Sony Reader comes to North America

Post ImageIn my pocket/mobile/portable computing post I suggested that mobile devices may be forced to exist only in niche markets. Here’s a great example of a niche market for portable computing – electronic reading devices. Specifically devices that do one thing and do it very well, and that’s replace a paper book with something digital. I have heard many great things about the Librie, Sony’s reading device that is available only in Japan, and it appears a North American counterpart is on the way:

The Sony Reader, a new text-reading device that lets you have the Bible or the entire works of Tolstoy on hand but carry around the physical equivalent of a paperback, will be sold at Borders bookstores. The high-resolution (SVGA 800×600) electronic-paper display screen supports BBeB Book, PDF and MP3 formats and can also display JPEG images.

The device measures 6.9 inches by 4.9 inches by 0.5 inches and weighs in at just more than half a pound. The Sony Reader takes Memory Sticks or SD flash memory cards to augment 64MB of internal memory, creating the potential to travel with hundreds of books.

I have never used one of these devices, but everything I have heard so far suggests that the screen is simply amazing. And the one drawback that would keep such a device from taking off appears to be taken care of too:

The Sony Reader also has “a seemingly limitless battery life equivalent of 7,500 pages turns,” according to a Stony statement. That’s because there is no rundown on the battery over time. Power is only consumed when a reader turns the page.

You can’t complain with battery life like that! The device should be available this summer for around $400.

Read: CNET

Thoughts on pocket computing

Post ImageDickson and I had a discussion a couple weeks ago where I argued that mobile devices like Pocket PC’s, Palms, and BlackBerry’s would either disappear altogether or be forced to live with very niche market segments (ruggedized Pocket PC’s on oil fields, BlackBerry’s for rich executives, etc). Dickson didn’t completely agree with me, but I knew I wasn’t the only one. David Heinemeier recently gave up his smart phone:

I simply don’t have enough situations available where I need the power of a computer in the palm of my hand.

And so did Jason Fried:

I convinced myself I needed a smartphone when I really didn’t. What I really needed was Less Phone. A phone that made calls, picked up a strong signal, supported simple text messaging, and offered a dead simple calendar.

Smart phones are just one example of the kind of devices I think will go quietly into the night, and there are many more. Devices like the UMPC will probably exist for quite a while, if only because they are fully featured computing devices.

Let me first tell you why I think these devices will go away:

  • They are too complicated! Can anyone use a Pocket PC? I would argue you no. Can anyone use an iPod? It would be hard to argue against it.
  • Battery life sucks. (Though I agree this will get better, and that it doesn’t affect all devices, like the BlackBerry).
  • They are redundant. Why create pocket versions of all the applications we have on normal computers? Doesn’t it make more sense to simply use the normal versions? More on this in a second.
  • The screens are too small. You can read email, see the currently playing song, look up a phone number, and lots of other things. But can you do any real work on them? Can you write a document? Watch a presentation? Play a video game? There are so many things that the small screens just are not suited for. And when laptops have auxillary displays (coming with Vista) the need for a small device to quickly access calendar and contact information disappears.
  • They take up space. Why carry around a little pocket device when you already carry your cell phone, for example?

Most of my criticisms of these mobile devices are based on what I think is coming. So what do I think that is?

Computing surfaces will be everywhere, and you’ll carry your computer on a little memory stick or even just on your cell phone. Set the phone down on a table, and it turns into a full sized screen that you can use interact with your computer. Or you can use a kiosk that has been setup at the airport or hotel or wherever you are – it will read the memory stick or communicate with your phone. As soon as you sit down in your car, it can communicate with your phone so you can look up addresses or phone numbers using the in car computer. Your data is with you everywhere you go, Internet connection or not.

Obviously, the infrastructure we need for this kind of thing doesn’t exist yet, but it’s coming. Some of these technologies have already been demonstrated too, like the cell phone on the table thing. And that last point is particularly important. Conventional wisdom suggests that Google or Microsoft or someone will host all of our data online, so that we can access it anywhere. I don’t think that’s going to happen. Privacy is the biggest reason. And when the scenario I have described becomes possible, why would you store all your data online, except as a backup? You wouldn’t.

What do you think? Do you think pocket computing is going away? Do you think the vision I described above will become a reality? Just imagine what would be possible!