news / tech talk

iPad and E-Readers

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Apple recently announced the iPad to the world and has received an interesting array of responses ranging from rabid enthusiasm to confusion and disappointment. Mr. Job's expertise in product hype, secrecy, drama, and wonder-infused oratory had the desired effect on the already indoctrinated Apple disciples but the others were underwhelmed by what some described as a large iTouch. The popular press consider the iPad a direct challenge and major competitor in the fledgling ebook reader (e.g., Amazon Kindle) market and a potential game changer for "new media" presentation of magazine and newspaper content and advertising.

The iPad certainly builds on the strengths of the iTouch/iPhone. It makes the iTouch/iPhone's huge application library immediately available, it takes advantage of an easy to use, and slick interface that many are already familiar with, and it makes them easier to read and provides more real estate for even more interesting content. However, the size of the device is both a blessing and a curse. Phones can be slipped in a pocket or small purse while an iPad is too large for that. Cost is another factor given that the device costs about as much as a conventional and much more powerful traditional laptop although Apple has proven that many people will pay a premium for style.
One of the most intriguing elements is the perception that the iPad could breathe new life into newspapers and magazines. These bastions of traditional media have been in decline from advertising revenue and general readership as free news content has proliferated on the Internet. The touchscreen interface and multimedia support have certainly made for tantalizing demonstrations of how content and advertising "could be" presented. Will a new presentation format be something so revolutionary as to make people pay for them or drive sufficient numbers of readers willing to tolerate accompanying advertising? I have to say I remain skeptical.
In the now competitive e-reader market against Amazon's Kindle, B&N's Nook, and many others, the iPad's future is equally (to me) difficult to see. The iPad has a LCD screen presentation which is great for color but not so great for power savings and viewing in strong light. Based on its success in the digital music world, no one takes for granted Apple's potential to up-end how Digital Rights Management (DRM) might affect book publishers and sellers. So far Amazon's approach has been somewhat draconian and other ebook sellers have learned and provided more moderate, more "open" ebook readers that can support multiple formats and sharing at least to some degree. Everyone is waiting to see if Apple will be able to dominate the publishing world as it has the music world.
To me the real test is whether consumers will find the size/form factor of tablets compelling enough to bring it along and use it on a daily basis. That is a real challenge; people already have mobile phones and are going to keep them because they are a handy size. People also have netbooks/laptop devices and these they use not only to consume information, but also to do work. Work on a mobile computing device involves not only receiving information but generating and sending it and that is where a real keyboard is hard to beat. Most of my job anymore is typing and creating technical diagrams which would be very annoying to accomplish with a touchscreen keyboard. Of course an outboard bluetooth keyboard and mouse could be used with an iPad but then you've got to drag those things around with you as discrete components which defeats one of the major goals of a tablet's "intimate" experience.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business