ASUS popularized the netbook phenomenon with its Eee PC, after OLPC had created the category. Now, the company wants to do the same thing with ebook readers, a category that Amazon and Sony have pioneered and turned into a niche market in recent years.

According to a report on Monday in The Times of London, the ASUS e-book (which was first announced at CeBIT in March) is on tap to be released before the end of 2009 and will cost much less than Amazon’s $300 Kindle. The Times reported the ASUS device will likely be priced around 100 British pounds (about $150 US dollars).

According to The Times:

Unlike current ebook readers, which take the form of a single flat screen, the Asus device has a hinged spine, like a printed book. This, in theory, enables its owner to read an ebook much like a normal book, using the touchscreen to “turn” the pages from one screen to the next. It also gives the user the option of seeing the text on one screen while browsing a web page on the other. One of the screens could also act as a virtual keypad for the device to be used like a laptop. Whereas current ebook readers have monochrome screens, the Asus would be full colour. The maker says it may also feature “speakers, a webcam and a mic for Skype”, allowing cheap phone calls over the internet.

ASUS has said, “Our ethos is innovation – as our brand is less well known, we have to run faster than the competition to develop new types of products. Any such product – including an ereader – has to have the right combination of functionality and price.”

In terms of running faster than the competition, the ASUS device could potentially preempt a similar device that Apple is expected to announce in early 2010. What makes this even more interesting is that there was a 2007 rumor that ASUS was helping Apple build a tablet device. Since Steve Jobs has reportedly killed the tablet project twice before, it’s possible to conjecture that Apple is now building a tablet on its own while ASUS took its earlier designs and developed its own product.

At $150, it’s doubtful that an ASUS ebook would include a 3G cellular connection like the Amazon Kindle and the forthcoming high-end Sony ebook (or an Apple device, which would presumably have 3G and connect to iTunes). That could limit the appeal of the ASUS device because Amazon’s Whispernet is its killer feature, allowing consumers to buy ebooks from anywhere and without a connection to a computer.