Sharp has decided to toss its hat into the burgeoning e-reader ring, unveiling two devices along with a cloud-based e-bookstore. Although the company plans to market the hardware and service in Japan, the growing U.S. market for e-readers could provide an enticing target for expansion in coming months.
Sharp claims it will have 30,000 periodicals and ebooks ready for the e-bookstore's December launch. The two e-readers will include a 5.5-inch "mobile" and 10.8-inch "home" version, with high-resolution screens and WiFi but no 3G connection. The 5.5-inch e-reader will be available in red and silver, and the 10.8-inch only in black. No pricing has officially been announced.
Based on an image included by Sharp in a Sept. 27 press release, the devices' screens will be in full color. Although that release makes no mention of an operating system, an article in The Wall Street Journal indicates the devices will run Google Android.
"Galapagos," the code-name for the e-reader, was apparently chosen by Sharp as "a symbol of the -evolution' of services and terminal devices that constantly bring fresh, new experiences to the user." In the 19th century, Charles Darwin formulated parts of his theory of evolution from observing the Galapagos islands' unique wildlife.
The Wall Street Journal article suggests some raised eyebrows among Japanese consumers over the name, which can also be taken as a reference to "Galapagos Syndrome," or the Japanese self-perception of their nation as increasingly isolated from the outside world.
The e-readers will also include a social-networking service for sharing reading lists and comments on books; a converter that transfers PC data-such as documents and maps-into the device; a Web browser; and "Automated Scheduled Delivery Service" for periodicals.
If Sharp's devices try to penetrate the U.S. market, they will face substantial competition from the likes of Amazon.com's Kindle, Barnes & Noble's Nook, and the Apple iPad, which features an e-reader application. Those companies are currently preparing for the big holiday marketing push, with Amazon recently kicking off a series of television ads highlighting the Kindle's relatively low cost.
Analytics firm In-Stat predicts that e-reader shipments will grow from around 12 million units in 2010 to 35 million in 2014. "Tablet shipments are taking off, fueled in particular by the Apple iPad introduction." Stephanie Ethier, an analyst with In-Stat, wrote in a Sept. 14 research note. "Yet, there will still be a revenue opportunity for e-reader suppliers and OEMs since tablet PCs and e-readers target different consumers."