Amazon may have sewn up the U.S. e-reader market, but its international Kindle seems like a lame duck, and it faces growing competition. Where can Amazon go next with the device? Maybe Entourage's dual-screen eDGe has the answer.
Coming completely out of left field, Entourage seems to be taking the dual-screen e-reader approach followed by Barnes & Noble to the max. It marries a 9.7-inch e-ink e-reader page (yes—the same size as a Kindle DX) with a 10-inch touchscreen LCD netbook computer running Android. This makes it potentially the most powerful hybrid e-reader we've seen yet, and Entourage is saying it's actually the first dual-screen e-reader to go on sale.
It supports the open-format e-Pub format for electronic texts, it reads PDFs, and it also has a stylus-driven touchscreen in front of the e-ink too, presumably for annotating your books. This takes care of some criticisms the Kindle DX faces from students, who are conditioned into writing notes on their textbooks. The Entourage device it's not as slim or sleek as other e-readers, but its bulk includes a battery with a generous 16 hours of e-reader time and six hours running the netbook half.
It's the device's multi-use potential that's the most attention-grabbing aspect of the design. The Wi-fi and EVDO/HSDPA-equipped gizmo can play back MP3s and videos, and surf the Web thanks to the inclusion of Android and a color screen. It's also due out soon—in February, for around $500. That makes it slightly more expensive than the Kindle DX, and in mid-range for netbooks.
What can Amazon learn from this device? An enormous amount. It's unlikely to be producing a color Kindle for ages, as Jeff Bezos himself has noted the tech is "multiple years" away. The Kindle's design is looking increasingly tired in the face of excellent e-reader competition, and its single-use status and 1990s hardware feel will be instantly outdated if Apple's iTablet rolls onto the market early next year—it's even being outclassed by the Nook right now.
Amazon desperately needs to inject some life into its platform if it's not to lose its grip on the leading edge of e-reader tech. The International Edition, as it stands with its crippled overseas Web surfing and oddly U.S.-only power supply, isn't the way to do it. Amazon's desktop Kindle app is certainly a way forward, and greatly expands the Kindle ecosystem's utility. But we've not heard any inklings of new Kindle hardware for a while. However Amazon chooses to push the hardware in the Kindle 3, it really needs to take the eDGe as inspiration.