The second generation Kindle is about to be released. With a current 230,000 titles available, and new titles being added continuously, it is designed to appeal to the (well-heeled) reader on the go. The Sony PRS-505 also offers a similar reading experience, although with fewer available titles. It’s not clear, however, whether these devices represent the arrival in the mainstream of the electronic book, or just another evolutionary niche, like the Softbook™, Rocket eBook™, Palm, Newton, and other devices that preceeded them over the last twenty years.
Reading online poses a number of technological challenges. Advances in technology such as touch screens, light-weight high-power computers, and bi-stable displays have periodically renewed interest in online reading over the last twenty years, only to see that interest decline to a small early-adopter community.
While these devices may be just right for those who want to read the latest Stephen King book, they ignore much of the kind of reading that happens in the office. This kind of active reading includes other related activities such as annotation, comparing multiple documents, transitions between reading, writing and retrieval, etc. Whether the current hardware will be successful in the long term may depend on its abilities to address the reading needs of knowledge workers, not just leisure readers.