More Asian vendors tap e-reader trend

update Korean giant LG digs into e-paper display business, while Lenovo's maiden e-book device is currently undergoing internal tests, according to various reports.

update Lenovo may be the latest vendor to jump on the e-book reader bandwagon, a media report on a Chinese Internet portal has claimed.

NetEase reported Monday that the Chinese PC vendor is planning to launch its own e-book reader, with the device currently in an internal testing phase.

According to NetEase, a Lenovo spokesperson did not deny the news, saying that the company constantly maintains an interest in new technology. Last month, the company re-entered the mobile phone market when it repurchased the mobile arm it had sold off last year.

In an e-mail statement to ZDNet Asia, the Chinese hardware maker said: "Lenovo has not announced any plans for e-book readers and we do not comment on speculation and rumors."

Just how big is the e-book reader opportunity? At least one analyst has forecast a rosy outlook for e-book readers. Forrester Research predicted in October that sales of these devices will reach 3 million this year in the United States, and more than double in 2010.

Amazon, recognized as the e-book reader market leader, said on its Web site that Kindle outsold traditional books for the first time on Christmas Day.

Over in Asia, e-reader adoption is said to be hampered by cultural and pricing strategy barriers, although Japanese and Taiwanese players are nevertheless bullish in their e-book reader plans. The Taiwanese government, for instance, plans to invest NT$2 billion (US$61.8 million) in the e-book industry, according to an Associated Press report earlier this month.

In March, Japanese tech company Fujitsu released its e-reader, FLEPia, making it the first vendor to launch commercially color e-readers. In October, the company announced that a Taiwanese baseball team had ordered 1,000 units of the color e-readers, customizing them for users to readily access the team's newsletters and other related information.

In the Chinese market alone, there will exist 50 different e-book devices by mid-2010, the NetEase report noted, citing Liu Yingjian, chairman of Chinese e-reader maker Hanwang Technology.

Other players have also thrown their hats into the e-reader ring in recent months, including Asus' September announcement of its Eee-Book and Creative, which unveiled its MediaBook in late October. Barnes & Noble--whose Nook arrived in time for the Christmas holidays despite initial fears shipments were not ready--and Sony are among those whose devices are commercially available.

LG to be e-paper contender
In a separate news report, the Financial Times said Monday that South Korean electronics giant LG signed deals with two subsidiaries of Taiwanese display component maker Prime View International (PVI). PVI accounts for about two-thirds of the e-paper display market, and its technology is found in devices including Amazon's Kindle and Sony's Reader.

The FT said the deal gives LG the technology to produce its own e-paper, which would expand the global manufacturing capacity of such displays and may increase the potential for future e-reader price cuts.

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