When I get the chance I love reading books. I tend to like science fiction, business, and technical computer books. I like both physical books and kindle type books. I can read on my iPhone or even my computer but prefer dedicated purpose “physical” books. Books, however, are holdovers. They are holdovers from thousands of years of paper writing/printing. Regardless of whether handwritten characters, printing press, or characters based, books/magazines are still a big way to provide information to people.
Books are not the most efficient reading mechanism. In fact, they are physically draining for people's eyes. They slow down reading due to their layout either in terms of pages or the lines of text on a page. This became more apparent to me in talking to an eye doctor about patients whose eyes had tracking problems. Unlike most people, these patients’ eyes could not move well from left to right and/or top to bottom on the page. To solve this a special computer program was made to display 1-4 words in a single fixed center display location at a certain speed. Without going into detail this fixed position cycling text display method made reading possible for the patients. It also, for many, provided the ability to read much faster, words per minute, as they did not have to move their eyes.
When I think about this from the computer science point of view this eye movement is comparable to the hard disk arm moving around to access data on a spinning disk (seek time). The arm is always moving to access the right track on the spinning disk. The movement take time and energy. Reading, as we do today, is the same. It's quite inefficient and takes energy and drains the eyes. If we were to develop a device that had a screen with one line of around 15 to 20 characters we could have an efficient reading device. People would have a fixed position with cycling text to read on the device. Like the software program, they would read faster, have less eye strain, and still get all the same information as they would using the archaic old-style books.
The device itself could be extremely small, about the size of your thumb. With current flash technology, this little new eBook could still contain an enormous collection of books/information. With natural language processing, this small device would not require complex buttons/screens to manipulate which story/page etc…you are reading. Natural language would make this small form factor book practical and usable with voice alone. This new small book device with a small screen would also be very inexpensive and use minimal power. This implies individuals could be more careless with the new book device. Why does less expensive matter? It makes it on par with real paper books vs iPad/Kindles. You can imagine having more than one of these devices and not having to worry about it as much.
To experiment and test the fixed position/speed idea I created a webpage that cycles through words at different speeds at a fixed position/characters. Without a scientific study, I found that reading 1200 words per minute was possible fairly easily and 500 words per minute using this method was trivial. I think the huge inefficiency held over from thousands of years of paper and the eye mechanics can be taken away using this new method/device. It would be cool.
Obviously, there will be some books with pictures or information that might not apply to this device. People, including myself, who have a history of physical book-sized things, will make it more difficult to transition. If the device can be done inexpensively, easily and with natural language it will be successful.