Sony, a longtime pioneer in the field of e-readers, launched a new document management product in the U.S. called Digital Paper. Currently it is targeting the legal market—law firms, law schools, and government agencies—as well as aiming at high-end professionals. The company’s marketing strategy involves partnerships with leading content management firms or content suppliers. For law firms, the partner is the Worldox document management system; for law schools and law libraries, the massive legal document collection from William S. Hein & Co.; and for the entertainment industry’s “onboarding” needs, Start Paperwork and other tools from Ease Entertainment Services, a payroll and accounting company serving the motion picture and television production industries.
Digital Paper uses Mobius technology from E Ink Corp., which makes it extraordinarily light (12.6 oz.) and able to take an electronic charge that could last for around 3 weeks. That’s some of the good news. The downside is that the device costs $1,100, it has no current discounts in place for multiple purchases, and file type compatibility is limited to PDF files. Currently, all three of the partners—Worldox, Hein, and Ease—offer iPad apps for no additional charge on top of normal purchase and subscription payments.
So what can the Digital Paper device do? The light, tablet-like body is around a quarter of an inch thick, “about the thickness of 30 sheets of paper,” according to Hein’s press release. The 13.3-inch display gives a standard letter-size (8.5" x 11") look to digital documents. Its highly legible, crisp imagery uses a high-contrast reflective display (1200x1600 dots) that supports reading in any kind of lighting. A USB feature allows users to transfer documents quickly from regular computers, using the Digital Paper device as a remote hard drive. Built-in Wi-Fi supports file sharing and data transfer. A rechargeable lithium-ion battery supports up to 3 weeks of regular usage, although extensive Wi-Fi transactions or handwritten note taking may cut into that time frame, according to Daniel Albohn, manager of strategic business development at Sony. The device can store approximately 2,800 PDF files (both native PDF files and PDF files converted in programs such as Word) of 1MB each and has an internal memory of 4GB. The touchscreen navigates the documents and lets users zoom in and out. A stylus allows users to write, draw, highlight, or erase text on the panel. According to Albohn, the device maintains the original document as well as annotated or altered versions.
Sony initially marketed Digital Paper in Japan, announcing it to the U.S. market last fall. The company introduced it at the American Bar Association’s ABA TECHSHOW in March with its partner Worldox. In April, Sony showcased it to the entertainment industry at the Hollywood IT Summit (HITS) with Ease as a partner. Ease is bundling Digital Paper with its Digital Start Paperwork (DSP) service built around Ease’s scenechronize platform. Digital Paper officially went on sale in May. And this month, at the American Association of Law Libraries’ conference, Sony premiered the device in collaboration with Hein, the owner of the world’s largest image-based legal research collection. HeinOnline has numerous subscription packages for its more than 100 million pages of legal history in PDF images. For now, Albohn indicates that he has received inquiries from a number of large universities.
Intriguing as this technology sounds, at $1,100, this device still won’t do the many tasks of a tablet, doesn’t offer at present a future of including third-party apps, and won’t handle any other formats, such as Kindle, EPUB, etc. And, if the supplier of the PDF document to Digital Paper didn’t include OCR (optical character recognition) text indexing, some PDF files may be unsearchable because they’re formatted as image-only, Albohn admits. He does point out that if changes occur in PDF software, Digital Paper will do downloadable firmware upgrades. But there’s room for improvement; starting with a high price and dropping it to reach expanded markets is a long-established tradition in the computer industry. As for adding OCR to the text, perhaps Sony could build or connect to a cloud service that would integrate that option. Adding the ability to scan documents and create PDF files could also help, not to mention the ability to print documents to nondigital paper. Time will tell.