Friday, April 2, 2010

Yet another redundant and ill-informed opinion on Apple's iPad

It seems like everybody has something to say about Apple's iPad, so in the interests of complete redundancy I thought I'd chime in.

I should say up-front that I've never seen a real, live iPad, have only a vague idea of what it can do, and have no intentions of buying one. In other words, I'm much like all the other ill-informed pundits out there.

So let me begin with a confession: I love books of the dead tree variety. I actually collect books (I've just finished reading a first edition of Steinbeck's The Moon is Down), and I'm currently wading through all of Dickens' novels after buying a used set from the 1900s. So the iPad phenom got me thinking: what if things got reversed, and in a parallel universe the iPad came before the invention of books?

I get that the iPad can stream video, host a bewildering range of applications, and can make pretty good buttered toast. It's a multi-functional device, but its primary use-case is to provide a new platform for books and book-like content. The ability to meld multimedia content is pretty cool, as is the ability to bring the conventions of Web content to the format of the book. But as a portable tool for conveying a linear narrative, it has a bunch of issues. There's the bed-and-beach problem (you want to read a skinny computer in either location?). There's the drop-and-dry problem (I might handle my Steinbeck carefully, but a paperback is pretty indestructible). There's the share-and-sell problem (I'm not enthralled by some of the lock-in issues around the content I might buy). And have I mentioned battery life? In my parallel universe, if you had an iPad and no books, I think some latter-day Gutenberg might invent them anyway.

I know I'm a Luddite on this. My guess is, the current iPad will be a complete flop but some later incarnation will be a wild success. And books will become history. I have no idea how this will change what we read - would Steinbeck and Dickens exist in an iPad age?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Don the tin-foil beanie...I guess my biggest problem with going all electronic with reading is that then it becomes a matter of record. If we switch to all digital media the books you have read will become like your browser history, discoverable. Also, once a book is printed it is forever whereas there have already been cases where amazon has retracted a book from customer's e-readers due to copyright problems. Furthermore digital books could also be editted on the fly as well. Imagine a world that you describe where The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published digitally only then censored depending on where the reader lived. I think there is a place for digital readers but I hope they never completely replace printed versions fully.