AT THE END of my earlier post on eBook readers I mentioned the trademark "iBook". This, of course, resides in Cupertino. Surely a 2010 iBook could eclipse the generic eBook and turn Apple into a major electronic book vendor? Sadly, there appear to be no rumours or hints that Apple are considering such a product.
In the meantime, though, the iPhone and iPod Touch offer a very reasonable ebook reading experience that is often overlooked. They are both much smaller devices, of course, but the difference in page size is not as great as you might imagine when you strip away all the buttons and paraphernalia of the Kindle or even on the Sony. On the iPhone (using the free Stanza reader for iPhone), the type area of a page is 37 sq cm compared with 66 on the Sony. So the iPhone reader gives 56% of the area of the Sony despite being well under half the overall size.
After trying several readers for the iPhone, I settled on Stanza which, I think, gives the best experience and usability. Using Stanza, reading a book is enjoyable and problem-free. The backlit iPhone screen offers good visibility in all light conditions (unlike the Sony and Kindle which rely on natural light, just the same as a paper book) and the page-turn is easier and more intuitive than using the buttons on the dedicated readers. Making use of the iPhone touch screen, the page turn on Stanza is accomplished by a simple swipe across the screen.
I would be totally happy with Stanza on the iPhone if it were not for one snag. The backlit screen means shorter battery life. And with the iPhone being used for email, Safari and a dozen other must-have applications, the battery life is becoming a major problem. In contrast, the Sony lasts weeks on one charge. This is because there is no power use when reading or displaying a page.
The only drain on the battery comes from changing pages. For this reason alone, it is difficult to imagine any handheld with backlit screen providing a real challenge to the likes of Kindle or the Sony reader. Equally, I cannot envisage an iPhone with an e-ink screen because of the (current) slowness and lack of backlighting.
So the rumoured Apple "netbook" is unlikely to provide a complete answer and encourage me to turn away from the Sony. Instead, the only course open to Apple would be to produce a dedicated book reader with e-ink technology for long battery life. I still think this is a strong possibility within the next two years. At the moment Apple must surely be monitoring the growth of the eBook market and will see the advantages of combining their own dedicated reader with an iTunes book store.
With increasing emphasis on convergence–using one device for all purposes–I can foresee a time when a slightly larger version of the iPod Touch could answer the need for a device which would combine web-browsing, applications, games, mail and all the iPhone stuff with a really handy book reader.