PlasticLogic QUE: Could it steal business users away from an Apple slate?

At CES, PlasticLogic unveiled its QUE proReader, which could turn out to be the product that draws business users away from the Apple tablet.

At the CES 2010 opening keynote, the tech world was disappointed that Microsoft didn't deliver a stronger potential competitor to the forthcoming Apple tablet. However, as the sun was rising the next morning, a startup called PlasticLogic hosted an event to unveil its QUE proReader, which could turn out to be the product that draws business users away from the Apple slate.

While it officially launched on Thursday at CES, the QUE has been a known entity for months. It's largely been thought of as an e-reader aimed at business users since PlasticLogic previously announced partnerships with Barnes & Noble and a variety of business trade publications.

At the launch, PlasticLogic CEO Richard Archuleta said, "We aren't trying to create the paperless office or the paperless bookshelf, but the paperless briefcase."

While the QUE proReader is meant to be a great reading device - it has new display technology called truVue designed in partnership with Adobe - the QUE has ambitions that go much further than ebooks. While most ereaders and tablet computers are focused on consumers, the QUE is laser-focused on business users.  For example, here are some ways that the QUE integrates with common vendors and technologies used by businesses:

  • Microsoft Office - Displays Word, Excel, PowerPoint documents and integrates with Exchange mailboxes
  • BlackBerry - A QUE app will allow users to transfer data from BlackBerry to QUE
  • Good Technology - Wireless sync with Microsoft Exchange inbox and calendar
  • Windows and Mac - Print documents to the QUE just like you would to a standard printer; this is called "print to device"

Clearly, this is designed to be a productivity device and not an entertainment device. As you can see in the photo above, the QUE homepage has your daily calendar on the left, your content on the right, and your Favorites and the QUE Store along the bottom.

The problem is the price. The 4GB WiFi-only model costs $650 and the 8GB WiFi/3G model sells for $800. When PlasticLogic announced the pricing at their CES press conference, there was literally a stunned silence among all of tech reporters.

This price point puts the QUE in direct competition with many tablet computers. Is there anyone who would rather have the black-and-white QUE than a slate PC in full color? The obvious answer would seem to be, "No."

However, the QUE does have a few things going for it. The super-slim form factor is going to be thinner than any tablet. The "print-to-device" and BlackBerry integration will lower the friction for getting documents to the QUE and improve ease-of-use. The battery life will be much better than a tablet.

With all that in mind, I think we could see some executives and senior business managers choosing the QUE proReader over tablet and slate computers, even the much-anticipated Apple device. While a few tech writers, such as BNET's Erik Sherman, have suggested that the Apple tablet will be aimed at businesses, I expect that it will be a consumer device aimed at aggregating various types of media content from periodicals to video to Web articles.

If the QUE is going to win the battle for the business user, it will be with its simplicity and its specialization for executives. For some of them, the QUE may be a more attractive way to replace a stack of documents and a stack of newspapers and magazines when they go on the road or even when they travel locally to business meetings. However, I think the QUE will need the promise of a color screen in the next version of the product. A QUE proReader with a Mirasol display, like the ones we saw at CES, would be pretty compelling.

For more details on the QUE, watch the video clips below that I took at the product's launch at CES.