Sharp's blurring of tablet, e-book reader lines may confuse consumers

Company to release Android-based devices in December, but only in Japan

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Are they really tablets, or e-book readers on steroids?

It all depends on how you look at it, but Sharp's announcement today that it will release a pair of e-book readers in December as part of a new e-bookstore service might have many consumers scratching their heads, though initially most of those heads will be in Japan.

Tony Bradley over at PC World explains:

Sharp plans an aggressive foray into the tablet market this December--well, sort of. Sharp plans to launch a new online content service and two tablet devices, but it is positioning its tablets as e-readers rather than going head-to-head with tablets, and the Galapagos service and tablets will only be available in Japan -- at least initially.

Confused yet? Don't blame Tony. He's merely pointing out that while Sharp is labeling the two devices "e-book readers" (here's the press release), the Android OS, browsing capabilities and color screens make them seem like tablets.

Meanwhile, Mark Raby over at TG Daily flat out calls the devices tablets, not once mentioning the e-reader angle promoted by Sharp.

Even the name of Sharp's cloud-based media services endeavor, Galapagos, sends mixed signals (to me, anyway). Sharp says it "comes from the famous Galapagos Islands, which were visited by Charles Darwin (1809–1882), a British geologist and biologist. The observations he made while on the islands played a key role in the formulation of his 'theory of evolution'."

I know all that, but these days when I hear the word Galapagos, I think of giant, slow turtles. Not exactly marketing gold.

Getting back to the tablets/e-readers: They're going to come in two sizes -- small (5-inch screen) and humongous (10.8-inch screen). Prices haven't been announced, but as Tony Bradley points out, they have to be comparable to other e-readers (like Amazon's Kindle) for people to even consider buying them, so that probably means somewhere in the $120 to $150 range.

Maybe this is Sharp's way of gaining a back-door entrance into the tablet market without competing directly with Apple's iPad. If so, it could prove to be a shrewd move. We'll have to see how things play out.

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