Are printed books dead? God I hope so!

iRex : The iLiad
Digital written content can now be read as easily and conveniently as the printed word on paper. The iRex Technologies E-reader provides true reading comfort, flexibility and versatility. It can be read outdoors, in sunshine or shadow. As well as reading you can also write comments, mark or underline sections, for a true two-way paper experience. And all of this at the lowest power consumption.

The technology is finally here and I'm going to do my early adopter bit for the world of technology and buy this as soon as it is available in the UK. In fact, I've been trying to early-adopt a book reader but they always went out of business before I got around to it (like to rocket book), or were so moronically restrictive (like Sony's Librie). Finally, the e-Ink technology is mature enough to produce something that can be read almost as easily as if it were paper. The problem with current e-readers (like LCDs on laptops and PDAs) is that they have a pathetic resolution of 72dots-per-inch. It's basically fine but it doesn't feel like paper. iLiad (and e-paper in general) has a resolution of 160dpi which is very close the the output of a regular printer (well, not really but for most intents and purposes). It doesn't support color yet but that is the least important thing. If I want to read War and Peace on this or even a textbook (and I do), I want a good quality of the black and white letters to the exclusion of all other bells and whistles.
Now, I'm not predicting the death of the book. I'm predicting the eventual death of paper. Just like we don't use parchment any more, there's no need to wast trees on most written output. It will probably take decades but eventually e-paper will win over. It's won me over and it's not even available yet. Many things have come together to make a transition possible: minuturization, e-ink, and vast amounts of digitized books (from Amazon and Google to Guttenberg).

The only thing that will be hard to replicate (other than that seductive new book smell or the soothing used bookstore smell :"(Whatever happened to the idea of scent printers, by the way?)":) will be the leafing experience. It's a great way to scan through a whole book and can help one find things through association (it's a certain thickness into the book on the lower left portion of the page). But I will take the ability to electronically search, annotate, excerpt and bookmark at will over leafing and smell ANYTIME!!! Yes, I am that excited. iLiad looks great (although it will be expensive and hard to get) and Sony's reportedly getting ready to put out another eBook reader that will allow people to read their own documents in any format (unlike the utterly cretinous Librie which was only available in Japan where it deservedly failed - somebody at Sony's will hopefully suffer in hell for ruining such a brilliant piece of hardware through misguided greed). An update: Sony may yet redeem itself with this! But the first impression is very mixed. The official website on www.sony.com/reader is silent on features like searching and annotation and it seems that to get text onto the reader, it will have to be converted first, using Sony's software (which is probably not going to be very good). Plain text to read books from Project Gutenberg is also apparently not supported. Also no word on supporting some open DRM standard so that others could sell content for it. But having said that, I will probably buy it anyway, if it ever comes to the UK.

My prediction of the death of the book has no associated thought about implications for things like society, information sharing and literacy. By and large, I don't think that they will be particularly radical. The $100 laptop might have more of an impact.