Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
Now that Adobe has finished applying the magic eraser tool to its longtime graphics rival Macromedia, it needs to enter or create new markets to continue growth beyond its dominant position in professional publishing. With the recent focus on what is admittedly the nascent e-book market, Adobe is looking at a unique window in which it could step up and become a market leader. However, it had better hurry, because Microsoft is getting tired of staring at the walls when it comes to this market.
The recent interest in e-books is due to the commercialization of electronic ink, which enables thin, crisp, paper-like monochrome (and soon color) displays that require a fraction of the power needed by LCDs. While their refresh rate makes them prohibitively slow for any kind of animation, they are the best technology for the medium developed to date and have attracted the attention of Sony and iRex, a spinoff of Philips.
Electronic ink is the kind of disruptor that has allowed opportunistic companies to seize markets. Sony, for example, capitalized on the CD-ROM with the original PlayStation and entered the digital camera market via the floppy disk with its first Mavica cameras. Apple, of course, leveraged the 1.8-inch hard drive with its first iPod.
Adobe is, in fact, already in the e-book business. but it is not providing a complete solution, which would require an end-user device. Sony's Reader will support the display of PDFs, but the electronics giant will use its own proprietary format and its own online service for distribution of content. The e-book market -- like the online music and video markets prior to the entry of Apple -- is so immature that it's just waiting for a company to step up with an integrated solution.