| The Sony Reader displayed at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas. (Reuters)
Las Vegas, Jan. 7: The printed page is facing its biggest threat with the launch of the first electronic book that people can read for hours without straining their eyes.
Sony’s Reader is the size of a slim paperback but can store hundreds of books at a time. When the cover is lifted, books are displayed on a sheet of electronic “paper”, one page at a time.
Sony launched its Reader at the Consumer Electronics Fair in Las Vegas. Although electronic books, or e-books, have been around for several years, previous versions, using LCD screens, have never caught on. The biggest complaint is that readers’ eyes quickly become tired from the glare and flicker of the conventional computer screen.
However, the Reader displays its text on a page of high resolution electronic paper which is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.
Electronic paper also needs relatively little power, so the life of a battery should not be a problem.
Sony believes that the invention could do for reading what the iPod has done for listening to music. It is selling books for the Reader from its online shop Connect.
Dan Brown, the author of The Da Vinci Code, is an enthusiast. “It is not about replacing books,” he said. “But e-books offer features that traditional books cannot.” For example, rather than carrying several books while travelling, owners of a Reader need take only one on holiday. “If I want a new book, I can download it instantly online even if it is two in the morning,” Brown said. It takes only seconds to download a book.
Brown said that students would soon be able to carry all their books with them and ensure that they always had the most up-to-date edition.
Eventually, he thought, the lower costs of publishing e-books would encourage publishers to take risks on lesser known authors. “The effect of this is that there will be more books in print and more choice for readers,” he said.
The Reader is expected to go on sale in America in April at between $300 and $400. It should arrive in Britain soon afterwards.
Owners will be able to buy books from Sony’s online store, download them to a computer and transfer them to their Reader.
They will also be able to download free any books that are out of copyright.
The gadget is designed to be held in one hand and the pages are “turned” at the press of a button. It can also display drawings and pictures and the text can be enlarged up to 200 per cent to make it easier for readers with poor sight.
Sony says the rechargeable battery will power 7,500 page turns between charges.
The page is made from millions of tiny capsules, suspended in a transparent liquid coating a plastic film.
The capsules contain positively charged white particles and negatively charged black ones. Depending on what type of charge is applied to the page, the white or black particles move to the surface of the capsule, forming images.
The first version can display text and pictures in black and white only, but a colour model is likely to follow.
Ron Hawkins, a marketing executive at Sony, said: “In recent years, millions of people have become comfortable downloading and enjoying digital media, including e-books, but until now there has not been a good device on which to read.
“Our research has shown that people are looking for a device designed exclusively for immersive reading. The Sony Reader, with its electronic paper display, thin format and extraordinary battery life, fits the bill.”
Electronic paper is also likely to be used in other devices such as mobile telephones. Philips has invented a flexible form that can be rolled up.