Polymer Vision plans to launch Readius, an e-reader with a flexible screen weighing little more than a cell phone, in the middle of this year, it said Tuesday.
The long-awaited gadget will be a boon to those who now get their daily news fix by scanning the headlines on an e-reader -- but who miss the way they could roll up their old newspaper and tuck it in a pocket when they had finished reading.
The key feature of the Readius is its flexible screen, 5 inches across the diagonal, with a resolution of 320 by 240 pixels (QVGA) in 16 shades of gray.
It has mutated a little since Polymer Vision showed early prototypes of the wrap-around flexible screen a year ago: "The concept is the same, but we have added mobile phone functionality," said Thomas van der Zijden, vice president of sales and marketing.
The latest device, now ready for production, functions as a triband phone with a high-speed mobile wireless connection. Unlike Amazon.com's Kindle e-reader, which can only connect to U.S. wireless networks, the Readius will operate almost worldwide, as it works with the HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) 3G (third-generation) service favored by European, Asian and some U.S. operators.
Although the device will function as a phone, dialing unfamiliar numbers will be awkward, as it has only eight buttons. That's not a problem, according to Van der Zijden, as mobile phone users make most calls to numbers already in their address book -- and the Readius can be synchronized with a PC through its USB 2.0 connection or Bluetooth 2.0 wireless interface.
In addition, the wireless connection can be used to download e-mail using the POP3 and IMAP4 protocols, or from Web-based services such as Yahoo mail, Google's Gmail or corporate servers using the Webmail function of Microsoft Exchange, according to Polymer Vision.
The Readius weighs 115 grams and measures 115 millimeters by 57 mm by 21 mm when closed. It has a slot for Micro-SDHC (Secure Digital High Capacity) memory cards up to 8G bytes in capacity. One battery charge will allow up to 30 hours of continuous reading, and for those with tired eyes the device will even play audio books -- and podcasts and MP3 music files, the company said.
Polymer Vision is seeking content providers willing to sell material through a dedicated Internet portal offering wireless downloads for the Readius, and is also looking for mobile networks and retail outlets to provide additional distribution channels.
Content will have to be adapted to the small screen resolution, but there are no obstacles to that: the platform is open and can display PDF, HTML and ASCII text files, said Van der Zijden. The devices run the Windows CE operating system with a custom user interface, and can use the OMA 1.0 DRM (digital rights management) to prevent copying of content. Polymer Vision may add other DRM systems depending on demand from content providers, he said.
The company expects to have the Readius available to partners by the end of the second quarter, so that they can sell it early in the third quarter.
The price will depend on operator subsidies and contracts, but Van der Zijden expects it to be comparable with that for high-end smartphones such as Nokia's N95 8GB or Apple's iPhone.
One operator that expressed an early interest in the Readius is Italy's Telecom Italia. Polymer Vision is developing a special version for Italy that will include support for the DVB-H broadcast protocol, said Van der Zijden. While this is normally used to broadcast television signals, Telecom Italia plans to use it to deliver large quantities of data to a wide audience -- such as a daily newspaper that subscribers can then unlock.