Did the iPad Take Inspiration From the Sony Librie?

Did the iPad Take Inspiration From the Sony Librie?

Apple sold 43.6 million iPads worldwide throughout 2018. The product helped generate 6% of the company’s total revenue for the last quarter of that year.

Apple and its iPad are household names. You can do everything on an iPad from surf the web, read books, watch TV, work and more. It’s an efficient, portable tool to do almost anything you can do on your laptop or computer.

You may not have heard of the Sony Librie, but it’s known as the first e-ink reader. It was designed so readers could download digital versions of books, magazines, newspapers and more. What made it unique was its ability to mimic newsprint, even though it used a digital screen.

The Librie was released in 2004, and the first iPad was released six years later in 2010. Did the iPad take inspiration through the earlier Librie? Read more to find out how the two devices are related and what they offer for consumers.

What Is the Sony Librie?

The Sony Librie was released in 2004 as Sony’s first e-paper reader. It was the first of its kind to offer a fully digital reading experience for consumers. It offered an 800 x 600 screen resolution designed from plastic film.

To mimic a piece of paper, the screen displayed four shades of grey and only used power whenever the image changed on screen.

It had a 10 MB maximum memory, which could hold about 500 e-books. Readers could pay for books through a digital Sony digital bookstore, but most of the books were only available to rent and would expire after a set amount of days.

At the time, the Sony Librie cost about AUD 650, which is equivalent to about AUD 950 in 2020 with inflation. The price may seem steep, but it was appropriate for the time when computers, laptops, and other tech were just as pricey.

The Librie received recognition for its innovative design, but it never gained worldwide recognition. The device was only distributed in Japan and was eventually replaced with an updated model.

In 2006, Sony developed the PRS-500 to market and distribute throughout the world.

What Is the Apple iPad?

The first Apple iPad was released in 2010 and priced at AUD 800. It offered a 9.7-inch display with a few different storage options. Its maximum offering was significantly higher than the Sony Librie, at 64 GB. On its first day on the market, Apple sold more than 300,000 units.

When the founder of Apple, Steve Jobs, was still alive, he said the iPad was meant to “…put an incredibly great computer in a book that you can carry around with you and learn how to use in 20 minutes.”

The iPad has succeeded in fulfilling Steve Jobs’ original mission. With the current iPad Pro model, users can access most of the functionality of a computer.

For example, say you have an important Word document you’re working on from your office Mac. If you need to work from home, you can easily Airdrop the doc from your computer to your iPad.

From there, you can edit directly within your iPad’s version of Microsoft Word. If you need to pull up an Excel sheet to include data, you can pull up both apps at once. You can connect a keyboard to make it feel more like a laptop, or you can even dictate your notes and add them through voice.

Overall, the iPad has helped boost our personal and professional productivity. It provides a useful, on-the-go tool.

How Are the iPad and the Librie the Same?

The Librie was a Sony e-ink tablet designed for reading only. When it comes to functionality, the iPad and Librie both share this feature. On the iPad, users can download e-books through the Apple Books app. On the Librie, users used the Sony eBook Library.

The Librie and iPad also have similar designs. They’re both built to mimic the size of a large book, and they each use a rectangular screen. Both the Librie and iPad aim to make reading easier on a digital screen.

The Librie did this through a low-power screen that mimicked a newspaper. The iPad does this by allowing users to adjust brightness, font size, and screen colour.

Apple began to research and develop a tablet-like device back in the 1980s. With the Librie’s 2004 release, it’s likely that Sony began development around the same time, or at least began work in the ‘90s.

Despite their similarities, it’s clear that Apple was looking to provide something above and beyond an e-reader.

How Do the iPad and Librie Differ?

At the end of the day, the Apple iPad and Sony Librie have more differences than commonalities. Apple could have used the Sony Librie as design inspiration, but it was clearly developing a unique product. The Librie and iPad differ in overall design, functionality, features and more.

Controls and Screen Functionality

If the Librie was still around, we could hold both the Sony device and Apple iPad and immediately notice the differences.

To start, the Librie has a smaller screen with a physical keyboard at the bottom. All models of the iPad have included a touch-screen, and some have a single home button. The 2018 iPad Pro removed the home button, but it still included physical buttons to control volume and power.

In addition to the keyboard, the Librie included buttons for turning digital pages, adjusting volume and selecting different menu options. The Librie did not offer any touch capabilities.

Aside from functionality, the Librie’s screen also had a different design compared to the iPad. The plastic film screen was revolutionary for mimicking a piece of paper and making it easier for users to read on a screen. Since the iPad is designed for more uses than reading, it uses a traditional reflective glass LCD screen.

