I’ve heard some suggestions that our extreme fascination with Google Glass is more a symptom of desperation for some kind of genuine gadget innovation than anything to do with the product’s merits, and a new gadget from Sony (via The Verge) has me wondering whether or not other companies are flailing about for something novel. Sony introduced a new 13.3-inch e-ink prototype reader device today, which seems new but also remarkably old and washed up all at once.
The device is called Digital Paper, and is a flexible 13.3-inch display that uses the battery sipping e-ink tech we’re used to in dedicated e-readers like the Amazon Kindle. The large display is more like the one you’d find on a MacBook Air than the one on a typical e-reader, however, which is one of its most unusual qualities. Big-screened e-readers don’t exactly have a super-successful track record, you might recall, as the Kindle DX was seen by most as an overly expensive, overly large iteration on the core Kindle concept, and two offerings in the category that were even larger from Skiff and Plastic Logic hit the deadpool prior to even launching at all.
Sony wants to change things up a bit with a capacitive touch panel and stylus to give users plenty of input options for a change. That’s bound to come in handy for taking notes in class, as this is aimed at the education market and will be entering trials at three Japanese higher ed institutions over the course of the next year. But even with a pen strapped to it, it’s still a big, dedicated e-reader, and it’s hard to see that offering much value for users in a world full of much more feature-rich, multipurpose devices like smartphones and tablets.
When the e-reader first debuted as a product category, it made sense, in that it was a bridge device for users who had grown up with paper books and were looking for a format that closely mirrored that experience. But now, for students especially, devices and digital media are a long-accepted fact. Digital natives don’t need devices that harken back to older tech, even if they do offer longer battery life and a format that may or may not be easier on the eyes, depending on which study you trust.
Education has shown a keen interest in devices like the iPad and Kindle Fire, and Sony is barking up the wrong tree with an e-reader device as an attempt to appeal to that market. Still, if nothing else it should be interesting, which seems to be the main thing driving consumer device innovation these days.