China's Hanvon aims for Europe with e-readers

T-Mobile in Hungary is selling e-readers from Hanvon Technology, a Chinese device maker looking to break further into the e-reader market in Europe.

Hanvon, also called Hanwang, is also in talks about offering its e-readers through T-Mobile in other countries, through Orange in France and Sprint in the U.S., said Wang Bangjiang, general manager of Hanvon's e-book unit, in an interview. The company hopes to sell 300,000 or more of its e-readers outside China this year, Wang said.

The push is among the first efforts by a Chinese company to enter the Western e-reader market, which is dominated by Sony devices and the Amazon Kindle. Hanvon is displaying its products this week at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, where new e-readers unveiled by a range of companies have shown the hype around the devices. The Consumer Electronics Association this week predicted that e-reader sales, which it said doubled last year, will double again this year, showing why many companies want to replicate the Kindle's success.

The Hanvon e-reader offered in Hungary, its N516 model, comes with a 5-inch screen and costs about 60,000 forints (US$320). It went on sale last month. Like some other models on the market, many of Hanvon's e-readers also play songs, read text out loud and allow readers to scribble notes inside e-books on the screen using a stylus. Some retail partners outside China already distribute e-readers for Hanvon.

Hanvon itself will not offer e-books for download to its devices outside China, said Wang. Inside China, the company offers a relatively small download library and lets users download content from other sources. Hanvon says it is talking with the overseas carriers about offering 3G versions of its e-readers, which it does not yet offer in China.

Hanvon currently appears focused on Europe more than the U.S. The U.S. could be a more challenging market since it is home territory for the Kindle, though Hanvon devices would aim for buyers outside the Kindle's high-end market, said Wang.

"Competing with the Kindle in the U.S. itself could be difficult," said Wang.

Read more of our coverage of CES 2010.

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