By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 1:52 am
I kind of figured I was going to type these words sooner or later: Plastic Logic has canceled its Que e-reader. The company began demoing its gadget almost two years ago, well before the iPad era. But after multiple delays, it’s decided that the fast-evolving e-reader market has rendered the Que obsolete before it ever shipped. It says it’ll be back with a “second-generation” reader. And it’s finally figured out that it’s a bad idea to say when it expects to ship it.
(Sorry, Plastic Logic: You don’t get to call a product “second generation” when the first one didn’t ship. The first Que turned out to be a failed prototype. The next one, if any, will be the first-gen version.)
The Que had an oversized E-Ink screen, a focus on business users, a slick user interface, and unique plastic-electronics technology. Plastic Logic never explained why it couldn’t release the thing when it thought it would–it may just have been that the company was far better at drumming up hoopla than it was at setting a realistic development schedule for an ambitious gadget. In retrospect, it would have been a lot more efficient if the company had decided it would need to start over back on January 27th, the day Apple announced the iPad.
It wasn’t just that the iPad turned out to offer more glitz, power, and versatility at a starting price $150 lower than the $649 cost of the entry-level Que. The rest of the e-reader industry seems to have settled on a strategy that’s more or less the opposite of Plastic Logic’s: The Kindle and its competitors are all getting cheaper and simpler.
The whole sad story reminds me of the tale of Palm’s Foleo–including the wistful promise of a second-generation version at a later date–except that Palm only showed off the Foleo once before canning it. Here’s a recap of how we got here:
September 2008: Plastic Logic shows off a prototype e-reader at the DEMO conference. Its big screen is unique. (Me: “potentially cool.”)
January 2009: Another preview, at the Consumer Electronics Show.
May 2009: The company demos again, at the Wall Street Journal’s D Conference. Amazon.com has recently shipped its jumbo-screened Kindle DX. (Me: “You can only demo an unreleased product so often, over a certain length of time, before it stops feeling fresh and exciting and runs the risk of being perceived as vaporware.”)
October 2009: The e-reader gets a name–the Que ProReader–and Plastic Logic says it’ll be “unveiled” at CES in January. A bunch of other e-readers have been released, and one is reportedly on the way from Barnes & Noble. (Me: “By the time it shows up, it may even be compared to an Apple tablet.”)
January 2010: The Que is indeed unveiled at CES. It looks impressive, but the price–$649 without Wi-Fi, $799 with–is well into laptopland. Plastic Logic says it’ll ship in April. (Me: “Que looks like it has the potential to be the slickest and most versatile e-reading device to date”)
March 2010: Release is delayed until “Summer.” By now, the iPad has been announced. (Me: “If the delay indeed ends up being a few months at most, it doesn’t seem like that huge a deal.”)
April 2010: It’s supposed to show on up June 24th. The iPad has shipped.
June 2010: A few days after it was supposed to ship, the Que is delayed “a bit longer.” Ominously, Plastic Logic cancels all pre-orders. (Me: “It’s tough to imagine it thriving whenever it does appear.”)
This week: The Que is canceled altogether.