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iRex waggles ebook at US

Best Buy bunk-up for Verizon-backed Kindle-botherer

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Digital reader manufacturer iRex is about to launch into the USA with a Verizon-connected ebook, putting more pressure on the Kindle in what could be a winning move for Adobe.

The device is part of the iRex's Digital Reader range and branded the DR800SG. The company announced a deal with Barnes & Noble back in August, but the New-York-Times-reported addition of Best Buy and Verizon makes the 8.1-inch-screen-stylus-equipped-$399 device much more likely to compete with Sony to drive the Kindle out of business.

We've been expecting the electronic book market to split into two, between cheap devices for reading book and larger devices for reading documents, but the desire for connectivity seems to be creating a third category determined to follow the Kindle model of constant connectivity to enable subscription models - periodicals delivered over the air - in exchange for regular payments.

It's easy to see the appeal of regular income: there's not a lot of money in selling books, even ebooks. Amazon is knocking out Dan Brown's latest nonsense The Lost Symbol at half recommended price ($16.16, as opposed to $29.99), with the Kindle edition coming in at less than ten dollars ($9.99), but the publisher told Associated Press that only five per cent of the two million copies sold have been electronic, despite costing less than a third of the hardback edition.

So iRex and partner Verizon will be trying to make money from subscriptions: regular income with which the cheap readers from Cool-er and its ilk can't compete. But at least iRex will be able to sell the DR800SG worldwide while the Kindle remains trapped in North America.

The Kindle's whispernet is based on Sprint's CDMA network, which is what prevents the device being sold outside the USA. Sony's Daily Edition uses UMTS for its 3G connectivity, so less American coverage but ideally suited to Europe. iRex is going one better by putting Qualcomms Gobi chip in, which supports both CDMA and UMTS, so the ebook will be able to use any 3G technology available, where a deal has been struck with a local network operator.

That should lead to bigger markets, and better economies of scale further reinforced by the adoption of Adobe's ePub format and Digital Editions DRM. That should prevent iRex having to do content deals all over the world: it's easy to see European newspapers deciding to support Adobe, with its choice of hardware suppliers, against Amazon's Kindle, with its keyboard, even if the latter is supported on the iPhone these days. ®

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