I’m tempted to leave this post at that, just a single word. But if I’m honest there is more to this iPad thing than that. Fundamentally, Apple have gone to great lengths and enormous fanfare to release what is essentially a big iPhone without the phone or the camera. Sure, it’s a swish looking thing – Apple products always are. And the interface would be awesome, just like the iPhone, because Apple know how to meld man (or woman) and machine.
But is this iPad really anything spectacular? The thing that annoyed me the most watching a news program last night was the closing comments on the brief coverage of the iPad launch:
“The new iPad will allow people to read books electronically.”
They made this sound like it was a new thing. Like we’d never read an ebook before. Seriously, Apple are masters at convincing people that the emperor is wearing a fine ermine robe. I read ebooks regularly on my iPhone. The Kindle is going gangbusters in the US and has recently rolled out internationally. My books sell better in ebook formats than print formats by several orders of magnitude. And so on and so on.
So now, due to the massive media arse licking that Steve Jobs always seems to elicit, there will be thousands of people thinking that Apple has made ebooks a reality at last. Good grief, they’ll cry, are we living in the future? (Well, it is 2010, but still no flying fucking cars).
To be optimistic about it, regardless of how annoying it is, the iPad being touted as the new thing in publishing is good for writers. It’s not the new thing in publishing by a long way. We’ve been hammering out the pioneer trail through digital books and all associated stuff for several years now. But, Apple does attract its fanboys and fangirls. The latest Apple device is the must have gadget every time. The marketing behind it is terrifying.
When I heard that Stephen Fry had endorsed the iPad with talk of how great it was to use I felt the Earth shift on its axis. When Fry, the God-Emperor of Twitter, and Jobs, the Witch-King of Technology, combine forces, the future of humanity is theirs to toy with.
But, this can only be a good thing. Publishing is going digital. It’s a simple as that. You might remember this post I made back in August. It’s just a matter of how it will happen. Print books will still exist – Print On Demand technology will be the new vanguard of print – and speciality editions will still be popular with bibliophiles like me. It’s just a case of what becomes the standard for digital publishing.
The Kindle and its e-ink brethren tried to lead the way taking electronic reading from a computer screen to a hand held electronic book. As similar as possible to paper in every way. Then handheld devices like the iPhone shattered the calm of the library.
Sure, a Kindle is a great ebook reader, but an iPhone is a great ebook reader, and a phone and, most importantly, a web portal. The iPad has taken that concept and made it bigger. Too big, in my opinion, but we’ll see if new physical sizes emerge – remember the iPod gave birth to the iPod Nano. I’d like to see an iPad Nano, halfway in size between an iPhone and the current iPad.
Anyway, the point is this. The iPad has full internet activity and a brilliant user interface. You can go straight to your news media source, read the top stories, click on a picture to see the video, listen to the latest single from Current Pop Sensation And The Plagiarists and so on. It’s an interactive media source along with being an ebook reader. That’s where the allure lies. Remember the post I linked above where I talked about convergence. That’s what is needed.
For me the iPhone offers that convergence and the iPad is just an iPhone that won’t fit in my pocket. And it doesn’t have a phone or a camera. And, true to Apple form, there’s no USB connectivity, no expandable memory card ports, no access to the workings of it and a truly shite battery life. But it’s the latest thing from Apple, it’s slick and you feel all Star Trek when you use it. People will buy it. When they do, due to very clever and aggressive action from Apple with regard to getting publishers on side, they’ll suddenly see ebooks as the future. Not because ebooks are the future, not because we’ve been saying that and making them the future for the last few years, but because Steve Jobs said so. All hail the Techno Messiah. It’s a little bit sickening, but what the fuck. More people will be buying ebooks. For writers, embracing the digital publishing revolution, that’s no bad thing. It’s also going to shake up the podcasting and vodcasting world, so watch out for explosions on that front as well.
I won’t be getting an iPad. Not least because it sounds like an electronic monthly item for women, but mainly because it doesn’t really offer anything new yet. It just offers what’s already there in a bigger format. But it won’t be long before the iPad and competitive examples are as ubiquitous as the iPod. Think back to 1995 and going to buy the latest album on CD. Could you imagine having your entire music collection in digital form on something smaller than a pack of gum in your pocket back then? Now it’s the norm. It won’t be long before commuter trains are filled with people holding flat shiny screens, flicking their finger across them now and then to ellicit an electronic swoosh as they turn the “page”. And that’s only the beginning.