The battle of the e-readers is about to get a new contestant. K-NFB just announced that their anticipated Blio e-reading program will launch on September 28th for Windows. Android and iOS systems (iPhone, iPad, etc) will follow soon thereafter. Blio has several key selling points. Downloading the reader itself is free, and K-NFB has promised that there will be a million free titles available at the time of launch. Blio is a full color reader and can fully preserve a book’s layout and format, allowing you to read it the same way it was printed or to restructure it for easier access on mobile devices. The e-reader supports note-taking, embedded multimedia, and allows you to freely move your titles from one device to another via a virtual library. It will feature text to speech technology from Nuance, the makers of the Dragon Dictation App we loved. Ray Kurzweil, founder of K-NFB, is wagering that Blio’s advantages will propel it into a fiercely competitive market that is already packed with e-readers.
As we’ve seen in our previous reviews of the technology (here and here), Blio certainly has enough bells and whistles to make it a success. Full color pages that turn in 3D and textbooks with embedded videos are both pretty impressive. However, in the battle of digital reading Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iBooks, and the Sony Reader have all been successful and are all (generally) based on their own hardware. Blio doesn’t have a dedicated hardware platform, and it’s unclear whether that will ultimately help or hinder it.
K-NFB has worked hard to secure support on the publishing side of their enterprise. They are partnered with Baker & Taylor, the world’s largest book distributor, and have secured more than 100 publishers to add titles to their library. Publishers include all the biggest names: Hachette, Harper Collins, Penguin, MacMillan, Random House, and Simon & Schuster. Yet the same names regularly make their titles available through the other e-readers as well. It will be interesting to see if publishers prefer the Blio platform because it can preserve their original formatting. No word yet on pricing agreements, which would be the other, and larger, consideration for securing publisher support.
Singularity Hub could be seen as biased towards Ray Kurzweil and his work, so I’m trying hard to come up with some fair and balanced criticisms for Blio. Certainly its late arrival to the e-reader race could be a negative, as could its lack of dedicated hardware. Textbooks won’t be available at first, and there is already strong competition there too, as we’ve recently seen.
But all of these are business considerations. When it comes to the platform itself I’m mostly positive. Blio is free, there will be a large library of free titles (Baker & Taylor have promised another 10,000 sometime after launch), and you can move your titles from device to device without paying. To me that means investing in the new reader when it comes out will be very low-risk. I still have questions about loading speeds, pricing & availability for pay-to-read titles, and usability. There’s no guarantee that Blio will be the next big e-reader…but I am very likely to try it out, especially once they make it available for iPhones.