By Harry McCracken | Thursday, January 7, 2010 at 2:43 pm
Unlike Plastic Logic, new e-reader arrival Skiff isn’t showing off its stuff on the show floor. But it’s demonstrating its reader–which it’s only saying will arrive sometime in 2010, at an unspecified price–in a private room. I got a sneak peek, and came away intrigued.
Physically, the Skiff reader looks a lot like Plastic Logic’s Que–it has a magazine-sized screen, a touch interface, and a thin case. Both readers use their extra real estate and resolution to render pages with more style and fidelity than is afforded by the smaller screens on the Kindle and Nook. But while Plastic Logic is pitching the Que as a business tool, Skiff is focusing on making magazines and newspapers easy to get and read. The demo I got involved digital versions of the Wall Street Journal and Esquire that maintained a newspaper and magazine-like feel, respectively, along with the typography, art, and layouts you associate with those two publications. They’re not exact replicas of the print incarnations, though–they’re scaled to the available screen space on the Skiff. And the ads provide some interactivity, such as a car one that lets you find a local dealer.
The Skiff reader, which has Sprint 3G built in and which will be sold at Sprint stores, looks nice. But the most interesting thing about Skiff is that it’s a platform, not a device. I also got a preview of Skiff running on a small tablet computer, with color pages and embedded video, and there are BlackBerry and Palm Pre apps. In all cases, content resizes and reformats itself to fit the screen.
The magazine and newspaper reading experience on the Kindle and Nook is mediocre at best–publications feel like raw dumps of text, not cohesive, engaging reimaginings that both retain what folks love about print and leverage the potential of an Internet-connected digital gizmo. There’s lots we don’t know yet about Skiff–including the price of its reader. (I figure it must come in at a substantially lower price than the Que’s $649 starter version.)
I also still have the sneaking suspicion that much of what Skiff is doing will and should be accomplished with open standards rather than one company’s technologies. Who wants to deal with separate devices and/or applications to read, say, Popular Mechanics and Popular Science?