Friday, January 29, 2010


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.


epilonious said...

I actually really liked this post which put it in perspective for me and got me over my nerdy "bleh, it doesn't have this or this and I need to piss all over it".

That being posted, I still really hope that Adobe manages to get some dumbed-down version of flash onto it (I feel like the main concern with flash is that full versions might give naughty file access and install rights and open the iPad/iPhone up to nasty viruses and trojans and whatnot), and makes a version of CS3. You can already buy iWork applications for cheap... so if you could get Photoshop for $50, it would probably make bunches of graphic designers poop themselves.

In the meantime, I have/love my kindle and don't see the iBook bookstore replacing the Amazon bookstore anytime soon. What I _really_ hope for is integration and/or cross compatibility with books you buy in both (and maybe even books bought from Barnes and Noble for the Nook). I have high hopes for it because there are already kindle and nook apps in the App store.

Otherwise, my perspective is "wait until version 2.0" I would like an iPad, but I want to wait until the 64 gig one with cellmodem is more like $600 bucks... and I have the option of using Sprint/Verizon... and it hopefully has a webcam on it.

Mark from Slap said...

I'm disappointed, but I don't really fault Apple for it. (Really I should fault the tech reporters for all their speculation, getting my hopes up about what this device would be before it was announced. ;)

Personally, I was looking for a replacement for both my laptop and Wacom tablet. I was (eagerly) anticipating a device that I could use for all my illustrating work, complete with pressure-sensitive stylus input and the ability to run the same illustration software available for the Mac. If I wanted to do other computing tasks, I'd just prop the tablet on a stand I have on my desk and have it wirelessly connect to a bluetooth keyboard and mouse. Then, when I want to take it on the go, I'd just pick up the tablet and use the on-screen controls and touch keyboard.

It doesn't fit my requirements at all, but I'm not going to moan about it. Apple just made a different device than I was looking for. I mean, otherwise I may as well complain that the AppleTV doesn't make omelets because I'm looking for an iron skillet. :)

Nik said...

I'm bound and determined to be the last man on earth with a house full of books -- I simply prefer the tactile over the virtual, same reason I've still got hundreds of CDs despite my iPod. That said, the iPad (ignoring the clunky name) looks darned awesome, I can see myself getting one of these in the next year or so. But I won't be using it mostly for reading books!

Arthur Schenck said...

Thank you all! I've been so busy I've only now had time to reply (and even now, I'm stealing the time from other things).

epilonious: I saw that post you linked to, and thought it was really good.

I see why Steve Jobs is resisting Flash—it really IS buggy as hell and not secure. Personally, I'd like to see a challenger to Flash and to Adobe for many reasons. But as a professional graphic designer, I cna assure you I have no interest in using an iPad for work—I have my MUCH bigger iMac for that, and my more powerful MacBook, even.

I completely agree that the Amazon Store will not be going away, but for a variety of reasons (most of the $$$), I bet it'll be a few years before that cross-compatibility happens. I have the Kindle app from my iPod Touch, but can't figure out how to get books on it (the Kindle itself is not available in New Zealand, and neither are many of the eBooks that Amazon sells). Unlike the Kindle, the iPad is also colour (and higher resolution), which is good.

Personally, I don't care about the 3G thing—I have a phone for calls and can get a 3G USB thingee for my MacBook if I ever want one, which I can't see right now.

Mark: Good point about the media hype—I think a LOT of people were expecting too much because they listened to too much hype. I also think that later versions could meet the needs you described, but, in the meantime, the current version is perfect for me—and I think I AM the target market.

Nik: The tactile thing is one aspect that seldom gets mentioned, but I agree it's important. It's the reason why I think that paper books will last long after paper newspapers and magazines have disappeared. At this point, I certainly wouldn't advocate replacing a real library with an electronic one, but it IS handy to download free eBook versions of classics rather than having to go and buy them; so far, those are the only eBooks I'm downloading.