Who will lose out this holiday season? Sony . . .

In the seasonal battle between all of the major eReader brands, the last place finish for a new eReader device during the final quarters of 2012 will almost certainly be Sony. The PRS-T2 was released about a month ago to appalled tech bloggers and grumbling customers. I couldn’t believe that Sony would release a basically downgraded (at best sidegraded) version of their flagship eReader. The Kobo Glo and Paperwhite specs hadn’t been released yet, but after almost three years of 600 x 800 E Ink Pearl screen readers, I knew that there had to be an E Ink upgrade coming down the line. Tablets had shifted the focus of customers to super high-resolution displays and HD capabilities. It’s all about the bigger and better display. The fledgling eReader market had to respond, but just last year Jeff Bezos showed off the Kindle Touch, that used the same low-res Pearl display as featured on the Kindle 3, with a straight face. Which company would be the first to introduce E Ink HD? When the PRS-T2 was announced, I began to get worried about the upgrades that the future would hold. Would we get more of the same this year? Luckily, my intuition was right, and both Kobo and Amazon announced that 1024 x 768 displays would be featured on their new eReaders. Amazon increased the amount of pixels, claiming 62% greater density.

With these spectacular improvements, including better glow technology (let’s hope B&N catches up to this), I’m not sure where Sony’s R&D team was going with the PRS-T2. Certainly, they had to have had some tech insiders who were feeding them industry leaks about Kobo and Amazon’s future plans. B&N’s Glow release was a wide open sign of things to come. Sony took away the audio feature on the PRS-T2, and added a hokey Facebook application which didn’t even work due to a sign-in failure bug (Sony is just now pushing out a firmware update that is said to fix this). All of the early video reviews on YouTube feature one of their two major software upgrades falling flat on its face. Aside from this, most people are commenting that while the background of the PRS-T2’s E Ink screen looks lighter, fonts are sharper and bolder on the old T1 (yet, both feature the same E Ink Pearl 600 x 800 display). Evernote is a nice addition, but the loss of audio and lack of contrast improvement leaves me scratching my head. Sony’s non-upgrade also failed to entice the Android rooting community that worked on the PRS-T1. Rooting might not be exactly what manufacturers have in mind for their devices, but the popularity that results can drive sales (take the Nook Color and NST for example). Due to the lack of features, The Digital Reader blog reports that, “Boroda,” the developer who hacked the Sony PRS-T1, isn’t really interested in spending his money on a new, overpriced device that “only differs in buttons.” Amazing!

I can’t see any reasonable, uncommitted consumer making the decision to buy the Sony PRS-T2 this holiday season. The SD card slot and free Harry Potter book aside, there is nothing that I could think of that will draw buyers into the Sony platform. Amazon, B&N, and even Kobo have a better name in the business, so unless Sony is relying on in-store displays snagging impulse buyers or young Potter fans, I can’t see how they are going to compete with the big three during this annual time of new releases. Kinde, B&N, and Kobo have expanded into brick-and-mortar store space over the past three years (Sony used to be my only eReader option at the local Walmart), and without anything new to brag about, I think I can safely predict that the Sony Reader line might close up shop within the next two years. Unless something radically changes, I don’t see a future for Sony. They will always be one step behind the competition.

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