Friday, 25 June 2021

The Txtr Beagle: An idea before its time?

The Txtr Beagle - released late 2012 - was a 5-inches e-reader designed as a smartphone Bluetooth accessory. At the time of its release, it was intended to sell for 9.9 Euros. The low price was due to its barebones hardware and envisaged subsidisation by third-party mobile carriers. The Beagle came with no battery built-in battery - instead, relying on a pair of AA batteries. Two significant problems led to the failure of the Beagle:

  1. The device, for its time, had an ample 4GB storage. Yet, despite the relatively large storage, it could only store five e-books at one time. The problem was the Beagle rendering e-books and PDF documents in Bitmap images! 
  2. Another major problem with the Beagle was its reliance on mobile phone network providers to bring users to Txtr's online store (revenue primarily envisaged through content rather than hardware). The idea was that carriers would push e-reading similar to music and video content. The strategy didn't work, forcing Txtr to raise the price of the Beagle closer to fully-fledged e-readers. 

Nevertheless, the Beagle introduced an interesting idea that an e-reader can be an affordable smartphone accessory rather than being a stand-alone device. With smartphones now being the primary mobile device of most users, a pocket-sized lightweight e-reader that connects via Bluetooth might be an idea worth re-visiting. For example, a 30 Euros stripped-down e-reader can be bundled with smartphone contracts at no extra cost. 

To sell the hardware, the content would need the support of major content providers (specifically, support from Amazon's Kindle app would be necessary). Reliance on Amazon or possibly Rakuten Kobo beforehand would mean access to a significant e-reading user base at the very start. Instead of carriers doing the heavy lifting of promoting an e-reading platform, the platform would already exist. Thus, the focus would be on the hardware and not the content delivered via Bluetooth.

On the e-reader's software side, to avoid the fate of the Txtr Beagle, the software's reading experience should be similar to a stand-alone e-reader. Other features like access to an online store and management of personal libraries would not be necessary, as they can be done on a smartphone.  

Beyond the consumer product world, an e-reader accessory can be a means to encourage younger users to use their smartphones as a gateway for digital reading. For example, a Project Gothenburg application could be developed to support an external Bluetooth device. In this scenario, the user selects an e-book from the library and then sends it to the connected device. Further, a Bluetooth e-reader accessory can complement public library e-book borrowing via Libby. 

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