Ereading Update: Record device sales and a look at CES tablets

A number of multipurpose tablets made their debut at the Consumer Electronics Show.

According to some sources, the early arrival of winter made the 2010 holiday season the biggest ever for online electronic retailers. With comScore reporting that more than $32 billion was sold during the holiday shopping period, and overall sales were up 12 percent over the previous year. Now I’m confident that this year’s numbers would have exceeded those of 2009, even without thousands of people being snow-bound in their homes, but I’m sure Internet retailers aren’t complaining.

As I predicted, it was also a big holiday season for ereaders. Both Amazon and Barnes & Noble recently announced that their respective dedicated ereading devices were the best-selling items for each of the companies. Now stop and let that one sink in a moment. According to Amazon, they’ve sold more Kindles in the U.S. in 2010 then any other single product during that same time. Barnes & Noble also says their latest LCD-based Nookcolor tablet was the company’s top-selling gift of the holiday season.

The holidays weren’t that kind to Borders and small bookstores. The diminishment of either outlet will likely accelerate the adoption of ebooks as the primary publishing medium.

CES 2011

This week, all gadget lovers were focused on Las Vegas, as the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show kicked off the year with a new round of device announcements. The dominant ereading trend was multiple-use tablets, with ASUS, Lenovo, and Motorola each announcing new tablets (HP was notably absent, though they do have a Feb. 9 WebOS event).

Here’s a look at some of the new tablet offerings.

ASUS Eee Slate EP121

ASUS_Eee_Pad_EP101TC-540x389.jpgThe ASUS Eee Slate EP121 is one of the first Windows 7-based tablets to come to market. The tablet features a 12-inch (1280×800) multitouch display and will run a full version of Windows 7 Home Premium. The multitouch display comes with a built-in Wacom digitizer, which means a user can control the tablet with the included stylus or attach a Bluetooth-enabled keyboard. The EP121 is powered by a Core i5-470UM processor, includes 2 to 4GB of RAM, and a 32 or 64GB SSD. Amazon is accepting preorders ($999 for the 32GB model, $1,099 for 64GB).

ASUS also released three Android devices: the Eee Pad Slider, the Eee Pad Transformer, and the Eee Pad MeMO. The ASUS Eee Pad Slider includes a 10.1-inch IPS touchscreen and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard that will incline the tablet screen vertically. The ASUS Eee Pad Transformer includes a 10.1-inch capacitive touchscreen and optional docking station with full QWERTY keyboard. The ASUS Eee Pad MeMo is a 7.1-inch capacitive touchscreen based on Android 3.0.

Lenovo IdeaPad and LePad Slate

Lenovo-Lepad-1.jpgLenovo is the first device maker to bring a hybrid design approach to their tablet strategy. This week they announced the IdeaPad U1 hybrid with LePad slate, a two-in-one device that combines a high-definition slate featuring access to Android applications and a keyboard base that provides a full Windows 7 computing experience.

The device weighs less than two pounds and is half-an-inch thick. While the tablet currently uses Android 2.2, Lenovo says that when it ships in the U.S. it will run Android 3.0. Other features include a front-facing camera, WCDMA and EVDO connections, a 1280×800 10.1-inch display, a 32 GB HDD, and 1GB RAM.

Once docked with the IdeaPad U1 Hybrid, the slate converts into a Windows 7-based netbook. A 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-540UM processor will power the IdeaPad, and it will also include 2GB DDR3 RAM, a 320GB SATA hard drive, and 802.11 b/g/n and Bluetooth 2.1 networking.

Motorola XOOM

11x0105ub234g5.jpgVerizon Wireless teamed with Motorola Mobility to unveil the Motorola XOOM, supposedly the first device on Google’s new Android 3.0 Honeycomb operating system. It features a dual core processor and a 10.1-inch widescreen HD display. The tablet will launch as a 3G/Wi-Fi-enabled device in Q1 2011 with an upgrade to 4G LTE in Q2. The XOOM will support 1080p HD video and HDMI output to display content on larger HD screens. It also features a front-facing 2-megapixel camera and a rear-facing 5-megapixel camera that captures video in 720p HD.

Other news

This week also saw the Wall Street Journal draw their focus onto the growing battle between the planned Google Digital Newsstand and Apple’s iPad magazine offerings. The article raises one of the most controversial and unresolved issues in this new era of digital publishing: the relationship between the content producer (author) and his/her readers. Content producers want a more intimate and engaged relationship with their audience and readers want to get closer to their favorite content producers.

The future of publishing demands a cohesive relationship between producer and audience, which for the most part is currently non-existent. For example, authors that in the past have used traditional publishers have relatively little information about who bought their books. They may know some sparse demographic details, but there is no direct connection between author and reader.

In my opinion, look for this issue to become one of the biggest challenges for publishers of all types to address. Many top-selling authors are leaving the fold of traditional publishing to free themselves of the layers of intermediaries that separate them from their audience. How existing publishing houses respond to this issue will be a major factor in their long-term relevance.

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