Sony Reader: The New Clie

At one time, Sony was a licensee of Palm OS. It created a high-end line of PDAs under the weird name of Clie (KLEE-ay, which non-techies would say as KLEE).

Palm’s own PDAs had 160×160 screens and were monochrome. Sony’s initial PDA was just like that, but more expensive. It was innovative in that it had a storage slot and a JogDial for one-handed operation. But they saddled it with a Memory Stick slot — a storage format that was Sony-only — instead of Compact Flash (SD was not yet created).

After disappointing sales of that, they roared back with a breakthrough color Clie with a pixel-doubling 320×320 screen. They were the first to include a camera in a PDA, the first to create a clamshell unit with built-in keyboard, and the first to include WiFi.

But none of that saved them.

The perception was that Sony’s Clies were too expensive and too complex.

The history of Clie is similar to the Reader.

Sony’s first Reader, the 500, had a screen people would find unacceptable today. Most people did back then too, but Sony persevered and came back with the 505, which had a very good screen.

Sony went on from there, to pioneering the first sensible solution to adding a touchscreen to an eBook device, using IR. That’s the same type of screen touch technology that both Barnes & Noble and Kobo are using in their just-announced devices.

But only one model of the Reader includes wireless: the too-large, too-weirdly-shaped, and too-expensive 950.

So, with its overall lack of wireless, we come full circle with the Reader being seen as too expensive and too complex compared to all other eBook devices.

The difference between Sony’s defeat with the Clie and its imminent defeat with the Reader is this: Back then, the Clie was still widely available in stores. CompUSA, Best Buy, Circuit City, still carried all of them. There wasn’t any hint of Sony giving up.

So when Sony finally issued its announcement of surrender, it was really a surprise to everyone.

Today, Sony’s withdrawal won’t shock anyone.

They were carried by Best Buy, Target, Wal-Mart. Three major outlets.

Today, they’re no longer sold at those places.

All that’s left is for Sony to finally confirm what everyone suspects: As with the Clie, so with the Reader.

All we do now is wait for the announcement.

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