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A mobile bookshelf

There’s more to electronic books than meets the eye. Nevertheless, the technology is about to hit the mainstream. By Graham Pitcher.

Until recently, the only way we could find things out was to use books. You had to go to the library and consult an encyclopaedia or wade through shelves of reference material. If you were lucky, you had those books at home. Then came the internet. Now, if we want to know something, we ‘google’ it.
But books remain the repository of our knowledge. Books are, in general, treated with respect – we handle them carefully, we don’t break their spines by folding them, we don’t ‘dog ear’ the pages instead of using a bookmark. Burning books is a symbolic action; destroy a book and you destroy original thought.
Whilst Google and other search engines may have displaced books for reference purposes, books remain ‘front and centre’ when it comes to leisure. And there’s nothing like an ‘airport novel’ for those long flights.
But that could be about to change with the appearance of ‘e-books’. There’s nothing new in reading a book on a pc screen; even on a pda. But pcs and pdas aren’t natural ways of displaying book pages – they’re the wrong shape for a start. The e-book is set to solve that dilemma, presenting book pages as you would expect to see them, allowing you to ‘turn’ pages and, importantly, giving you access to a library from a single device.
On first sight, an e-book doesn’t seem to be a particularly demanding piece of technology. HP Labs in Bristol has been working on e-books for some time now (see NE, 14 October 2003) and the fruits of its labours are getting ever closer to commercialisation.

Author
Graham Pitcher

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