Summer holiday time is here, so is your suitcase crammed with books to read as you laze in the sun?
Next year, you could be able to save a tree or two and carry up to 10 electronic books in a piece of hardware about the size of a sturdy paperback.
A well-heeled Silicon Valley start-up called Nuvomedia will next month begin beta testing Rocketbook with 200 customers, who will weight the pros and cons of carrying books around on a personal digital assistant-style device. The 20-ounce handheld information appliance can hold at least 4,000 pages (about 10 novels) of text and graphics at a time.
The Rocketbook comes with 20-hour battery life and encryption software that allows users to download entire books from the Internet. And being digital, the books saved on Rocketbook can be browsed, searched, annotated, highlighted, and referenced in ways impossible with a paper book.
"Because the Rocketbook fits transparently into an existing publishing model, we've received nearly universal support from publishers, most of whom want to make their books available for the Rocketbook," said Martin Eberhard, founder and CEO of Nuvomedia.
US giant bookseller Barnes and Noble and Bertelsmann Ventures, a division of German publisher Bertelsmann, are strategic partners and investors in Nuvomedia.
The Rocketbook uses the Web for access to online bookstores. It requires a cradle attached to a PC and a power connection. When Rocketbook is placed on the cradle, it automatically charges the battery and connects the device to the PC. Using a Web browser users can locate, download and organize a personal library.
Historically, electronic publishing has not been readily accepted by either publishers or readers, partly for cultural reasons, partly because the tools for distribution have been non-existent, too expensive or have undermined the protection of the publisher's intellectual property.
Nuvomedia claims its World Wide Web distribution network, encryption technology and secure reading device will solve the publishing industry's concerns about controlling and protecting content.
But analysts remain sceptical. Rob Enderle, an analyst at Giga Information Group, wondered whether consumers would pay for the service, as books in the public domain can also be downloaded from the Internet. "I have no idea if these devices will succeed or fail," he said.
Rocketbook will be available in the US in October-November with plans for international distribution to follow in 1999. No prices have been set but estimates are in the $300 range.
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