The iPad and Kindle need to be reconsidered in order for e-reader devices to maintain popularity and relevance, an Australian web designer has warned. Speaking at the OZ-IA Conference in Sydney, Matt Balara addressed a group of information architects on the topic of ebooks, saying that while both devices have been largely successful, e-reader developers need to broaden their horizons.

“The thing I’m hoping for and dreaming about is full colour, touchscreens. When we have that, we’ll have all of the advantages of all of these [e-reader devices]," he said. “If the Kindle displayed really good images and had a touchscreen, we’d have all of the advantages of the iPad without the negatives.”

Balara said technologists must move to a new paradigm instead of viewing ebook readers as only a digital version of the paperback.

“Whether you put the content on a Kindle or on an iPad, the content hasn’t changed, it’s still essentially plain text,” he said. “Almost all ebooks with traditional text are HTML and XHTML, so you could essentially read them as pages on a web browser. So far, everybody who has made an ebook for the main forms of ebook readers we have, have just made these with simple pages.”

Balara said that while the iPad has been a largely successful device, the iBook app hasn’t made any new developments in ebook technology.

“The iPad is actually horrifying if you have any kind of understanding of graphic design at all,” he said. “They’ve translated it into something that’s theoretically a book, but they didn’t think any further about it than saying ‘this is an ebook’ – the late 90s have called and they want their page flip back.”

Balara said the developers behind ebook readers must move away from the traditional view of what books are by developing a new paradigm around the devices. “It’s good when people create ebooks around their idea of what ebooks are compared to basing it around what regular books are.”

Looking at the ebook reader in a traditional paradigm is only one part of the problem, according to Balara, who said the devices usually sit outside mainstream web 2.0 consumption.

“One of the biggest problems with ebooks at the moment is that most live in the outer darkness of the internet,” he said. “How cool would it be if you could see how a person wanted you to read an ebook? Or if you could see what your friend was reading?”

Balara’s insights come as recent reports indicate that the iPhone 4, iPad and Android are overtaking the BlackBerry in popularity as enterprise devices.