Ray Kurzweil's e-reader turns a page

An early version of Blio, which was shown off at CES, is at long last ready for download. But have other e-book software platforms passed it by?

The Blio e-reader software shines brightest when used with a large color book, such as this tome on creating art journals. Screenshot by Ina Fried/CNET

When Ray Kurzweil showed off his Blio e-book software at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, the pitch was somewhat novel.

While Amazon and Barnes & Noble seemed most focused on their own hardware efforts, Blio was focused on improving e-book reading for the PC, in all its multimedia and color-screen glory.

However, it has taken Blio a lot longer than planned to bring the software to market. In the months it has taken Kurzweil's team to deliver the first version of the software, the giants of the e-reader category have managed to get versions of their reader programs available for PCs, Macs, BlackBerrys, and Android phones, not to mention the iPhone and iPad. And, they too are planning for a future in which the e-book means a whole lot more than just text on paper.

In short, Blio has reached the market, but I'm not sure that the market opportunity it outlined still exists. On the positive side, the company has managed to land a new partner in the intervening months--PC maker Toshiba, which plans to use Blio as the basis to turn its PCs into e-reading devices.

I've been playing around with the Windows version of Blio for the past few days. And while it does a nice job with color books that wouldn't look great on my Kindle, I'm not sure it has a clear advantage over the PC or iPad versions of the Kindle or Nook software.

Plus, Blio's store is launching with only 10,000 paid titles--a tiny fraction of the options found on any of the major e-book stores, although it does boast a million free books (the same types found for other e-book platforms). The company has promised that it will add more than 1,000 titles a week, including the kinds of multimedia content we saw at demoed at CES--titles that combine books with Web content and interactive quizzes.

But if Blio wants to stand out, it had better hurry. The market is moving quickly and the existing market leaders determined to expand the category as fast as publishers are willing.

For those who want to hear the vision behind Blio, here is video I did with Kurzweil at CES:

CNET's David Carnoy contributed to this report.

 

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