Plastic Logic joins the e-reader race with a higher end version called Que — and other things our reporters saw at the International Consumer Electronics Show.
LAS VEGAS — Segmentation of the electronic book market has begun in earnest with the arrival of the Que, a reader aimed at executives and business travelers.
Plastic Logic’s much anticipated reader will go on sale in April for $649 for a 4-gigabyte model with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, and $799 for an 8-gigabyte model that also has 3G wireless service from AT&T.
The device is 8.5 inches by 11 inches with a black and white touch-screen and a single button on the bezel, for returning to the home screen. The home screen displays a calendar, including appointments synced with Outlook. It also allows favorite documents to be pinned to the screen.
Barnes & Noble will carry the Que in its stores. Plastic Logic also has partnerships with newspapers, magazines and wire services offering subscriptions on the device.
To cater to the news industry, the Mountain View, Calif., company introduced a template called truVue to make it easier for papers to format their products for display on the Que.
The device is intended for more than just reading books and papers. It can replace the sheaf of printed materials that business travelers take along, and includes tools for annotating and editing on the device.
Instead of pursuing a paperless office or paperless bookshelf, “what we are driving on is the paperless briefcase,” Plastic Logic Chief Executive Richard Archuleta said at a news conference announcing the Que on the show floor.
Plastic Logic was started after researchers at Cambridge University in England developed ways to print transistors on plastic film, instead of silicon, using inkjets. It has a factory in Dresden, Germany, and has plans to introduce readers for different markets such as students, teachers and health-care workers.
— Brier Dudley
Rolling in Sync
Ford opened the first day of CES on Thursday by introducing My Ford Touch, an upgrade of Sync, the in-car Internet service from Microsoft. The service will be in the Lincoln first, but eventually be available in all new Ford car models.
CEO Alan Mulally, former Boeing Commercial Airplanes chief, took the stage for some remarks, then drove off the stage in a Ford.
“We appreciate how so many of you here inspired us to move at Silicon Valley speeds as we deliver the cars of tomorrow today,” he said. Ford has made 1 million cars with Sync technology through last May.
The new My Ford Touch system incorporates touch-screens and five-way navigation buttons to the steering wheel, dashboard display and center console, incorporating voice and touch-screen technology.
Drivers can control heating and cooling systems, entertainment, directions and phone from the steering wheel by voice and the center console by touch.
The main display in the center console is customizable so drivers can feature a child’s photo or a combination of music, climate and traffic information. All the lights can be adjusted from the console. Media can be fed into the car via USB and SD card slots.
In December, Ford announced it would bring Wi-Fi connectivity to Sync, creating a hotspot in the car for up to five users.
— Sharon Pian Chan
The big picture
It’s sacrilege to say so at this year’s CES, but I’d trade any of the 3-D TVs on display for one of the biggest TVs here — a 152-inch ultra-high-def plasma from Panasonic with 4096 by 2160 resolution.
— Brier Dudley
Games of old
It’s not going to be the next “Halo” or “Modern Warfare,” but I’ll bet the retro “Game Room” service Microsoft announced will be a huge hit.
The company built a virtual arcade within Xbox Live stuffed with original arcade games from the ’70s through the ’90s. To make them accurate, it tracked down original arcade setups on places like eBay and in employee homes
It will have at least 30 games, such as “Centipede,” when it debuts in March. All can be sampled free. You can buy copies for $3 for Xbox versions, $3 for PC versions or $5 for both. Or you can pay 50 cents to play until you lose.
Players can compete for high score on various games and play head-to-head on multiplayer games on a console in the same room.
It seems perfect for phones and Zunes, but Microsoft’s not saying anything about mobile versions — yet.
— Brier Dudley
A big break
Steve Ballmer mentioned a few companies in his keynote speech Wednesday evening outside of the usual suspects. Among them: Graphic.Ly, a Boulder, Colo., startup launching a digital comic-book store and social network.
The reference came when Ballmer talked about the comic-book reader running on one of the PCs displayed on stage. It was brief, but the publicity was valuable for a startup.
“They got us in the keynote, and we hadn’t really even raised money,” said Micah Baldwin, chief executive of Graphic.ly, which developed the reader.
So how did the company land a laud?
Turns out Graphic.ly is part of Microsoft’s BizSpark One program, which provides mentorship, free Web hosting for a few years and developer support. Companies apply to join the program.
Graphic.Ly is launching it site today and has signed partnerships with Marvel and Top Cow to distribute their comic books in a digital format online.
As a startup, Baldwin said, Graphic.Ly probably would have gone the open-source route and toward products like Google Docs if it had not been for the BizSpark One program. But the engineers who started the company were comfortable with Microsoft software, and Microsoft encouraged them to apply. Microsoft has helped set up meetings between BizSpark and partners they need, such as Hewlett-Packard.
“We’re front of mind and it makes me feel good,” Baldwin said.
He said his company decided on its own to build the network and store on Microsoft’s cloud platform, Azure. On the device side, Baldwin is building for PCs but also non-Microsoft products, such as Apple’s iPhone and Adobe AIR.
Baldwin is surprised Microsoft has not pressured his company to build exclusively on Microsoft software and platforms.
He calls himself a bit of a convert.
“I initially felt it was like a tobacco company marketing to kids,” Baldwin said. “But they never offered us cigarettes.”
— Sharon Pian Chan