Hanvon Color E-Reader Hints at Possible Future

Hanvon's color e-reader will debut on the Asian market in 2011. Along with the upcoming Nook Color, does that mean a wider e-reader market shift toward color?

The market for color e-readers could be on the verge of tipping into something much larger: Hanvon, purportedly China's leading seller of e-readers, is prepping to debut a color e-reader during the FPD International 2010 trade show in Tokyo.

Word of that unveiling comes from The New York Times, which suggested the Hanvon's 9.68-inch color touch-screen will be available in China starting early 2011, at a price equivalent to around $440. The color technology apparently comes courtesy of E Ink, which crafts the grayscale displays central to e-readers such as Amazon.com's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook.

"On a list of things that people want in e-readers, color always comes up," Steve Haber, president of Sony's digital reading business division, told The New York Times Nov. 8. "There's no question that color is extremely logical. But it has to be vibrant color. We're not willing to give up the true black-and-white reading experience."

Although Hanvon's device seems marketed primarily at the Asian market, it would represent the second high-profile color e-reader announcement in as many months: Barnes & Noble introduced a full-color Nook during a New York City event Oct. 26. In addition to the color screen, the new Nook includes features-most notably, Web surfing-that bring it more in line with a tablet PC.

Analysts saw the Android-based Nook Color as a potential game-changer for the e-reader market.

"This move puts B&N ahead of both Amazon and Sony-the longtime holders of the No. 1 and No. 2 slots in the e-reader business," James McQuivey, an analyst with Forrester, wrote in an Oct. 26 posting on his corporate blog. "Not ahead in terms of device sales. . .but ahead in terms of vision. Because, one day, all e-readers will be tablets, just as all tablets are already e-readers." He estimated that the new Nook would sell "a few hundred thousand units" between its Nov. 19 release date and the end of 2010.

The more color e-readers that enter the market, the more pressure is put on other competitors to produce competing devices. Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos has previously hinted that a color Kindle could be some time off; indeed, the most recent edition of the company's flagship e-reader offers sharper contrast and a lighter body, but only a grayscale screen.

"While the device won't unseat Amazon, it does throw down a gauntlet to Amazon and Sony both," McQuivey wrote, describing the Nook Color. "Both of those companies could easily develop a tablet device focused on consumer media-and both have sufficient motivation to provide media beyond books."

That commentary might have focused on the Nook, but it could just as easily apply to any other color e-readers entering the space-and those devices are obviously on their way.