A Windows 8 e-reader: If someone builds it, will they come?

A Windows 8 e-reader: If someone builds it, will they come?

Summary: There are new hints that Windows 8-based dedicated e-readers sporting the Metro UI are in the works.

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I found it interesting, like The Register did, that Microsoft is continuing to tout e-readers as one of the platforms on which its Metro user interface will be available.

Microsoft Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner, who kicked off the keynote at the Microsoft Convergence conference on March 19, mentioned readers as one of a handful of form factors where Metro will play. Turner made the same observation last summer when he keynoted the Microsoft Partner Conference. Here's the slide he used last July to make the point:

The "One Microsoft" message which company brass increasingly is championing involves a consistent Metro UI on phones, tablets, slates, readers, PCs and TVs. The one form factor where we haven't yet seen a Metro implementation (I believe) is e-readers.

The e-reader mention is interesting, as Microsoft officials have been sending pretty strong signals for a while now that the Redmondians had no intentions of playing directly in the e-reader space. Bill Hill, one of the movers and shakers behind Microsoft's ClearType and a big backer of e-reading, was let go from Microsoft in 2009. In August 2011, Microsoft announced it was going to eliminate its Reader product as of August 2012. Launched in 2000, Microsoft Reader offered access to eBooks on any Windows-based device - including PDAs and smartphones - in the company's own .lit format.

Just a couple of years ago, Microsoft was touting Windows Embedded Compact as its operating system for "consumption" devices (like e-readers) and Windows as its OS for "creation"-focused devices. Abruptly last year, the Softies halted their proclamations around this positioning, and instead began touting Windows 8 as a "no compromises" operating system that could switch seamlessly between creation and consumption.

Now Microsoft is touting idea that there will be e-readers that makes use of the Metro UI. I'm assuming that means they will run Windows 8, as Microsoft seems to be limiting OEMs from putting the Windows Phone OS on screens above a certain size (not exactly sure what the cut-off is these days, given the large, 4.7-inch Windows Phone Titan screen). And I'd think these coming Windows 8 Metro e-readers, if and when they materialize, could be running on ARM.

There was some speculation when Microsoft's Brandon Watson left the Windows Phone team to join Amazon's Kindle Cross Platform team as to whether Amazon might have a Windows-based e-reader in the wings. Amazon is working on a Windows 8 Kindle app, but I haven't heard anything about Microsoft's neighbor doing a dedicated Windows 8 e-reader. But there's nothing to stop Amazon from putting Windows 8 on a new Fire or other Kindle...

Any other thoughts, guesses and/or hopes as to what kinds of Metro/Windows 8 e-readers may materialize this year and beyond that have a hope against the Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook?

Topics: Microsoft, Hardware, Mobility, Operating Systems, Software, Windows

About

Mary Jo has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications and Web sites, and is a frequent guest on radio, TV and podcasts, speaking about all things Microsoft-related. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008).

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27 comments
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  • Pricing will probably be too high!

    I heard the tablets are going to be expensive. I cant imagine what a simple eReader will be. OEM!
    jakvike
    • That's ridiculous...

      Windows 8 is designed like WP7 in that you don't need a lot of beefy, power hungry hardware to make it run. Lighter hardware means cheaper device. I can get a Windows laptop for under $500; why wouldn't there be tablets that cost that, and maybe even $100 less?

      I think readers are a waste of time, and it's unlikely MS would waste time trying to corner that market, when they've already gotten Amazon to make a Windows 8 app.
      d20dad
      • Only people who don't read can't see the purpose of an e-reader.

        That said, one running Windows 8 is a bit silly. E-readers should be using eInk. Anything else and you're better opting for a full tablet.
        Aerowind
        • reading

          I have no e-reader and I read a lot--it's called books! ON paper! If the price comes down, I might opt for a tablet and use it for a reader, especially for the many digital magaines I have saved up over the years. As long as it can read .pdf documents, as that is what format the magazines and the few electronic books that I have are in.
          The formats are fascinating, to be true, but I just can't justify spending $2-300 for one and the
          dhays
      • I think it is conceivable ...

        [i]I think readers are a waste of time, and it's unlikely MS would waste time trying to corner that market, when they've already gotten Amazon to make a Windows 8 app.[/i]

        ... that MS could come out with a reader version of WOA. One rumor that I heard, was that Windows Phone 8 will be a specialized version of WOA for small screens. A cheap, low end version of WOA could satisfy a certain class of consumers, who do a lot of media consumption, and don't require machines with that much horsepower. Also these machines could be good for the education market, and support 1 device per child programs. (Of course I'm talking about readers that are comparable to the Kindle Fire, not E-ink type reader devices.)

        One thing I hope tech companies do, is push for public schools to be run by private contractors - similar to what occurs in agencies like the Department of Defense. Public schools should no longer be run by bureaucrats, because we will never be able to get any lasting efficiency from them. This would be a win-win for tech companies, as this would increase the quality of education in public schools, and the competition among contractors would require them to acquire computer tech in order to compete.
        P. Douglas
        • Private bureacrats?

