Rubicon SmartBook – eBook reader – 1997 prototype

The brainchild of David Collins, the Rubicon SmartBook was a groundbreaking concept conceived in Australia just one year after Windows 95 was released. One design parameter was that the SmartBook was to look, feel and smell like a book.

What: Smartbook was designed to be a self contained electronic book (eBook) reader and content manager that could connect to the internet to provide the user access to eBooks, newspaper and other digital content.

Technology Challenge: To build a handheld reader with touch screen capability and handwriting technology offering 4 plus hours battery life weighing under 800 grams for under $1000 USD. By comparison, laptops were priced from $2200, battery technology primitive by today’s standard with laptops lucky to run for 100 minutes on battery and weighing 2500 plus grams.

Product Challenge: The concept was radical with a price point well below comparable technologies. eBooks were relatively new, so the concept of a portable eBook reader was was even less understood. To productise SmartBook required a complete rethink of production, design, content acquisition, distribution and support.

Result: A prototype was produced in 1997. The original design was based on a two screen model (remember it was to look like a book) running a StrongARM Atom processor and using monochrome cholesteric displays. The display technology allowed the rendered page to remain on screen even when the power was turned off. A complete content management, publish and subscribe system was developed. Two SmartBook users could be attending a meeting, one user recording the minutes by handwritten notes and the minutes rendered on the second users SmartBook in real time. A single screen model was on the drawing board which was in concept a forerunner of the modern iPAD.

Associates: Adobe, Motorola, Carnegie Mellon University

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