Some users may feel it’s harder to read, though Apple allows users to adjust screen brightness and screen size.

Integrations and Applications

When the Librie was released, it had a specific purpose for users to download books and reading material from the Sony eBook Library. It did not offer additional apps and integrations.

The Librie was especially unique in that it had a proprietary eBook format. Librie users could not read e-books from any other source.

In contrast, the Apple iPad was specifically designed to provide full integration for a variety of uses. When the iPad was first released, Apple already had a fully functional App Store. Through the App Store, users can download apps onto their iPads as long as they have the storage available.

Some popular apps include video streaming like Netflix, music streaming like Spotify, games like Fruit Ninja, and productivity apps like Microsoft Word.

Apple offers e-books through the Apple Books database, but this just one offering out of many other features.

Features and Specs

The Librie offered 10 MB of space for users to download and rent e-books. In comparison, the first Apple iPad could accommodate 64 GB of space. Though the devices came out six years apart, Apple offered a 540% increase in digital storage space. 

One key difference is also Apple’s increased options for e-books. With the Sony Librie, users could only download books through the Sony eBook Library, which was known for being limited. Furthermore, most books were only available to rent for 60 days.

Apple offers books to purchase and rent through the Apple Books database. Most books are available in the epub format, which is most common for e-readers. However, books are also available even if they’re pdfs or other file types.

Marketing and Distribution

If the Sony Librie was so revolutionary as an e-reader device, why didn’t it survive? There are a few reasons why the Apple iPad is a household name and the Librie isn’t.

For starters, Sony relied too much on the technology instead of the product. The Librie had an innovative screen that was perfect for reading, but it didn’t offer much more. Users didn’t like how limited the Sony eBook Library was, and it was even complicated to use.

The iPad was innovative technology, but it also helped fill a customer need. Consumers already wanted a way to bring their computers around with them. The Librie only offered a new way to read, but it didn’t solve a problem for consumers.

Sony’s other mistake with the Librie was offering limited distribution. This could have been due to budget restraints or the desire to test their offering first, but it may have cost them widespread recognition.

The Librie was only ever offered in Japan. For such an innovative device, the world never got to create viral excitement.

Do Australians Use the Sony Librie?

Australia never got to enjoy the Sony Librie since its lifespan was limited to Japan. After the Librie, Sony distributed other models of e-readers worldwide. This included the Sony PRS-500, Sony Touch Edition PRS-600, and Sony Daily Edition PRS-900.

When Sony stopped its e-reader development in 2014, it migrated its customer base to Kobo e-readers.

Currently, Australian readers can enjoy a variety of Australian-authored books through a Booktopia partnership with Kobo.

How Else Do Apple and Sony Compete?

Apple and Sony have been competitors in the tech space for decades, even before e-readers came to the market. The biggest way Sony and Apple competed was through their computers and mobile devices.

It seems that the Sony Librie's true competitor was the Amazon Kindle. In fact, the Kindle possibly took more inspiration from the Librie's unique screen functionality than any other device!

Though Apple may have taken some limited design inspiration from Sony’s Librie, it managed to come out on top with a unique product. The Apple iPad combines most of the features of an e-reader with the added functions of a small laptop.

Apple is known for its fast, easy-to-use desktop Macs and Macbook laptops. Sony historically offered laptops and PCs through the VAIO brand. VAIO is still a brand, but Sony sold it in 2014 after limited sales.

Currently, Sony sells smartphones through the Xperia brand. Their phones are known for HD screen resolution and powerful systems. Apple is widely known for its iPhone, which billions of people own worldwide. In comparison, Sony’s phones and Xperia accessories offer a similar quality experience at a lower price point.

Sony and Apple also compete through other mobile devices, such as smartwatches. Apple’s latest smartwatch is the Apple Watch Series 5, which is fully customizable. Sony’s latest model is the Sony SmartWatch 3.

Interested in an iPad or Librie?

The Sony Librie is no longer available on the market. Sony has completely shuttered its business in the e-reader market. In 2014, Sony migrated all its e-reader users to the Kobo network of downloadable e-books and products.


Currently, the iPad is on its 21st model, the third-generation iPad Pro. You can purchase an iPad and iPad accessories online at the Apple store or through a variety of online retailers like Mobile Mob. You can also pick up an iPad at most big-box retailers like Jbhifi, Target or Harvey Norman.

If you are looking for something exactly like the Sony Librie, you may be better suited to an Amazon Kindle, a Barnes and Noble Nook, or a Kobo. These devices use a similar screen technology that’s specific to reading and easier on the eyes than an iPad might be.

For more content about tech and digital devices, visit our shop at Mobile Mob. We also offer products and accessories for Apple, Fitbit, Garmin, Samsung and more.

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