It has become the favourite gadget of celebrities from Jennifer Aniston to Cameron Diaz and has even won the valuable Oprah Winfrey seal of approval. The object in question is the Kindle (Amazon's electronic book reader).
While not yet available in the UK, Amazon's Kindle eBook reader has spawned an industry in the US expected to be worth more than $1bn within the next few years.
However, it is last week's announcement of this summer's launch of Kindle DX that is really expected to take the world by storm. The device has a 9.7-inch screen, almost four inches bigger than the standard Kindle, and is aimed at the newspaper and textbook market. At a cost of $489 (£325), 3500 books can be stored on its 3.3GB internal memory.
While I'm not saying this device on its own is going to be the force that saves the declining newspaper market, the industry is pinning some hopes on its success. Struggling titles such as The New York Times and the Boston Globe are supporters. Pilot schemes due for launch this summer will offer reduced-price, long-term eReader subscriptions to readers who live in areas where home-delivery is not available.
The UK newspaper industry will no doubt look closely at uptake in the US in anticipation of a launch here.
The ease of having newspapers digitally downloaded on a daily basis could drive readership. There will be no more struggling to open pages on the commute to work, and no queuing to buy a daily paper.
For advertisers, the absence of print could mean cheaper advertising and, as the technology develops over the next few years, there will no doubt be potential for video or interactive ads.
With people outside newspaper distribution zones being encouraged to sign up to eReader subscriptions, this could be a chance to target bigger audiences.
But it is the introduction of colour digital-reading devices that will provide real opportunities to advertisers. Fujitsu recently launched the first colour eBook reader and others will follow. A colour reader is also likely to open up the device to the troubled magazine industry.
The textbook market is where the Kindle DX is expected to have most success and it is being taken incredibly seriously by educational publishers. Instead of carrying a heavy bag of books, students will need only a single device. Moreover, the likely development of interactive features means students could, for example, be given video demos of science experiments.
Advertisers looking for exposure to this young market of future professionals could sponsor digital textbooks, or provide vouchers and offers for restaurants and attractions.
Elsewhere in the books market, digital cookery books could be sponsored by a supermarket or food brand, or the Haynes car manuals might be sponsored by Halfords.The potential for hyperlinks in future devices also means you could click on a car part in the Haynes manual and order it directly from Halfords.
The eBook reader is unlikely to cause most of us to abandon the musty odour of a good novel or piles of Sunday newspapers on the breakfast table. Where the digital reader is likely to find most success is for those seeking a compact solution.
Legal and technological issues here - such as the minefield of mobile operators in Europe compared with the US - have held back a Kindle launch in the UK. However, if launched this year, it has a good chance of becoming this year's must-have Christmas gift.
Amanda Andrews is media editor at The Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and telegraph.co.uk
30 seconds on eBook readers
- eBooks are said to be easier on the eye for reading than a computer screen as they have no flicker or backlight.
- Most eReaders offer only black-and-white text and diagrams, but Fujitsu has just launched a colour version. It costs about $1000.
- Sony's eReader costs about £200. It is smaller than a large-format paperback and holds up to 160 eBooks. The average battery life allows about 7000 page-turns. It offers links to Waterstones library of 10,000 eBooks.
- Amazon offers a range of eBook readers called Kindle, none of which is available in the UK. The first of these was launched in 2007.
- At the time, Amazon's Kindle Store had more than 88,000 digital titles available for download; it now has more than 275,000 including
- The New York Times' Best Sellers list.
- The Kindle 2, which was launched this year, is just over 1/3 inch thick and holds about 1500 titles.
- 3G wireless technology now enables users to download books direct to the Kindle.