Today iRex announced the launch of its first consumer eReader, which will be available for sale for $399 at Best Buy, Costco, and other US retailers this holiday season, with distribution in Europe coming in Q2 2010. The skinny:

  • Who is iRex? iRex Technologies is a spinoff of Philips Electronics in the Netherlands (like Polymer Vision, which recently went bankrupt and was then acquired by Wistron, who plans to revive its rollable eReader in the next year). But iRex has seen more success than its sister company, nurturing a successful B2B eReader business in Europe that sells in the ten-thousands of eReaders per month to businesses in the aviation, government, education, and publishing industries. With an infusion of capital and leadership from private equity firm Amerivon Holdings (iRex's US CEO, Kevin Hamilton, is from Amerivon), iRex is bringing its eReader technology stateside and targeting consumers for the first time.
  • What are they launching? Today they announced the launch of an eReader with an 8.1" E Ink-based display, operated by touch stylus, with 3G wireless from Verizon. The device will run on Linux and will accept any eBook format and DRM protocol (ePub, PDF, mobi, etc.), so you can buy content anywhere and use it on the device. Barnes & Noble (which has also inked deals with Plastic Logic and, we have it on good authority, will be launching its own device soon) will be the primary bookseller on the device, and the device will also feature content from newspapers and magazines through partnerships with aggregators Newspapers Direct and Libre Digital.
  • What's cool about it? The touch/wireless combo puts the device in the same league as the Sony Daily Edition, which will also retail for $399 (a steep price to pay for most consumers). The Gobi Qualcomm chip allows the device to work wirelessly anywhere in the world. But perhaps the best feature is its ability to support native fonts and more flexible formatting, which will make newspapers and magazines look a lot better than they do on the Kindle DX (but the onus is on the publishers to submit their feeds in a way that makes the content look good).
  • Will it sell? Under the iRex brand, which is unknown to consumers, iRex will struggle to sell this device next to the better-known Sony products. (The New York Times reports that iRex tried to get B&N to agree to a co-branded device, but B&N would not agree–no surprise as we expect they're saving their name for their own device). BUT–in the long term, iRex is in a better position than any other company currently in the eReader mix to have a consumer-enterprise crossover product, like Research-In-Motion's Blackberry, or Apple's iPhone. Their experience in Europe puts them leagues ahead of other companies who'd like to get a piece of the as-yet-untapped enterprise eReader market.