction with Sun/Oracle.

sullyskully
sullyskully

could items like this become a cheaper way to stay current with texts books? and possible save a few trees in the process :-). If not it would be a cool idea to do it that way.

as901
as901

This looks like it may have promise!

Craig_B
Craig_B

You can get a single screen B/W reader for $400++ or a dual screen color reader (+ Skype Phone) for $150. As long as ASUS supports several formats it's a no brainer. How many books are you going to download via 3G?

joao.cintra
joao.cintra

One thing that I didn't see it's the e-ink feature. It seems to me that it's a regular screen not an e-ink. If ins't an e-ink I don't want it. It's cheaper and with many other things but still blows with my eyes after 15 min of reading a book. It's not really comparable with Amazon Kindle or Sony Reader.

mini_liz
mini_liz

I totally agree. I thought the whole point of these e-readers is they mimic paper, and don't give off any light? (thus not straining your eyes) Unless I'm reading picture books, I don't need a color screen that badly.

pgupta7
pgupta7

I agree that it should sport a color version of e-ink, with out that It will not be able to compete, for me that's the whole point with the ebook reader is a book like feel. Also i don't like the shiney protruding hinge at the bottom.

g.guyhorelle1
g.guyhorelle1

a low cost reader with the capacity of some web action and phone/skype access with televideo and a book format will be a front winner no doubt and probably the gate to a new form of communications leaving behind lots and lots of short view feature of new computers mini and all

aoneal
aoneal

I don't buy ASUS computers, but this sounds like a winner (as long as the display is crisp, a challenge with color). Rather than feature bloat, low cost is what will drive acceptance. At $150, breaking or losing this device will not be too terrible.

JCitizen
JCitizen

With the complaints about reading eyesores, it may be dead in the water. I guess I'm not getting that, as I use a big screen LED DLP to read for 16 hours or more a day, and no eye strain at all. But I digress!

Jeneral22
Jeneral22

This is exactly what I was looking for when I began shopping ebook readers, netbooks, 2nd PC for my parents. Dad loves his card games and occasional surfing while Mom loves reading news and emailing. The problem is from 6-8 am they both want to be doing their thing on the one PC. This would be perfect WiFi appliance for reading newspapers and emailing without booting Vista. @ 150$ no brainer!

GSG
GSG

I'd be more apt to purchase this than the Kindle or Sony. I like the fact that there are the 2 screens, plus the price doesn't hurt. The deal breaker for me would be if I couldn't put the books on the device, or my laptop, or burn to a CD for backup. I read ebooks now, but on my laptop as I see no reason to buy a $300 device when I already have my laptop.

jbitgood
jbitgood

From the looks of it, this is going to be a backlit LCD device. I could see battery life being a big issue unless they've worked out some extremely efficient power management techniques. If they've solved that, I'm sold. This is exactly what I've been hoping for in a reader.

chris.elvidge
chris.elvidge

"At $150, it’s doubtful that an ASUS ebook would include a 3G cellular connection like the Amazon Kindle and the forthcoming high-end Sony ebook (or an Apple device, which would presumably have 3G and connect to iTunes). That could limit the appeal of the ASUS device because Amazon’s Whispernet is its killer feature, allowing consumers to buy ebooks from anywhere and without a connection to a computer." Why would the "rest of the world" want 3G when WiFi and USB are so ubiquitous? The $150 price point and colour are so much more important. Especially if it reads TXT, PDF, DOC, ePUB etc.

pjroutledge
pjroutledge

Products like the Kindle are not available in Australia (not from Amazon, anyway). And the biggest feature, as mentioned in the article, Amazon Whispernet, is not available anywhere outside the US, as far as I know. Asus might be up against a strong field of competitors in the US, but elsewhere, like Oz, I reckon they've got a reasonable chance of taking virtually 100% of the market, assuming that they make their product available here.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

the first company that overs over-the-air ebook sales in Australia will be well-positioned to steal a lot of market share (just as the Kindle did in the US). Making book buying such a low-friction process is a big advantage.

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