iRiver Story : E-book revolution on the way

Think e-readers are just a way of reading electronic versions of books? Then you are underestimating their potential. 
E-readers offer boundless opportunities, as they can be used for interactive learning, virtual university libraries and many other applications, said the chief executive of iriver, a Korean maker of MP3 players and electronic dictionaries. 
Kim Kuno said he sees big growth potential of the e-book market in education and regards it as a new growth engine for the company. 
“We aim to sell 1 million e-readers here and overseas by next year,” Kim said in an interview with The Korea Herald. 
“The benefits of e-books are boundless. E-books are a revolution in a sense,” said Kim, who worked for Samsung, Sony and Kodak before moving to iriver in 2007.

E-book for learning 
Asked about the marketability of e-books in Korea, he said that the market for education has enormous potential. 
“We are focusing on the educational use of e-books. Korean education market is so huge,” he said. 
“We are developing (e-book learning programs) with Chungdam Learning and other English institutes,” he said.
The company also plans to propose e-readers as a virtual university library, which will help schools save money and land, he said. 
iriver last month started to receive pre-orders for its e-reader, Story, which will be launched next week in Korea. The device has drawn strong initial response, with 3,000 e-books sold out for pre-orders. The Story has received favorable reviews from users for its sleek design, easy-to-use interface and its support for various digital content formats. 
Kim said the Story’s design appealed to customers. “We designed our e-reader with a designer of analogue books,” he said. 
He also said iriver, which has received a number of awards for design, looks to maintain its design leadership. “I would like to hear that we are very good at design. … I would like to continue to enhance our design competence,” he said. 
The 6-inch Story equipped with a QWERTY keypad, is priced at 348,000 won. 
iriver plans to launch an upgraded version of the Story in December, which will feature Wi-Fi and electronic dictionary, Kim said. 
After its successful launch of the Story, iriver has received several offers from large overseas book retailers to sell its e-books, Kim said. 
Kim said iriver currently supplies its e-books with Germany’s Hugendubel and UK’s Waterstone’s, adding the company was “in serious talks” with a big U.S. bookstore chain for e-book sales, without identifying the company.

Cutthroat competition 
But iriver faces intensifying competition in the e-reader market here and abroad, with device manufacturers and bookstores scurrying to roll out e-readers, hoping to cash in the growing demand. iriver’s cross-town rival Samsung plans to launch its e-reader globally in January, while Amazon early this month announced a plan to release its Kindle e-reader in over 100 countries. 
Kim said unlike its giant rivals, iriver is able to rapidly respond to fast-changing consumer demand, which is important especially in handheld devices. “We have quickly responded to consumer demand (through firmware upgrades). Consumers are very satisfied with our firmware upgrade service,” he said. 
iriver also plans to improve the performance of the Story via firmware upgrades, adding new features such as a memo, an electronic dictionary and bookmarks to enrich the reading experience and to make consumers feel like they are reading a paper book. 
The leading electronic dictionary maker has also accumulated expertise in digital content business, he said.

MP3 differentiation 
The company also faces cutthroat competition and slowing growth in the MP3 player market. In the face of competition with Samsung, Apple and a number of others, iriver is trying to roll out products aimed at different consumer groups, Kim said. 
For example, the company plans to roll out an MP3 player targeted at consumers aged between 40 and 50, Kim said. About 100 songs will be pre-installed on the device so that consumers do not have to download music from the internet, he said. 
“You often see (middle-aged) people carrying MP3 players during mountain-climbing or walking. Many of them listen to radio because they do not know how to download music onto their MP3 players,” he said. 
iriver also plans to launch an MP3 player which offers a customized audio fitness trading program made by U.S.-based NextFit. The device, which will be launched in the United States next year, will guide each customer through every step of a fitness program from start to finish under NextFit’s program, Kim said. 
“This is a good example of raising the added value of a device by inserting content onto a device,” he said. 
The huge popularity of Apple’s iPod and iPhone, driven by its online content stores, has prompted device manufacturers to enhance their software prowess. 
iriver also plans to launch a portable media player powered by Google’s Android operating system, which allows users to download content and software from Android application store. This would be the first portable media player powered by Android, although a series of Android handsets have been rolled out. 
“We plan to launch an iPod Touch challenger here and overseas in the fourth quarter of next year,” he said.

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