Alex eReader Orders Begin, Coming To Borders Stores

The Spring Design Alex eReader generated positive momentum after it’s introduction and at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, but lost some inertia after that. Ordering delays slowed up the Alex while Barnes & Noble (s bks), Amazon (s amzn) and others delivered their wares and sold titles. That’s a shame since Spring Design worked out two content partners for the Alex in Google Books and Borders (s bgp). But e-book content without an e-book device is as good as a blank notepad for reading, so potential purchasers have waited for the delayed order process to begin. The wait is over in the U.S. as Spring Design today begins to sell the device online for $359 $399.
I spoke yesterday with Eric Kmiec, VP of Spring Design, about the delays and about the Alex eReader capabilities. Some of the ordering issues revolved around e-commerce website issues, but all the kinks are worked out now. Kmiec told me that orders placed today should begin arriving around the middle of April, which is roughly four weeks out. And part of the delay could be attributed to a unique feature — Alex content is available in local bookstores for readers speaking Chinese, Spanish, Russian, Korean and Hebrew. We’ve already seen how localized e-book content can challenge due to contract distribution rights in various countries.
Kmiec and I also discussed e-book displays and the Android market in general, as both apply to the Alex — in addition to the 6″ EPD or eInk display for reading books, the 11-ounce device also offers a 3.5″ color LCD that runs the Google Android operating system found in many phones. With Android handsets selling like hotcakes, I asked Kmiec if that hurts or helps the Alex since consumers prefer to carry fewer devices. “We find the device to be complementary,” he said, indicating that it’s not a worry or concern. Indeed, the addition of an open mobile platform and secondary screen creates options not found on competing e-book devices.
Authors of e-book content, for example, can add Internet hyperlinks to their books. Spring Designs calls these “LinkNotes” — readers can tap one on the 6″ electronic ink color LCD display and the corresponding web page will open in full color on the second screen. I can personally see the value in that. Just this weekend, I was reading a Java programming book on my Amazon Kindle — yes, that’s how we mobile tech geeks roll on a Sunday afternoon. In several instances, I had to drop the device and go online with my computer to see additional or updated code examples. With LinkNotes on the Alex, I could have simply tapped a link to see this fresh content in the color display. The Alex includes both Wi-Fi and 3G mobile broadband, so connectivity to the web is a non-issue. Kmiec also mentioned the Alex Marketplace for Android, where developers could create other complementary applications for the reader. Guess I’d better get through that Java book in a hurry, so I can build my own app.
Given that Apple (s aapl) is jumping into the e-book market with its iPad, I had to ask Kmiec’s thoughts on the product. He believes that the Alex offers an advantage to avid readers that Apple simply can’t offer. “The EPD display is better,” he told me, “LCD technology isn’t quite there” from a reading perspective. As a long-time owner of a Kindle, I appreciate the experience that eInk displays provide, so I see his point. And with the Android platform on a color touchscreen, the Alex isn’t a one-hit wonder like some other dedicated e-book devices.
Although the big news today is order availability, I inquired about the deal with Borders. Since the bookseller has over 700 traditional brick-and-mortar locations, I wondered if the Alex would appear in Borders retail shops. The answer is yes, says Kmiec — expect to see the Spring Design Alex as early as June of this year. I think that’s key for a chance to compete in the heavily contested e-book market. Many are purchasing Kindles sight unseen, but the Alex offers unique features that people need to see in order to fully understand what the device offers. Of course, if you’re OK with a web-based purchase before touching the device, you can do that now.
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