CES E-Readers Suggest Oversaturated Market

E-readers from a variety of manufacturers, including Spring Design, Skiff and Plastic Logic, made an appearance at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas. Although e-readers from both large companies such as Amazon.com and smaller IT startups have proliferated, and the devices were considered a hot seller during the 2009 holiday season, some analysts have deemed e-reading to ultimately be a niche market. If that proves the case, many of the manufacturers present at CES could find themselves squeezed as the market reaches its saturation point.

E-readers were one of the hot items at the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which devoted a section in the Central Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center to the devices. While that may brighten the prospects for e-reading as a phenomenon, the number of device manufacturers at CES hints that the relatively new market may already be reaching some sort of saturation point.

If that happens, the number of e-readers and related software applications currently in the ecosystem could be rapidly winnowed down-certainly not all these devices, boasting similar functionality and price points, as well as access to many of the same e-book libraries, can expect to survive.

Start with Plastic Logic, the startup that formally unveiled its Que e-reader, targeted at mobile professionals such as business travelers, on Jan. 7. Marketed as a device capable of downloading and displaying thousands of personal and business documents on its 10.7-inch screen, the Que has a high price point to go along with its executive-suite focus: A 4GB device with Wi-Fi and enough storage for 35,000 documents has a retail price of $649, while an 8GB version with Wi-Fi, 3G and enough storage for 75,000 documents is priced at $799.

That price is markedly higher than that of other e-readers on the market, including Amazon.com's Kindle and Barnes & Noble's Nook, both of which retail for $259. A wide number of e-readers sell for under $500.

Click here for more e-readers unveiled at CES.

"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 way they can annotate," he added, referring to the Que's ability to leave comments, highlights and scribbles on documents via a stylus or fingertip.

In addition, Glass said, the device's ability to search through potentially thousands of documents stored in its memory also makes it invaluable for businesspeople.

However, other e-readers making an appearance at CES boasted similar features. Amazon.com's Kindle DX now offers, in addition to wireless downloading in 100 countries, native PDF support for reading documents, and small startups such as iRiver offer e-readers capable of displaying PDF files and other document formats such as .txt, .doc, .ppt, .xls and .hwp. While Plastic Logic does indeed seem to possess a high level of storage for a typical e-reader, the rapid technology curve upon which e-readers seem to be tracked all but guarantees that a rival device could soon match its capacity.