Barnes & Noble announces new e-reader...or does it?

Yesterday saw some confusing posts regarding Barnes & Noble announcing its own branded e-reader hardware. The earliest posts suggested that this was a new product, which sounded pretty unlikely given that the new IREX DR 800SG and the upcoming Plastic Logic device were already set to offer access to the Barnes & Noble store. What would be the point of B&N producing its own device?

Once the dust cleared it became apparent that it was the Plastic Logic device that was being referenced, but that didn't clear up all the confusion. When cnet contacted Barnes & Noble, the comment they got from senior vice president of corporate communications and public affairs Mary Ellen Keating was: "We have made no announcement of an e-book reader device." But at the CTIA show, Barnes & Nobles' Daniel Joresson says, on video (embedded below) that they do have a device coming next spring, that it is being built by Plastic Logic, and that it will have a color screen. Meanwhile the Wall Street Journal suggested the device might launch as early as next month.

The announcement of a a color screen really muddies the waters. Clearly no color e-ink display is coming out next month, and honestly even next spring seems aggressive for a color e-ink in a device that'll be able to compete with other e-readers on price. Perhaps Joresson got that bit wrong (though he specifies color twice) or perhaps Plastic Logic really is that far along with color e-ink technology? It doesn't seem likely that Plastic Logic would be producing a device without an e-ink display; e-ink seems to be core to their product line (pure speculation on my part).

It's hard to put any faith in the details being reported, but we're hearing the device will have a 6" display, a touchscreen with a virtual keyboard, and 3G wireless access to the Barnes & Noble e-bookstore. Gizmodo suggests it'll be running Android, though if that's true I imagine it'd be a locked down version of Android; this is an e-reader, not a general purpose internet tablet after all.

One possible explanation for all this confusion (suggested by Engadget) is that Plastic Logic has two Barnes & Noble branded devices in the pipeline: a grayscale e-reader launching next month and a color one to follow later. It makes a certain amount of sense: B&N must be anxious to have their device available for this holiday season. On the other hand, if a product is that close to launch wouldn't an advertising campaign be ramping up by now?

Hopefully Barnes & Noble and/or Plastic Logic will issue some kind of press release to clear up all this confusion.

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