Peter Kafka

Recent Posts by Peter Kafka

Yet Another Kindle Competitor: Here’s “Alex,” Powered by Google’s Android

alexIt’s e-reader preview week, apparently. Last night, Plastic Logic formally named its would-be Kindle killer; tomorrow, Barnes & Noble is supposed to show off its own branded device. This morning’s entrant: Spring Design, which says it has produced a reader that boasts two screens and an operating system that runs on Google’s Android.

Before I get to the supposed details on this one, though, some big chunks of salt you should consume while reading: It’s hard to take Spring all that seriously at this point given that it doesn’t appear to have any track record creating mass market consumer electronics. Or much of a record at all, really.

Spring’s press release says the company was founded in 2006 and that it “delivers innovative e-reader solutions and products to the e-book market,” but aside from that release and a bare-bones Web site, Spring Design has next to no footprint, at least on the Internet.

LinkedIn says CEO Priscilla Lu started running the company in July; it also says she is still running something called ViDeOnline, Inc., “a digital media network company.” (LinkedIn also says Eric Kmiec is doing double duty, as VP of marketing at both firms). That’s about it.

Which isn’t to say that “Alex,” the gadget Spring Design says it will release “later this year” for “selected strategic partners,” doesn’t look interesting. It’s just that the e-reader/tablet wars won’t just be about specs and features but about distribution and marketing, which are partly what have given Amazon (AMZN) a huge head start and what give heavyweights like Sony (SNE) and Barnes & Noble (BKS) a fighting chance. And, of course, Apple (AAPL), if it really does enter the fray.

So. For what it’s worth: Alex is actually two gadgets in one–a conventional-looking black-and-white “reader” screen that sits atop a smaller full-color screen that runs a Web browser powered by Google’s (GOOG) mobile operating system. That looks cool, as does the notion that the two screens are connected such that a hyperlink in the “reader” screen would synch up with information supplied by the Web browser.

Also for what it’s worth: Alex looks similar, but not identical, to mock-ups we saw on Gizmodo last week. The gadget blog says it got its images and information via “a source within” Barnes & Noble, and that the book chain will show off the device to the public tomorrow.

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus