Plastic Logic QUE E-Reader Set to Debut at CES

Plastic Logic has named its upcoming e-reader QUE, and will detail the device's pricing and features at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, in an announcement designed to leverage a full week of e-reader news. Barnes & Noble will reportedly announce its own e-reader on Oct. 20, and a small startup has announced a digital-book device based on Google Android. All these companies are pursuing current market leader, which has dominated headlines throughout 2009 with its Kindle line.

Plastic Logic announced QUE as the name of its upcoming e-reader, and promised more pricing and feature details at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, in an Oct. 19 press release seemingly timed to take advantage of a week heavy in e-reader news.

With Barnes & Noble predicted to announce its e-reader on Oct. 20 and an IT startup announcing on Oct. 19 that it plans to release its own device based on the Google Android operating system, a good deal of media attention will be focused on the burgeoning digital-reading market.

Originally announced in July, Plastic Logic's e-reader will target the SMB (small to medium-sized business) and enterprise markets, with functionality that includes the business-traveler-friendly ability to download and display Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and PDF documents. The device will rely on AT&T's 3G network for wireless downloading, in addition to being equipped with Wi-Fi.

"The QUE brand stands for a premium reading experience," Richard Archuleta, CEO of Plastic Logic, said in a statement tailored to promote the device's business orientation. "The QUE proReader enhances business performance and gives you a competitive edge. More than an eReader, QUE means business."

The QUE will have a width-by-length of 8.5 by 11 inches, and a thickness of a third of an inch. Although the plastic display is reportedly "shatter-proof," Plastic Logic's press images include no shots of the actual screen or many details of its form factor.

Plastic Logic's electronic bookstore will be provided by Barnes & Noble eBookstore, which includes 700,000 titles and 500,000 free public-domain books from Google. Plastic Logic previously announced deals with content providers such as the Financial Times, the Detroit Free Press, The Detroit News and USA Today in a strategic move that mimics's own partnerships with textbook and newspaper publishers. Summer rumors indicated that the QUE would feature a touch screen.

Barnes & Noble is reportedly planning its own e-reader, with new photos and information surfacing on Gizmodo last week that suggests the device will come with both a 6-inch e-ink display for reading and an iPhone-like multitouch display for purchasing books and navigating an online catalog.

Barnes & Noble has sent invitations to an Oct. 20 event in New York City, where many expect the retailer to officially announce the device. Its biggest competitor in the space,, also selected the city as the location for its high-profile launch of the Kindle 2 and the 9.7-inch-screen Kindle DX; those events not only included presentations by CEO Jeff Bezos, but also appearances by literary celebrities such as Stephen King.

Bezos has claimed previously that Kindle-related sales now account for 35 percent of's book-related revenue, but has declined to break down how much of that comes from sales of the devices themselves, as opposed to actual e-books.

Recognizing that the competitive space for e-readers is becoming progressively more crowded, has been working to make the Kindle a more appealing sales proposition. On Oct. 7, the price of the original Kindle device was slashed to $279 for a version capable of downloading material in the United States and 100 other countries, and $259 for a U.S.-downloads-only device. also switched its wireless providers for the new version, now relying on AT&T for international connections. Other versions of the Kindle, including the Kindle DX, will continue to use previous provider Sprint.

Plastic Logic's reliance on AT&T suggests that it, too, could be thinking international in scope. Full specifications and pricing for the devices will be announced at the Consumer Electronics Show in January 2010.

Oct. 19 marked a particularly busy day for e-readers. In a separate announcement, IT startup Spring Design disclosed that Google Android will power its new e-reader, Alex. Like the rumored Barnes & Noble reader, Alex's form factor will be a dual-screen configuration, with a 6-inch e-ink-style display paired with a 3.5-inch secondary color LCD screen capable of displaying multimedia content.

Spring Design claimed in an Oct. 19 press release that Alex will be the first Google Android-based e-book device to "provide full Internet browsing over Wi-Fi or mobile networks such as 3G, EVDO/CRMA and GSM." Of course, if Barnes & Noble makes good on rumors that Google Android will provide the operating system for its own device, then Alex will just become the second Android-powered e-reader this week.

Perhaps in an attempt to establish itself as a pioneer in the market, Spring Design has also claimed that it has been working with "major book stores, newspapers and publishers over the past two years to share its vision and capabilities of the dual-screen device." Alex will allegedly feature a great deal of multimedia integration through videos, images and user-generated notes via its color screen.

Google Android will supposedly support integration between the two displays, allowing users to capture Web content on the color screen and then view it on the e-ink screen in order to preserve battery life. The Android browser's security, bookmarking and history features will be fully active in Alex. Spring Design has thus far declined to mention its major content partners, although the e-reader will supposedly roll out "for selected strategic partners by the end of this year."

A multi-opponent battle for the e-reader market, particularly one that brings, Sony, Barnes & Noble and other companies into the arena, could ultimately be good for businesses, as such competition would drive down the price for e-readers and make them a better value proposition for both consumers and the enterprise.