Sony patents a dual touchscreen eReader, Nook Lite gets FCC Approval

The third generation of eReaders are set to battle it out in a major Kindle vs Nook vs Sony war that’ll decide which is the best dedicated reading device of 2010 and who wins the 2010 Holiday Season.

Earlier today we covered a bunch of Kindle 3 release date and feature possibilities – an August release of a higher contrast, faster, thinner Kindle 3 seems the likeliest. There was also speculation that Amazon might be lining up LG Display’s color ePaper screens for Kindle 4.

Well, Sony and B&N have strong challengers lined up for Kindle 3 and Kindle 4. Sony in particular might motivate Amazon to incorporate that color LG Display into a Kindle sooner rather than later.

Sony’s dual touchscreen eReader

GoRumors has dug up a Sony patent application that is almost as cool as Qualcomm’s triple screen, bends into a million shapes, magic device.

The key details from the Sony dual screen eReader patent are –

  1. Sony call it an ‘Electronic Book with enhanced features’
  2. It can be set up as a two paged book or as a display plus keyboard. Functionality changes based on amount of rotation of the hinge or the user pressing a key.
  3. You can switch between portrait and landscape mode.
  4. There’s an in-built accelerometer.
  5. User can choose the language on the keyboard. 
  6. It’s battery can be connected to and charged by a solar charger.
  7. The patent explicitly talks about storing electronic books and displaying text.
  8. It says that ‘in some embodiments’ there may be a GPS receiver.
  9. There’s talk of a word processing application being supported. Apparently when we go into screen+keyboard mode it becomes a word processing computer. The change is triggered simply by adjusting the angle between the screens and their orientation (they keep talking about using either clockwise or counterclockwise rotation).
  10. The patent specifically mentions English, Japanese (kanji) and Russian (cyrillic) keyboard layouts.

While the mention of touch and word processing are making every other blog assume it’s a Laptop/eReader hybrid the patent only talks about reading and word processing. Sounds more like the holy grail of replacing paper – an eReader plus eWriter.

It’s definitely an eReader+eWriter

Quite frankly, this seems likelier to be a Kindle competitor than a Sony competitor. The dual touchscreens that can be read like a book and the focus on using it for electronic books certainly indicate that. There’s no mention of video or a browser or any other laptop or tablet functions.

It’s also interesting that the patent only mentions ‘touchscreen’ and not LCD.

The background and summary sections of the Patent only talk about it being an eReader –

Electronic books have been provided in which a person can read electronic book files stored on a storage medium in a compact, hand-held housing.

Text is presented on a display of the housing, and more than a single electronic book can be stored on the storage medium. In this way, a person can in effect transport a large number of books for reading at the person’s leisure in a single lightweight electronic book form factor.

The patent indicates that the ‘back’ panel may or may not have touch input.

This patent is not as cutting edge or intricate as Qualcomm’s triple screen device patent – However, it seems much more focused on being a reading device and it seems to be much more practical.

Sony is going to raise the bar significantly if it can get this device out in 2010. It’ll make the Sony Reader the coolest reading option.

Venture Beat thinks it’s an alternative to netbook laptops that doubles as an eReader

Venture Beat seems to feel very strongly that this Sony dual touch screen device will do more than just read –

Sony’s device seems a more direct attempt to create an alternative to low-cost netbook laptops, one that doubles as a book-like reader. The obvious two benefits are a lower overall price and only one gadget to carry instead of two.

The concept of a laptop with a touchscreen keyboard has a novelty appeal … Hopefully for Sony, they’ll be able to build a sexy-looking device that can serve as a status symbol

It brings up a good question – Sony want to take on both Kindle and iPad. Is this dual touchscreen device a Kindle rival or an iPad rival?

My money’s on it being an eReader+eWriter and not an iWhatever.  

Given that the patent only mentions electronic books and word processing, and that Sony’s CEO has been adamant about focusing on a dedicated reading device, it’s safe to say that Sony are planning on taking the Touch Edition and sexing it up while also making it much more usable.

Amazon, Sony, and B&N have all committed to the concept of a device primarily focused on reading and don’t see any of the 3 ditching eReaders any time soon. Speaking of Barnes & Noble.

Nook Lite gets approved by the FCC

Nook Lite might arrive sooner than expected – which would be a huge surprise given B&N’s official dual mottos of Better Late than Never and Anticipation increases the Pleasure.

Engadget think they might have stumbled across a new version of the Nook and perusing the FCC documents confirms they have (they wouldn’t call it Nook WiFi otherwise) –

  1. It’s a device from Barnes & Noble.  
  2. It’s called the BNRV100 eBook Reader. Project code names are Bravo Lite and Nook WiFi.  
  3. If this is the Bravo Lite you have to wonder what Bravo is.
  4. The battery compartment at the back is at almost the exact same spot as on the Nook.
  5. The Test Report specifically says ‘Ebook, WLAN and USB Ports without WWAN’ which translates as eBook device with WiFi and USB but lacking 3G. It also refers to the device as Nook WiFi and the company as Barnes & Noble.
  6. The Test Report says that the radio module is manufactured by Marvel.
  7. The antenna is manufactured by Walsin Technology Corporation – the part number is RGFRA1903041A5T.
  8. Nook Lite uses WiFi 802.11b and 802.11g.
  9. The SAR report clearly indicates there will be support for both portrait and landscape modes.

It was submitted on May 20th, 2010 (although the authorization letter to the company that handles interfacing with the FCC is dated May 3rd) and a submission to the FCC indicates a release is imminent.

There’s also a letter of confidentiality asking the FCC to withhold some information –

Schematic Diagram, Block Diagram, Theory of Operation, Antenna Specification

[180 day confidentiality] External Photos, Internal Photos, Test Setup Photos, User Manual

It certainly seems like we’ll see Nook Lite arrive very, very soon.

What price will the Nook Lite retail at?

The 3G modem on the Kindle is around $60 (supposedly) so the initial guess would be a Nook Lite at $199. However, B&N have been aggressive with pricing in the past (they debuted the Nook at $259 despite the dual screens) and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them come in at $179 or even $149.

At $149 the Nook Lite might be a big hit – you still get B&N’s store, LendMe, all the apps, Android, the browser, an eInk screen, and WiFi. At $199 it’s not as good a deal as the Kindle or even the Nook.  

A $149 Nook Lite would put considerable pressure on Amazon to release a lower-priced Kindle.

Big news on Kindle 3, Nook Lite, and Sony Reader Dual Screen – all in one day. 2010 is beginning, once again, to look like the Year of the eReader.

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