I avoided saying anything about the new Apple iPad yesterday because I didn’t want to be part of the horde—or is that herd? Anyway, I want one.
Some people sniffed because it doesn’t do this, doesn’t do that, doesn’t make the morning coffee or turn down the bed at night. It’s designed to sit between smart phones and laptops, but not to replace either. Shortcomings? Wait for the inevitable ad-ons and third-party enhancements.
Some complained that it’s basically a big iPod Touch—I certainly hope so. I love my iPod Touch—far more than I probably should—because it’s the single most useful bit of new (to me) technology I’ve ever had. The only trouble is that the small screen is hard for my aging eyes to see. Add a bunch of new functions and you’ve got my dream device. I don’t need a powerful computer (got my iMac already), don’t need a laptop (got a Macbook) and I don’t need a phone (I have a non-Apple phone—ha! Bet you didn’t see that coming!)
The thing is, I think the iPad is IT, the device that may finally make e-publications a reality. Actually, it’s not the device as much as the commercial model behind it.
When iTunes Store launched, people who were downloading music were doing so illegally. The iTunes Store revolutionised the sales of music. It also made it possible for small indie artists to sell their music in a way that was impossible before. It also introduced the world of podcasts, allowing anyone with the right equipment and a little know-how to offer their ideas to the entire world.
The new iBook structure has the potential to do the same thing for publishing. The first beneficiaries will be traditional newspaper/magazine publishers who’ll be able to take advantage of the iPad’s features to make a premium product worth subscribing to, in a way those publishers’ websites are not and can never be. Book publishing companies will also benefit.
But if—IF—Apple builds in access for solo and independent publishers, similar to the way anyone can podcast, then it may turn out to be the greatest democratisation of the written word since Guttenberg first inked up his newfangled printing press.
At the moment, book publishing is controlled by companies whose decisions are motivated by their potential profit. Vanity publishers and self-publishing are an option for the majority of writers who will never be published by a book publisher, but reaching a mass market remains elusive.
If Apple includes small and solo book publishers—and, unlike podcasts, makes it possible for them to sell their works—it’ll be a game changer. I’m sure plenty of people would be happy to offer their work—books or periodicals—for free, but the ability to sell one’s written work is, I think, more important than with podcasts (and I say that as a podcaster who’s produced more than 200 free podcast episodes over two different podcasts).
Future devices will be better, faster, cheaper, of course, and the development of such devices will be driven, in part, by the content available. If e-publishing ever becomes a reality, it’ll take something like iBook to get it going. Just as the first iPods were clunky and limited and improved over time, so, too, the iPad’s successors will push the whole paradigm farther.
In the meantime, I want an iPad. I also want to be right about all this.