I thought I'd expand a little on my description of my ultimate eBook product. I've put quite a lot of thought into this over the past year or so, and come up with what I think could be a great little piece of hardware.
The basic form-factor would be something like the iPhone/iPod Touch, but with a screen around the size of a sheet of paper. Personally, I think A4 would be a good size for it, although I'm sure there would be plenty of Americans then annoyed by the fact that it's the 'wrong' proportions (A4 does have the benefit of being pretty much exactly the same size as my MacBook though, which is nice). I see no particular reason that it couldn't be as thin as an iPhone, especially with all that area in which to spread out the innards. For the most part it would be relatively in-extraordinary: eInk touchscreen (ideally in color, but that might be pushing it a bit for our current eInk technology), some decent amount of storage for files (1 GB maybe? More?), WiFi, a web-browser (makes it very easy to implement my eBook store idea I posted about before), and the ability to view a variety of file formats like plaintext (really stretching it there, I know), RTF, PDF, &c. I think my eBook store idea would be a pretty-near killer app for it, but the real kicker, in my opinion is bluetooth.
Not just bluetooth, or course. What I want is the ability to pair it with my computer so that I can essentially use it as a second screen for viewing documents. What I envision is this. At it's most basic, you pair the device with your computer over bluetooth and it shows up on your desktop giving your normal filesystem access to put files on it and organize them as you see fit. However it does much more than that. It also gives you a new application that can open all the file formats that the device can display. If you have a Mac you can either put this app in your Dock and drag files to it to be opened, or set that app as the default file handler for PDFs and/or other filetypes. When you open a file with this new app the file doesn't display on your computer screen, it displays on the reader. Basically the reader becomes a second monitor for viewing content that lives on your computer
. It should have a similar function that ties into the web browser on your computer so you can just click a button or hit a keystroke and the website that you're currently viewing on your computer comes up on your reader.
For me, this would be huge. When I take my laptop off to a cafe or wherever to work I either have to lug around hard copies of any relevant documentation up to and including large reference books like The Django Book
. My only other option is to use electronic references which, while more than adequate and sometimes even better for conveying the necessary information, take up quite a bit of real estate on my MacBook's 14.1" screen (or even on my iMac's 24" screen since I usually have anywhere from 5-10 windows of code open). If I had a product such as this I could just double-click my documentation PDF or eBook (many reference books now come with an eBook version) and it will pop up on my reader where I can reference it exactly as I would a piece of paper. True a conventional eBook reader would be able to fill the same function in many ways, but this functionality would significantly simplify the process and allow me to use the more functional interface provided by a full computer. It allows you to simply double-click a file on your computer to open it, and then walk away with the document in hand to read on your way to a meeting or to peruse over lunch. Basically it completes the metaphor of files on your computer and lets you physically handle them as if you'd just pulled them out of a file cabinet.
The really cool thing about this idea is that we could have it tomorrow. It would only be a software update for the iPhone or iPod Touch (plus the attending local app) to make this a reality. It probably wouldn't be particularly hard to do either. If they wanted to, I bet Apple could give us this capability in the next update. Using the small iPhone screen wouldn't be quite as good, but it would be a start and I, for one, would use it extensively.