The annual Consumer Electronics Show, which began Thursday in Las Vegas, is, Reuters reports, "awash" in e-readers. Devices are being shown by Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Lenovo, Motorola and a bevvy of smaller-name brands. Called variously a tablet, a slate and an e-reader, what these devices have in common is portability and a large display.
Most have a viewing screen that is larger than a smart phone and may be as large as a laptop's; most have traded a full-sized keyboard for a set of different or on-screen controls; most are wafer-thin; and most are designed primarily for reading.
Standouts include the Skiff e-reader, developed by Hearst, which is big and unbreakable. Plastic Logic's Que has a screen the size of an 8-1/2-by-11-inch piece of paper and integrates with business software, including calendaring and e-mail, in addition to being a wireless reader. The Entourage Edge, targeted at students, opens like a notebook to two screens: e-ink reading and note taking on the left, interactive touch screen on the right. Lenovo's IdeaPad hybrid is a notebook whose screen can be disengaged and used as a tablet. CNet was impressed by the smooth touch-screen functionality of Bookeen's Orizon, a 6-inch, book-focused reader.
Many of these devices aren't yet available, but that's common for CES. The Skiff, for example, has not announced an official release date. In this case, instead of simply showing off advanced e-reader technology, companies seem to be hoping to gain traction before the Apple elephant steps into the sphere. Long rumored to have an e-reader device in the works, the notoriously tight-lipped Apple is expected by many to debut something like a tablet this month.
As much excitement as the plethora of e-readers is generating on the floor, the question remains as to whether there are enough consumers to buy them all. CNet's Ina Fried writes, "There were e-readers aplenty at the Consumer Electronics Show, but there's substantial doubt if there are enough interested buyers to go around." And Publishing Perspectives' Ed Nawotka looks at people who use the e-readers already on the market -- the Kindle, the Nook and his own 2003 Fujitsu Stylistic -- and concludes:
The point of all this is simple: until books somehow morph into something other than “books,” the e-readers we have are already good enough to satisfy the needs of the vast majority of readers.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
UPDATE: An earlier version of this post said that the Skiff e-reader is "big and bendy." While it does have a flexible, plastic screen -- as demonstrated in the photograph we link to -- the e-reader itself has a hard, unbending shell.
Photo: Lady Gaga announces a joint project with Polaroid at CES on Thursday. Credit: Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images