5 Ways iRex's E-Reader Will Challenge Amazon Kindle

Wednesday saw the official announcement of a new e-reading device from iRex Technologies, the Dutch company that has previously released e-readers under the Iliad brand but now has the DR800SG, an 8.1-inch, $399 touch-screen reader that has wireless support from Verizon and Qualcomm (including a 3G Gobi radio), content from Barnes & Noble's vast eBookstore and a retail sales outlet in Best Buy.

"Consumers are ready for eReaders, but the device is only one piece of the equation. People want an enjoyable, easy reading experience with no-hassle access to content. iRex's strategy -- based on giving consumers choice -- and the partnerships we have in place make it easier for them to purchase a device, access content and enjoy it wherever they are," said Kevin Hamilton, North American CEO of iRex Technologies, in a statement.

The new iRex baby hits the burgeoning e-books market at a most interesting time.

This year will be remembered as the year e-reading devices exploded, and there's no denying that the February debut of Amazon's second Kindle had a lot to do with driving widespread interest in the market. Therefore, all newcomers to e-reading -- whether practiced hands such as Sony coming out with new devices or bust-outs such as the forthcoming e-reader from Plastic Logic -- will be compared to Amazon, the market leader, on principle.

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That said, by the time the dust settles on the latest crop of e-readers, Amazon might be looking at some serious challenges to its Kindle brand. Here are five deal-makers for iRex's new reader that will at least get it the attention of would-be e-reading device consumers.

1. Big-name network and sales support

You don't attract Verizon and Best Buy to your stead unless they see enough value in your product that there's something in it for them. Best Buy, which will start selling iRex readers in November at select stores, also sells Sony Readers and doesn't need an arm twist on the retail or consumer electronics benefits of offering the devices.

As for Verizon, the telco's been hinting since at least this past spring that a number of e-reading device manufacturers have been tugging at its pant legs. Given AT&T's support for Plastic Logic and the fact that Amazon's Kindle wireless connection is supplied by Sprint's Whispernet technology, it was only a matter of time before Verizon saw the telco opportunity in e-readers, too, and picked a horse to back. Plus, with that Qualcomm 3G Gobi radio, users can download content to iRex's e-reader outside the United States.

2. Content that's at the very least comparable

Barnes & Noble made waves back in July with the debut of its eBookstore, which, according to Barnes & Noble, offers more than 700,000 titles and public domain books from Google's book digitization project. Plastic Logic's e-reader also uses Barnes & Noble's content, and now iRex does, too. According to iRex, it also will continue a partnership with NewspaperDirect, a service that offers 1,140 newspapers from around the world in their original layouts.

3. Support for ePub

The iRex reader supports ePub, the open source book standard format also supported by Sony, Plastic Logic and pretty much every other major e-reading device maker except Amazon, which clings to its proprietary format and has drawn much criticism from observers who favor multiple DRM solutions. That fact has become a key lightning rod for Amazon's challengers; iRex, too, alluded to it ("... rather than a single, 'closed' proprietary format that locks content to a specific device ...") in its Wednesday press release.

4. The touch screen

It's a matter of preference, but iRex's touch screen -- a key component of the device -- shows iRex is banking on e-reading consumers who aren't so keen on Amazon Kindle's buttons.

5. Experience

A small point but an insistent one: iRex, as with Sony, is no rookie when it comes to e-readers and e-books, having released a number of previous Iliad e-readers (most recently in 2006, a year before the first Kindle debuted). Rest assured the company has at least tried to learn a few new tricks.

For more on the e-reader landscape, check out our side-by-side comparison of devices from Amazon, Sony and Plastic Logic, and also a look back at would-be Kindle killers, from dedicated e-readers to applications.