Sure, you could read the news on a portable device from a seasoned tech company, like Apple. But why turn to Apple for technology when you could buy something built by Time Inc. and a cartel of other desperate magazines?

Time Inc. said earlier this year it wasn't planning to join the rush of old-media companies like News Corp. and Hearst who are developing their own e-readers. But now, according to documents obtained by NBC Bay Area, the company has plans to rush out a prototype by the end of this year, possibly in cooperation with a hardware partner:

"Whoever defines the interface wins," [an internal Time Inc.] slide concludes. A slide labeled "Key components to the winning model" includes... "product design" including "tools for research, design innovation and manufacturing," which suggests plans for a physical gadget; and a "consumer-facing brand" — a name for the device and service akin to Amazon's Kindle.

The company is also exploring a joint venture with Condé Nast, Meredith and Hearst, according to the documents.

It's easy to understand how an e-reader project would appeal to beleaguered magazine executives. While their industry is crumbling , analysts have estimated sales of 800,000 or more Amazon Kindle e-readers, and there is some evidence that device has goosed book sales.

But Amazon opened up a new market, taking books once available only physically and offering them via instant electronic purchase. Magazines are already available on the Web in a format superior to the e-book, complete with comments, videos and these things called hyperlinks. If Time Inc. wants a financially healthy future, it should focus on growing in that medium, which it already has some experience with, rather than on a brand-new hardware device far outside its core competency.

Grand gestures, in other words, are no substitute for the grinding work of real change; one would think a company owned by Time Warner, of all entities, would know that by now.

UPDATE: Peter Kafka at AllThingsD hears from Time Warner sources that the company does not want to get into the hardware business.

(Pic by Angel Leon)