Gizmodo's leak of Barnes and Noble's twin-screen e-reader with a color display was a pleasant surprise last week, but not for Spring Design. The company just revealed its own e-reader, obviously in response—and it's very similar.
Clearly Spring has been working on its Alex machine for a while, and seeing the B&N device last week must have been an unwelcome surprise. Both e-book players have a dual-screen setup, with a large black-and-white e-ink e-reader display up top, and a touchscreen color LCD unit on the bottom. Spring's press release claims the company has patented the dual displays, but we'll have to see how that patent stands up—it's going to hinge on whether B&N can claim prior art.
Spring's Alex actually has a much larger color screen than B&N's, which may be why the color segment has been given the unfortunate name of DuetNavigator. That color LCD real estate isn't just for show—the device actually runs Google Android as an OS, so it can deliver full web browsing, and hyperlinked text in the main e-book segment can spark off secondary information displays on the lower screen. You can even grab a web page on the color unit, and push it up to the e-ink display so that you don't run the battery-sapping LCD for too long. Spring has big hopes for this integrated system, claiming it's "the start of a whole new experience of reading content on e-books, potentially igniting a whole new industry in multimedia e-book publishing for secondary authors to create supplementary content."
That's lofty stuff. The unit poses a serious threat to the Kindle, especially if its sales take off overseas while Amazon mucks up the international Kindle launch. But Amazon has succeeded with the Kindle ecosystem—something B&N is also working on, with an e-bookstore and its own stable of publications—and there's no indication that Spring has similar capabilities sewn up for the Alex. The company says it has been working with "major bookstores, newspapers, and publishers" for years, but doesn't name names. We'll have to wait until the end of the year, when the device launches, to see if they live up to their claims.