It has been dubbed an 'iPod moment' for the electronic book as Amazon launches Kindle 2, the successor to its popular ebook reader.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces Kindle 2 electronic reader at news conference in New YorkPhoto: REUTERS
The Kindle, a paperback-sized gadget, which sells for $359 (£240), lets users download books, newspapers and blogs onto a high-resolution screen with a white background and black text - imitating the look of a real book.
It's successor, the sleek Kindle 2 is as thin as an HB pencil, comes with inbuilt speakers and expanded 2GB memory - so it can hold more than 1,500 books, compared with 200 with the original Kindle.
However, British consumers may have to wait to get their hands on it. So far, the Kindle has only been available to US shoppers, although analysts expect the device to go on sale in Europe later this year.
Amazon has invested in Kindle in the belief that more people will want to read books electronically.
The revamped model includes a new "Text-to-Speech" facility that converts words on a page to spoken word so consumers have the option to read or listen. The price will be the same as Kindle 1.
Users can currently download most best-sellers on the Kindle for $9.99 (£6.70). It even boasts "a high-resolution 6-inch electronic paper display that looks and reads like real paper".
Kindle 1 was limited to US-only sales but, despite this limitation, analysts estimated that Amazon sold 500,000 during 2008.
It is on track to clock more than $US1.2 billion (£800 million) in e-book-related sales this year. It has already sold 32 per cent more units than Apple's iPod sold in its debut year and is popular with celebrities. Oprah Winfrey called it her "favorite new gadget".
The company has made 230,000 titles available on the Kindle, which can download books wirelessly.
The average Kindle user buys around 1.6 electronic books for every traditional book they buy.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon.com founder and CEO said: "Kindle 2 is everything customers tell us they love about the original Kindle, only thinner, faster, crisper, with longer battery life, and capable of holding hundreds more books. If you want, Kindle 2 will even read to you - something new we added that a book could never do.
"While we're excited about Kindle 2, we know that great hardware is useless without vast selection. That's why the Kindle Store offers customers over 230,000 books."
Author Stephen King announced that will be releasing a novella called "Ur" which will only be available on Kindle.
However, Amazon is under pressure to open up its e-reading technology beyond its own reader following Google's decision to make 1.5 million public-domain books available on a new Google e-book reader for iPhone and Android G1 phones.
Amazon spokesman Drew Herdener said they were working on making Kindle books available "on a range of mobile phones."
The company is not yet saying when the books will be available, or on which phones.
Another e-book provider, Mobipocket, which is owned by Amazon, already sells titles that can be read on several smart phones.
Joe Minihane, News Editor at Stuff.tv said: "The Kindle 2 looks amazing, the big problem is that it's not coming out over here yet. Amazon would be mad not to launch it here.
"It is such a slick package, it's thinner than iPhone and its fairly light and really robust like a book which is appealing."
But he added: "Wirelessly delivered newspapers is really the key - more so than books - which can still be expensive."
The Kindle 2 is thin, fast, and far better than reading from a computer screen but does Amazon's new eBook beat a real book? Tom Leonard beats the crowds in New York to have a look.
The new Amazon Kindle 2.0 Photo: GETTY
If this is the future of literature, then I can only say I'm very glad I didn't drop it. More illuminated medieval manuscript than airport novel, the wafer-thin Kindle 2 sits in your hand like a small, fragile bird. Wrap this one up in your beach towel and forget about it at your peril.
Amazon calls the flat panel its "purpose-driven reading device" but it's hard to work out whether it's really a book designed by a computer lover or a computer designed by a book lover.
In its monochrome simplicity – white surround, grey screen, black text – seems to be saying that it wants to be a book. But its technical wizardry – the 60-second internet synching and built-in dictionary - speaks instead of its computer aspirations.
Fans of iPods, iPhones and BlackBerrys will be reassured by the tininess of the buttons and the six-inch diameter screen. The keyboard appears to have been designed for a dormouse.
But it is quick. I was able to download (for the price of $9.99) a copy of the popular novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in about 30 seconds. If I wanted to break off and, say, peel potatoes, the Kindle could read to me in a voice like a speeded up Stephen Hawking. Fine for a text book, maybe, but not Gone With The Wind.
The page turning button works smoothly but, personally, I'd rather see more than four paragraphs on the page at a time. The literary experience becomes something like reading a rather long text message, and then another, and another.
But – and it's an important but – it is much more pleasant than reading from a computer. There is virtually no screen glare and there are 16 shades of grey for background.
Optimistically for publishers and writers, you can see why fans say it has encouraged them to read more widely. For those who won't miss the feel, the weight and – of course – the smell of a book, Kindle may do the trick.