Excitement over the new trend toward smartwatches seems to be reaching a crescendo, with Apple’s rumored iWatch supposedly due to debut in 2014, while Sony brings out the latest generation of its less-than-rhapsodically-received Android SmartWatch series, startup Pebble retails its own customizable e-paper watch, and almost every device vendor from Microsoft and Samsung on down is supposedly working on touch-sensitive wearable devices.

But could you read a book on one?


Hardware shouldn’t be much of a barrier, in principle. Memory, battery life, display technology, and touchscreen interactivity have long ago converged at the point where something at least as capable as a Nook Simple Touch could be fitted into a wrist-portable format.

Wireless and Bluetooth connectivity to allow online downloading of e-book titles is likewise hardly much of an issue now. The Android-powered TV sticks from manufacturers like Rikomagic drive full-size displays and deliver an experience close to tablet quality off hardware that is easily the right size, if not exactly the right shape, to fit on your wrist. Devices like the Androidly are already exploiting this capability—though perhaps the design needs a little more work.

Software is also not much of a hurdle.

Off-the-shelf e-reading clients from Kindle on down are freely available for Android, and most have a memory and performance footprint that could easily be accommodated in a wrist-worn device.

Sony’s SmartWatch already runs a cut-down version of Android, with a slew of apps available for it on the Play Store. And as for Apple, its iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano have been nudging the smartwatch category for years—helped on by accessory designers who were eager to turn the sixth-generation Nano especially into a smartwatch with funky wristbands.

Indeed, some critics dissed Apple for not leading a smartwatch revolution earlier. Almost any existing iOS e-book reading software could conceivably be shoehorned into something the size of a sixth-generation Nano.

But size and form factor is still likely to be the sticking point. Would wearers really be comfortable reading an actual book on such a small screen? Not to mention the effort of holding the wrist to your face for long periods of time. Because there seems to be an emerging consensus on 1.5 inches as the most likely screen size for the new crop of smartwatches.

The smallest common traditional book size was the sextodecimo format, at three inches by two inches. Yes, some smartwatch owners might choose to try to read on a screen half this size—it might just be bearable. But comfortable? Let alone a new preferred format for e-readers?

Sextodecimo size, courtesty of Adrian Harrington Rare Books

To my mind, the more interesting possibility is the development of new bendable smartphones that fit around wrists, then expand into other larger form factors when desired.

The Limbo smartwatch concept is just one example of where this could go. Technology and designers’ fertile imaginations should be able to come up with many more. Either way, I do expect to see something like this as an e-reading device sooner or later—but likely not crammed into a 1.5-inch iWatch screen.



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