Sony’s Family of E-Readers Grows

Look out, Amazon. During a Tuesday morning event for journalists held at the New York Public Library, Sony announced a new, touch-screen wireless electronic book reader that will take aim at the Kindle line of readers when it ships this December.

The $399 Sony Reader Daily Edition solves what has been the chief criticism of the company’s readers until now: the need to hook up to a computer to download electronic books. The Daily reader connects to a wireless store via AT&T’s 3G network, a free service that’s comparable to Amazon’s Sprint-powered “Whispernet.”

But now Sony has something Amazon doesn’t: touch screens.

When it launches this holiday season, the Daily will join two other new Sony readers: the $199 Pocket Edition and the $299 Touch Edition. Those devices, whose details were leaked to the public earlier this month, are now available for online order and will start arriving in retail stores like Target and Wal-Mart in coming weeks.

A family of devices could help Sony grow this emerging market by offering several different form factors for different types of users. But one also has to wonder if the overlap between features will be detrimental to sales of the Goldilocks-like Touch reader, which has a touch screen but no wireless store. Rather than spending $299 on that device now, won’t many consumers just wait until December and invest $399 in the touch- and wireless-enabled Daily? “We do see some cannibalization between the Touch and the Daily,” says Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps.

Still, Epps believes that the Sony line of readers is in a strong position to “give Amazon a run for its money” during the shopping season. Forrester is now expecting the entire e-book reader category to surpass its 2009 forecast of 2 million devices.

At the launch event in New York, I spoke with Steve Haber, Sony’s president of digital reading, about the family-of-readers strategy. He also gave us a sneak peek of the forthcoming Daily reader. Here’s the video:

Steve Haber from Doug MacMillan on Vimeo.

I also got a chance to play around with Sony’s new toys. Below is my video walk-through of the Pocket Edition. At 7.6 ounces, it’s surprisingly light and easy to hold in one hand. From the short time I spent with it, I was a little frustrated with the slow response time of the menus. The e-ink display looks great when you start flipping through pages.

Sony Reader Pocket Edition from Arik Hesseldahl on Vimeo.

And here’s my hands-on with the Touch Edition, which runs at the same price as the Kindle 2. The touch screen calls for similar gestures as Apple's iPhone and iPod Touch, but people familiar with those devices will notice that the e-ink causes a slower response time. With a stylus (or your finger) you can also take notes and highlight text – a feature that could give Sony an edge in the education market.

Sony Reader Touch Edition from Doug MacMillan on Vimeo.

Stay tuned for full reviews of these two readers in the next couple weeks.

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