Plastic Logic formally unveiled the Que, its lightweight entrant into the ever-more-crowded e-reader market, on Jan. 7 at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Originally announced in July, Plastic Reader's e-reader will target business travelers and other highly mobile professionals, with its creators emphasizing the device's ability to download and display Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents on its 10.7-inch screen.
The device will rely on AT&T's 3G network, as well as Wi-Fi, for downloading content. In addition, Plastic Logic has partnered with Barnes & Noble on the project, meaning that not only will the Que be sold at Barnes & Noble stores nationwide in addition to online, but the device will have access to Barnes & Noble's eBookstore. In addition, Plastic Logic announced partnerships with a number of publishers, including Dow Jones and The Wall Street Journal, to port their periodical content onto the device.
A 4GB Que with Wi-Fi and enough storage to hold 35,000 documents will retail for $649, while an 8GB version with Wi-Fi, 3G and enough storage for 75,000 documents will cost $799. Plastic Logic is also claiming that content from a PC, Mac or BlackBerry smartphone can be ported onto the Que.
That price point is markedly higher than that of Amazon.com's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook, both of which retail for $259. E-readers from other manufacturers generally cost less than $500.
But Plastic Logic evidently feels that its focus on the small to medium-size business (SMB) and enterprise markets gives it the leverage to put that sort of price sticker on the Que. "It's a higher price point because it's a different demographic: customers who want to read business documents," Steven Glass, senior director of technical marketing for Plastic Logic, told eWEEK during a CES event on Jan. 7.
"The rest [of the e-reader manufacturers] aren't doing that, at least in a way they can annotate," Glass added, referring to the Que's ability to add comments, highlight text and scribble on documents with a fingertip or, conceivably, a stylus of some sort. Glass also highlighted the device's ability to rapidly search through thousands of documents as something important to the business segment.
One of the hottest items for consumers during the holiday 2009 shopping season, e-readers have been one of the big topics of discussion at this week's CES.
Other companies debuting devices include Skiff, a subsidiary of publishing company Hearst, which rolled out an e-reader with an 11.5-inch touch screen. The Skiff Reader's display is based on a flexible sheet of stainless-steel foil, theoretically making it more durable; the device will be available in Sprint locations later in 2010, and Sprint is providing 3G connectivity to the device.
All these startups are looking to carve out their own niche in a market dominated by a handful of larger players. While Amazon.com has declined to break out exact sales numbers, the online retailer insists that its Kindle line is collectively the bestselling product on its site; an analyst with advisory group Collins Stewart estimated in a Dec. 1 research note that the company could earn as much as $301.4 million off the Kindle in 2009.
Barnes & Noble claimed that extraordinarily high demand for its Nook e-reader delayed shipments during the holiday season, with some customers who ordered devices in late November or December not receiving them until January or February. And Sony continues to produce its own line of e-reader devices.
Faced with competition on that scale for what could be described as the general e-reader market, it seems a logical move for smaller players to focus on specific customer segments, such as Plastic Logic with the business audience.