IRex: Kindle for the Enterprise?

On Wednesday, iRex Technologies said its new touchscreen e-book reader will go on sale in October with a boost from retail partner Best Buy and wireless service provider Verizon. But as it draws aim at e-reader incumbents Amazon and Sony, iRex hopes to attract another, even more powerful ally: your boss.

A Dutch spin-off from electronics giant Philips, iRex already has a track record selling e-readers to enterprise customers in Europe. Members of the city council in Hardenberg, Netherlands replaced their stacks of papers with iRex readers, which wirelessly refresh the minutes and agenda of their meetings. Airlines like Morocco-based Royal Air Maroc have begun equipping pilots with digital readers containing flight charts.

IRex is entering the U.S. market with an initial focus on consumers, what North America CEO Kevin Hamilton calls “the low-hanging fruit.” But he says the opportunity “may be bigger” with businesses, where iRex’s device is likely to have more appeal than Amazon’s Kindle. Unlike the Kindle, iRex’s new 8.1-inch, $400 DR800SG can download files in most formats (“If you can print it to a printer you can run it on the device,” Hamilton says), its software runs on open-source operating system Linux, and it has security features, like the ability to remotely erase files on an entire fleet of readers.

Surprisingly, there’s already demand for e-readers in the office, according to Forrester analyst Sarah Rotman Epps. “You’re going to see both top-down implementation — companies will distribute these devices to their employees — and you’ll also have bottom-up growth like the iPhone, where consumers use this in their own lives and like it so much that they want to bring it to work with them,” Epps says.

Epps has consulted several large companies who are interested in giving e-readers loaded with important documents to each member of their board, or to salespeople in the field. To these clients, security and customization are top priorities. And in both of these areas, she says iRex outmatches the Kindle.

IRex is planning a twist likely to give its e-reader another leg up in the enterprise. Early in 2010, it will let third-party developers write applications to run on the devices. Hamilton predicts many of these apps will have niche appeal to specific types of workers, like medical charts for nurses and customer relationship management for salespeople. "Amazon will never do this and I would be totally shocked if Sony did," Hamilton says. "Right now I think we kind of have that space to ourselves."

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on this post.