          Private bureaucrats are in my experience way worse than public ones.
          haroldfb
    • PC Tablets, Probably. ARM Tablets Not

      Windows 8 on x86/x64 slates/tablets IS going to be expensive because getting a full PC into an 11" form factor costs money. Windows 8 on ARM won't because hey, it's NOT a full PC and ARM parts are quite a bit cheaper. In other words, you get what you pay for, either a full PC or something a bit more useful than an iPad\Android tablet.

      What niche would a Win8 e-reader fill? if it could bridge the gap between nook and kindle by being able to open both mobi and epub, then maybe. If not then no.
      MSFT_Tinkering
  • I think it's the wrong guy...

    [i]"Bill Hilf, one of the movers and shakers behind Microsofts ClearType and a big backer of e-reading"[/i]

    MJ, I think you meant Bill Hill.

    Bill Hilf does work at Microsoft but he's more interested in clouds than typography.
    TheCyberKnight
    • Hill vs. Hilf

      You're right! Thanks. Fixing now. MJ
      Mary Jo Foley
  • Too late!

    It is now way too late to bring out a reader device.

    Major players are well established and cheap products are slowly pouring in. Profit margins will decrease fast. Also, Microsoft would have to make a library agnostic device since they don't have the store front neither the deals with publishers.

    I think they would make better use of their money by leveraging their current music/video ecosystem and make it competitive.
    TheCyberKnight
    • I don't get it

      I don't get it when they say that Microsoft is late for the market for this and that. Just because I bought a smart phone last year doen't mean I'm not going to buy a new one next year. Same goes for tablets, laptops, readers and desktops.
      Blogsworth
      • They just are late

        People tend to stick with the system they have. I was given a brand new Kindle 2 years ago so I'm very invested in Amazon's system. Also the last thing a reader needs is a METRO interface. It need almost no interface. It just needs to be easy and light. Just like their phone. They now have 3% of the market after 2 years. The phone, like the Surface RT are destined to become the next Zune products; i.e. cancelled.
        bd048
        • Being late, even real real late sometimes means being better.

          It can even mean winning in the end. Nothing is certain.

          The whole notion of being "late" into one IT market place or another seems to be increasingly mentioned as if its an absolute killer.

          It can be a huge negative factor and hard impact on trying to get into that marketplace, no doubt.

          But, its not necessarily a killer at all. In fact, in some cases it can mean you win if you are last in, but at least appear ground breaking and innovative in at least some way. Some of those ways can turn out to be startlingly new, sometimes its just better packaging and advertising on some slightly new approach that catches on.

          This is proved as a fact.

          iPod
          iPhone
          Android phones

          Great examples in the IT field where new players in a well developed field of competition stepped in for the first time and made some serious inroads and profits. And of course new innovation played a roll, as well as some good advertising, packaging and new twists on existing ideas helped.

          Lets not get too stressed out about entering the market late. So, it turns out, its never TOO late and sometimes how late dosnt seem to matter a bit if you do it right.
          Cayble
  • I'd rather have a full fledged 15" tablet that I can read eTextbooks with.

    N/T
    grahamfluet
  • Already a Kindle app for Metro, is a dedicated reader necessary?

    The subject pretty much says it all - Amazon already released a Kindle app for Windows metro (it's in the app store, I downloaded it already) which syncs all of your purchased books, just like the iPad and Android apps (and the Windows desktop one).

    I really question whether Windows is suited for something as simple as an eReader stand-alone, though.
    kirkaiya9
  • No they won't come

    So commenting back via Win8 CP and if you haven't noticed the Apps Store already has a Kindle app. As TheCyberKnight implied - it's not the app it's the content. So a reader app itself will be of little value

    While I like the Zune Marketplace subscription model - MS has no books and content providers already have excellent distribution via Apple, Amazon or B&N.

    While it is obvious that Win8 is consumer focused and provides portals into their marketplace for content - MS is going to have a very hard time convincing folks that have already purchased large amounts of apps/music/books/etc from these other sources to switch to Win8, especially when I doubt that Win8 devices will be dramatically cheaper than the competition.
    jeff.zaremba
  • eReaders?

    Isn't this another example of Microsoft being the reactionary company, always playing catch-up and reacting to the current market trend vs the innovative company with some foresight to see what will work and won't work?

    What's the point in developing eReaders now? They were all the rage 2 years ago, now sales are slowing, even with aggressive price drop.
    dave95.
  • Probably not

    With the price of a full decent Android tablet coming down to $150 I can't see HP or Dell signing up for a Windows eReader.
    symbolset
  • Amazon should release the Windle!

    I'd love to see a Kindle running Windows 8 on ARM--a Windle, if you will.

    There's no reason the next version of the Kindle Fire would need to run Android. Google probably isn't too happy with Amazon and the Kindle Fire, anyway. I wonder if Microsoft would be any more willing to work with Amazon on such a device?
    Warp99
    • WIN8 on Fire?

      This might be a possibility considering I seem to remember a news item about android apps being able to be run on WIN8. That could let Amazon switch even the current fire to WIN8 and still let users have access to purchased apps via their store while cutting off outside apps installed on rooted fires and other app stores that can run legally on the fire (like getjar) . . .
      JLHenry