Sony and Google joined forces today to tackle the Amazon Kindle, the current king of e-books...by releasing half a million out-of-print books for the Sony E-Reader from Google's Book Search library. Will it be an effective strategy? Uh, maybe. But Google and Sony have a pile of technologies between them that, combined correctly, could blow the Kindle clean off the scene.
500,000 pre-1923 vintage books, including Mark Twain's "A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court" and "The Letters of Jane Austin" is undoubtedly a boon for owners of Sony's electronic book. But, lets face it, Amazon's 250,000 modern, best-selling and popular titles for the Kindle are a much more appealing offer. The Kindle's just been improved to version 2, with better graphics and a re-styling, and though Sony's latest E-reader still wins the styling battle, it's not quite as slick a device--and still lacks WWAN connectivity for easy content access.
But imagine if, as well as the fusty old Google Books library, Sony and Google really got into sync. Google's got a lot of sweet toys out there: There's the Chrome browser, earning good reviews. There's Google Maps and navigation technology, already a product in daily use by millions. Google Latitude is bringing a neat mashup of social networking and location-based services to the public's attention. And, of course, there's the fabulous, and occasionally useful, toy that is Google Earth.
What if all of these were accessible in one form or another on the Sony E-Reader? That'd instantly catapult it from a drab text-viewer to a slim, useful digital assistant.
And, of course, there's Sony's side to think about. By working with Google to optimize the next-gen tech in an E-Reader to work smoothly with Google's offerings, some of the issues with e-paper could be circumvented (like slow page refreshes). And don't forget Sony's expertise in display technology, general consumer electronics, advanced processor technology, graphics, and, above all else: gaming. Pop some Sony gaming goodness in the next E-Reader, tie in some music technology from its Walkman MP3 players, and bundle it with a full Google Application Suite. You'd buy that, at the right price, I suspect.
But Sony doesn't actually have to make a next-gen E-Reader to do some of this. It already has a highly capable hand-held, Wi-Fi-enabled device on sale in the PlayStation Portable. There are a number of homebrew methods for doing it. But what if Sony and Google officially channeled the same E-Reader library and book-reading tech into the PSP? Then you'd have a gaming platform that reads books--a direct parallel to the new Kindle app on the iPhone, only with a dedicated games machine with a huge installed base.
There's a hint, perhaps, that this sort of thing might happen in the words of Steve Haber--president of Sony's Digital Reading division. "We would love to continue working with Google to see how we can get more content for Reader owners," is what he said while talking about the new Google Books deal. It's just a hint, sure--but I, for one, would love it if the two companies pushed the e-book forward technologically.