Thursday, October 04, 2007

So who still has a Betamax Player?

So one year after all the hype we now find ourselves reading about another reincarnation. The new PRS505 Sony reader models are now available in either silver or blue and come with a 100 credits to be redeemed against classic titles. But lets get real the colour isn’t going to do it and neither are 100 classics.

The Readers have the capability to support text files, RTF, Adobe PDF documents, and allow users to convert Word docs for use on the Reader using software on their PCs. They can hold 160 books in their internal memory—with more storage available via memory cards and offer a battery life equal to about 7,500 page turns. It sells for around $300.

So what is the problem or should that read problems?

It’s a one trick pony. At a time when convergence is the word, Sony want us to buy a single use device. The price is still not attractive enough to make this a worthwhile gamble and who wants to be a the cutting edge when you know its not the answer.

It lacks iconic design and a market ‘want one’ fashion presence. The reader even with a new coloured shell is as appealing as those three wheeled scooters – great if you are a convert but not if you aren’t.

There isn’t the content in their proprietary BBeB DRM format and frankly why should there be. You would have thought they of all people would have learnt this lesson by now.

Who is their audience? The professional who needs lots of documents on a reader? Sorry they have notebooks, PDAs and other mobile devices that do this and more. The student who needs reference materials on hand? They can’t afford the luxury and even if they could their material is increasingly online, tied to applications and not in BBeB format. The young technophile? Sorry this is not a cool device and doesn’t play music, videos or games. The older reader who may actually want 100 classics? They are technology sensitive and aware of transient technology and the price isn’t right here too.

Imagine owning a formula 1 racing car but having no race track to drive it on, or owning a hybrid car which runs on special fuel that is on sold in a handful of garages. Being the only one in town and having very limited capability to use it is not a recipe for mass adoption. You need to trigger the demand and have the infrastructure to support it. Who, apart from a few sad executives tryingto impress, would buy a Sony Reader today?

Forget the technology, forget the inter-galactic sonybookstore - where is the book content, where is the market demand? Buying the Sony reader would be like buying a betamax machine just as the VHS camera is coming out. Sony has a brilliant track record of innovation, but also an unenviable track record of getting it wrong and misunderstanding market forces.

Roll on next year's model.