The worst-kept secret in consumer electronics history was finally made public last week as Apple introduced us to the iPad. Yeah, it's a funny name, but the iPod sounded a bit strange back in 2001 too. Now that name is woven into the fabric of our technological lives.
And just like the iPod changed the way that many of us listen to music over the last decade, the iPad will change the way many of us read books, newspapers, magazines and maybe even catalogs in the decade to come.
As I covered in the blog I wrote last July called, Pulp Fiction: Is Print Dead? the e-reader concept is absolutely in our future. Amazon's Kindle was not really the first e-reader to the market. E-readers were introduced about ten years ago, but the timing wasn't right for a number of reasons. So they never took off. Speaking about the Apple iBooks application during his speech, Steve Jobs showed a photo of the Kindle and said, "Were going to stand on [Amazon's] shoulders and go a bit further here."
I believe the introduction of the iPad is on scale with the introduction of color in magazines and catalogs. Back in the 60's and 70's, the body of most magazines were in black and white. Most newspapers did not use much color in their production. The desktop publishing and digital prepress revolution of the 1980's made color in publications as common as sequins and feathers on Lady GaGa. And the brilliant, colorful display of the iPad will make dull black and white readers like the Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader show up on eBay faster than you can say "16 shades of gray."
It is not a stretch to imagine that in the not-too-distant future, the heavy backpacks filled with textbooks that our kids tote around will become as odd-looking as a CRT monitor. Five of the worlds biggest book publishers are already online, and as Jobs put it, "We're going to open up the floodgates for the rest of the publishers in the world, starting this afternoon... We're very excited about this."
I'll tell you some that aren't very excited about this... Book printers. Book binders. Magazine printers. Barnes and Noble. Borders. Look at the music industry. Certainly there are many people that still purchase CDs and DVDs. But lots of record stores that were around in 1990, are no longer in business because so many people download their music from sites like iTunes. When was the last time you walked into a Musicland or Sam Goody's? Traditional paper back and hard-cover books, textbooks, and glossy magazines will have a market for some time to come. But each year more people feel right at home downloading electrons in front of a glowing screen instead of buying atoms at a brick and mortar store. Perhaps because they literally are right at home.
Of course let's not forget that this device is not just for reading. It is a true multimedia player (albeit without support for Flash right now)... It's a web browser, a photo viewer, an email device, a video player, a gaming device, a music player, a calendar, an art canvas, and a lot of other things not yet realized. The
But it's the iPad as an e-reader that is perhaps most important from the standpoint of changing cultural habits. When was the last time you touched a photo in a book and something amazing happened? Like a digital equivalent of a pop-up book. Or imagine this... You receive a digital catalog in your inbox, and as you flip through the glowing pages and touch a photo of a model wearing a jacket, a window opens and a video begins playing with the model wearing that jacket in some cool location. A voice-over describes the jacket's details as music plays in the background. It's a mini infomercial that came to life on the pages of a digital catalog. I can't decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing...