With the thousands of articles already written about the really big iPhone that Apple released yesterday it seems kind of futile to write yet another one. But still, I have some thoughts about the device that I haven’t seen widely discussed (and at least I think are kind of interesting).
1. It’s a content consumption device, not a content creation device
The design and marketing of the iPad make it pretty clear that its “killer app” is consuming – not creating – content. The initial marketing focuses on users (wearing stylishly comfortable clothes, lounging on stylishly comfortable furniture) consuming content – from the NYT, to Pixar movies, to games, to photos. Even “the best email experience in the world” that Apple demoed focused primarily on the consumption and management of email, not its creation. The absence of a camera is further evidence of this. Also, the lack of a tactile keyboard would seem to limit its use for serious textual context creation.[1. Interesting that Apple shows a user hunting and pecking on the keyboard – just like Job’s did during the keynote – rather than attempting to touch type.]
This focus on content consumption seems somewhat at odds with the zeitgeist of user generated content and the era we are in (or entering) where we will supposedly get most of out content from each other instead of monolithic cultural gatekeepers. But, maybe this isn’t a huge limiter. After all, the iPad isn’t intended as a replacement for an content capturing device like an iPod. Also, much of social media textual content creation is limited to short textual bursts (e.g., 140 characters or less), so a non-tactile keyboard may be just fine.
2. eBook Tipping Point?
Will the iPad be the tipping point for eBooks (or do we have to start calling them iBooks now)? The device itself doesn’t employ any whizzbang display technology designed to make reading easier (see, Kindle), but the device combined with the brand combined with the online eBook store could be formidable.
3. Real Electronic Books?
To date, most eBooks are simply digital reproductions of paper books. No one has really tried in a mass way to live up to the hype and promise of first CD-ROM/multimedia (15 years ago?) and then hypertext in terms of creating whole new genres of books that incorporate non-textual media, connections to other media, etc.
Oh wait, I guess there are these things called websites. But, there still seems to be an important distinction between “book” and “website,” even when the book is digital. What’s the distinction? Well, first, you can charge for a book. Second, there’s something significant about the sense that the content of a book is fixed, immutable, and laid down upon the page for all time. The permanence of the visual design of a book is also part of its appeal (how many of us can recall – and find – passages in a book based on where they physically sit on the page?). eBooks retain this sense of permanence, and thus are experienced more like a book than a website or blog is (even it designed to look book-like).
Going further, people in publishing (fiction, at least) fancy themselves fancy when it comes to design, style, coolness, etc., so I can see them getting giddy at the thought of stylish people reading stylish books on a stylish device like the iPad (as opposed to drably functional devices like the Kindle).
So (and thanks for sticking with me here), maybe the iPad will usher in an era of real eBooks that attempt to really leverage platform (touchability, images, sounds, hyperlinks, Web 2.0 live content, etc.). Maybe creativity in this area could redefine what an eBook – or indeed even a Book – is.
4. Local storage.
I’m kind of surprised at how much local storage is available on the iPad (up to 64GB). How does yet another place to store and lose data fit into the claimed nirvana of cloud computing? iTunes and the new Apple book store are both rely one powerful local clients storing vast quantities of data.
It has a a mic, a speaker, and 3G connectivity. I can’t wait to see the first YouTube video of someone holding it to their head like an iPhone and talking over VOIP.
6. The iPad Junior?
Hey, here’s an idea – Apple should bring out a small version of the iPad that can fit in your pocket. Wait a minute . . . .
When my wife can’t get iPhone cell coverage on the notoriously flaky ATT network, I take great delight in calling it an iPod. Maybe I’m just jealous.
7. Business use?
I’m drawn to the iPad and its possibilities, but it does have some serious limitations. I’d like to carry it on the road instead of a laptop, but before I can do that, I would need an adapter for video out so I can show presentations. Is it possible? I don’t know. External USB video cards exist, so perhaps something would be possible through the dock port?
In any case the iPad is a device that excites me much more than an eBook reader. After all, I am an avid reader, frequent traveler, and a gadget freak, but I haven’t bought one and won’t buy one. I may take a serious look at the iPad, though.
UPDATE: Excellent post from book designer Craig Mod entitlted, “Books in the age of the iPad.”