A small South Australian company is preparing to take on giants Amazon and Sony with its indigenous "smartbook" and e-book reader, QuokkaPad.
Smartbooks are a low-cost class of mobile device bigger than a smartphone but more agile than a less-functional netbook.
The Linux colour LCD device due to ship from a Chinese factory at the end of the month is the result of Adelaide developer Ubiq Technologies nearly 10 years of work on e-books.
The 400MHz MIPS device uses the open source FBReader to read non-protected e-book formats such EPUB and Mobipocket and other software to display PDFs and Microsoft Word and it will have a free subscription to online libraries, said company founder and chief executive officer Mike Ottoy.
And it has a web browser to enable mobile workers to access corporate policies and intranets while on the road, he said.
"We had to set about putting a full-scale computer [in such a device]," Ottoy said.
The device that had a 21 centimetre display will arrive in the country soon after Amazon's new Kindle DX with Global Wireless, available in Australia directly from the online bookseller on January 19, and the rumoured January 27 announcement of Apple's iSlate smartbook and e-reader.
And even Microsoft looks set to have another crack at the tablet PC that it pioneered nearly a decade ago with a revamped HP "MicroSlate" that the New York Times expected to be unveiled by chief executive officer Steve Ballmer in a couple hours at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Ottoy, who has a background in service desk and document management through his other business, the value-added reseller eInfo Solutions, said he's not concerned about the mounting competition from Kindle or Sony's Reader or the impending Apple and Microsoft products. Devices such as Amazon's built on E-Ink displays were especially poor compared to LCD, he said.
Ubiq's device evolved from early proofs of concept with companies such as airline Ansett that, shortly before it failed in 2001, found it could slash its $17 million a year flight manual distribution costs using electronic distribution to e-books. Ottoy also worked on proposals with News Corporation, which employed the first modern e-book, IDEO's Softbook, in the late '90s.
"The downside was that, as with the current spate of e-books, those e-books back then were all single-purpose - to read a book - but when someone has a bit of technology like that they get frustrated if they can't do other things such as reading PDF files, sending and receiving emails and web browsing," Ottoy said.
"People in the field usually carry corporate procedural information and if they're engineers they carry technical documents.
"A lot of corporate applications run on the web and may just download documents from the website - it won't all neatly be in e-book form. It had to be a multipurpose standalone device was the bottom line."
QuokkaPad will deviate from other devices in that it's an open system, Ottoy said. Owners will be able to hack their devices using the access ports and can even install multiple operating systems such as Windows Mobile or Google's Android.
Read why HP and Microsoft could trump Apple at CRN.com.au