BY SEAN CLARK

For the last few weeks the internet has been atwitter with rumors of Apple’s foray into the world of ebooks with a “Kindle killer.” Officially there is no such thing, but the rumors (which began with a BusinessWeek report of Apple shopping device prototypes to Verizon) seem to have reach a point of solvency, and it seems now to be a matter of when and not if.

Believe it or not, Apple is already a major ebook player, thanks to the iPhone. eBook apps currently make up more than 10% of App Store downloads. It also appears to be the fastest growing category in the service, and a distribution leg they are looking to improve upon. A bigger device would definitely make reading on such apps more enjoyable. I don’t mind reading on my iPhone in short bursts, though I get a lot of “how can you see that?” remarks over my shoulder, so some people clearly mind.

The 10 inch size could prove cumbersome (as some geeks–Macheads according to Nico–discuss here) though not necessarily more so than an ereader. However, who will have the need for both an iPhone and a bigger, tablet-sized iPhone? Users will need a good  reason for toting this thing around. Becuase of this, a fully functional OS will be necessary. The iPhone 3.0 OS likely won’t cut it. However, 3G access to email, newspapers, blogs, office documents, and remote desktop capabilities through a more malleable (or at least larger) interface than the iPhone could prove worth lugging around. A small hybrid tablet netbook with the intuitivness users expect from Apple products could prove a viable contender for commuters’ carry space.

From an ereader perspective, a backlit, iPhone-like display is clearly a let down. A device with color eInk from Apple would be awesome, but it’s just not in the cards. With iTunes Store making plenty of money from ebooks and newspaper app but far more so from video, music, and game downloads, they’d be crazy to put out a media device that ignores a portion of their product line (Shuffle aside). So while Apple’s new media pad (assuming it’s real) isn’t any more of an ereader than the iPhone is, it could provide a more comfortable read than the iPhone offers while still doing a lot of multimedia tasks that the Kindle cannot. So “Kindle killer” (and by inference ereader killer) is probably not the case, but Apple’s plan to sit out the fighting and collect table scraps has worked well so far, and by keeping the new device multifunctional (rather than just an ereader or a portable video player) could get them one step closer to gadgetry ubiquity. Now if only they’d make a dedicated ereader too.

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