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A concept device demoed at CeBit. Credit: Asus.

Asus appears set to shake up the e-reader market with a cheap, netbook-inspired reading device that resembles an ordinary book. A concept system (shown here) has a folding spine, allowing users to read by holding it like a regular book. But flipping it over brings up a touchscreen keyboard so that it could be used to browse the web or send email.

The news is significant because Asus helped reshape the laptop market by introducing the first Netbook–the Eee PC–in late 2007. The Taiwanese company may be hoping to derail Amazon’s and Sony’s plans to dominate the e-reader market by introducing another innovative and low-cost device.

The Times of London reports that Asus is working on two e-reader devices with the more expensive one resembling the folding two-screen concept device shown above, which Asus demoed this year at CeBit:

Asus claims its ebook reader will be cleverer and more versatile than the current crop available from companies such as Sony and Amazon […] Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the internet.

Meanwhile, a cheaper, simpler version dubbed the Eee Reader could cost as little as $165, according to the same report. The company has also been soliciting feedback from users on this kind of touch-screen technology via this website.

If the cheaper e-reader also comes with a color screen and web-browsing capabilities it’d be difficult to see many people choosing a more expensive black-and-white device, even if it does come with easier-to-read electronic ink.

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Tagged: Computing, media, mobile devices, e-readers, e-paper, Kindle, e-book, netbooks, asus

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