The future may have arrived sooner than even I expected. According to BusinessWeek, Sony is set to introduce a new portable e-reader device at this week’s Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas that they hope will be to reading what the iPod is to music. Supposedly, they are proposing a complete, end-to-end solution, including a hand-held device and a software application similar to iTunes that provides downloading and syncing.

Sony has lined up major publishers to participate in the launch, including Simon & Schuster, Random House, and HarperCollins. Jane Friedman, CEO of HarperCollins, says she plans to digitize her entire catalog and make it available through Sony’s online store. This will happen as soon as HarperCollins finishes negotiating royalty rates with authors.

The thing that caught my eye in the BusinessWeek article was the description of the display:

According to sources who have seen the device, it is similar in many ways to the Japanese Librie. Both devices use E Ink, a display technology developed by E Ink Corp. in Cambridge, Mass.

E Ink forms text by electronically arranging thousands of tiny black and white capsules, creating an experience remarkably similar to reading a printed page. Unlike the liquid-crystal display screens used in personal digital assistants, there is no backlight to strain readers’ eyes, and characters show up sharp and clear, even in full sunlight. And since the gadget requires power only to “turn” pages, users should be able to read more than 15 books between charges.

Even if this doesn’t become the device that I predicted in my first post on this topic, this is definitely a story to watch. I think we are seeing the convergence of multiple interests that will eventually result in the right device.

Again, traditional books will not disappear any time soon, but a shift is coming. Count on it—and get ready.