Monday, February 21, 2011

Kno more? Kno in talks to sell off its tablet business

All Things Digital is reporting that Kno, the Silicon Valley-based educational eBook reseller startup, is in negotiations to sell off its hardware tablet business and focus solely on renting eBooks. The company had announced plans to start selling its tablets in several configurations, both single- and dual-screen, between $599 and $999, at the end of last year. Kno apparently did deliver several hundred tablets before halting shipments.

Kno's original dual-screen tablet was conceptualized before Apple released its iPad. Kno's idea was to develop a tablet that could display 99% of college textbooks at full size, so its tablet was purpose-built for that application. The problem was that the resulting tablet was much too big and heavy--equal to two full-size college textbooks. After the iPad was released and defined consumer expectations about tablets, Kno responded with a single-screen version of its tablet, but it was still too big and heavy.

Now, according to All Things Digital, Kno wants to support tablets like the iPad and Motorola's Xoom, and get out of the hardware business. That, however, will impact Kno's "99%" strategy. There's no standard size for tablets, and they generally range from 7" to 10.1". None of them are big enough to support Kno's page size requirements, so users will have to pan and zoom documents, which Kno originally wanted to avoid.

Kno is apparently attempting to get some financial return on the time and money that it spent developing its own tablet, but it's unlikely that any hardware manufacturer will acquire its tablet designs. The Kno reader runs on Linux, not Android, so it will require significant additional software development. Whoever buys the hardware design will be coming into the market well behind Apple, Motorola, LG, RIM and HP. They'd be better off going with an ODM design from a Taiwanese or Chinese manufacturer.

Kno's tablet was the centerpiece of its business strategy; without it, it has no particular advantage over CourseSmart, Follett, Barnes & Noble, Chegg or any number of other, better-funded college eTextbook vendors.
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