Amazon and Barnes & Noble may have been worried by Apple's entry into the e-book business. Apple is now selling more iPads than Macintosh computers, passing 1 million sold less than two months after it was released. In comparison, Amazon has sold about 2.4 million of its Kindle e-reader devices since they were introduced two and a half years ago.
Still, Apple's efforts in e-books pretty much mirror those of Amazon and Barnes & Noble—books bought from Apple's e-Book store can only be read in the Apple e-reader app. Of course, Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's e-reader apps also work on the iPad and the iPhone, so Apple is more of a competitor with their hardware than their e-book sales.
But things are about to get shaken up. Google has announced that it is entering the e-book store business. And Google has said that its store will sell books in formats that can be read in a web browser, or on any e-reader device (except for Amazon's and Barnes & Noble's). Books purchased through Google will be put into a customer's virtual library associated with their account, and can be accessed over the Internet from anywhere.
The good news for people who haven't rushed out to buy a particular e-reader device is that Google's store will make lower-cost devices much more useable—as long as Google is able to get publishers on board with the Google Editions store. So far, Google plans to have over 500,00 titles for sale when its store goes live this summer. And the books will be in the standard EPUB format used by e-readers like those from Sony , Kobo, and Copia.
Google's entry is bound to make reading ebooks cheaper as a result—if only because EPUB-based e-reader devices are getting much less expensive. I met with representatives of Hanvon, a Chinese e-reader manufacturer, who are planning on bringing an e-reader to the US market for under $100 through a US partner. The Hanvon e-reader I saw also can play and record audio, a WiFi network connection and a USB port—and over 20 hours of battery life.
At that price, e-book readers become a lot more practical for schools and libraries. And if you've been reluctant to be an "early adopter" of e-books, you'll now have a lot more choices to pick from as e-book offerings begin to take off.