In December 2008 I wrote a short blog post here suggesting that more by accident than anything else Apple had built a device that was a competitor for the Kindle. Back then Steve Jobs was in denial about the popularity of books so it took applications like Stanza to make reading possible on Apple’s handhelds. It worked, and continues to work, very well.
But now the fabled iPad has arrived and it has book reading built in, complete with support for the open ePub format. Of course that pleases those of us who like to read books from Project Gutenberg and Google Books on our iPods, but Apple has done something very strange with the look and feel. Having read books on my iPod Touch for a year and a half now I’ve broken free of the need for pages that look like pages. When I’m reading a book that’s all text, all I need is text. It’s certainly an improvement for books with pictures, but I can’t help thinking Apple’s iBooks look a little cheesy with their flippy-over paper-like pages.
Books though are not the most exciting thing about this device; it offers real possibilities for creating new categories of publication. As this post at Snarkmarket argues:
For all its power and flexibility, the web is really bad at presenting bounded, holistic work in a focused, immersive way. This is why web shows never worked. The web is bad at containers. The web is bad at frames.
What the iPad offers is a frame, and one with well-defined limitations. I’ve been arguing something similar, though less concisely, over at shiftinglandscapeofmagazines. Here is a spur to create new forms of content and perhaps also to persuade people to pay for it. That will please Rupert Murdoch of course, but the real revolution could be for smaller players; it could be a lifeline for struggling literary magazines and a new outlet for authors who want to self-publish and get paid. Writers essentially become app developers.
If the iPad doesn’t do it for you, there are lots of alternatives.
Edited 29/1/10 because WordPress originally exposed a draft. Probably my fault in some way.