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Technical Corner – The iPad hype edition

There has been so much hype over Apple’s forthcoming tablet offering that I thought it was worth a look. Not just because it may or may not be an interesting product, after all other tablets have been on the market for a while, but how it might effect things we’re interested in including print journalism and book publishing and blogging. Well, that and it might be a nice distraction from the SOTU speech. Oh, and this is my first post. I really meant to do something political first, but time just got away from me. Hope you like it.

Background/Rumors

Rumors of a tablet from Apple have been around for a long time. Since 1983 in fact. A really nice timeline and summary of events can be found in this Engadget article. Some of the speculation and wild Apple fandom has been a bit weird. Walt Mossberg is a technical reviewer at the WSJ and has gained some fame for his reviews. Here is a great spoof of a muppet version of him reviewing the Apple iPad (here called iSlate):

Publishing/Journalism

What I think is interesting though relates to what’s been happening to print journalism and to the book publishing world of late. As we’ve seen, a number of companies are pursuing e-book products from web based for the desktop to small handheld devices like Amazon’s Kindle. In addition, the boom of smart phones have also included e-book capabilities.

There are a number of interesting factors involved with the various offerings that have been worth watching. One is the store model. It would appear from Amazon’s recent changes, followed by Googles, that the iTunes store model has won out. This is a model where there is little in the way between the original creator (of music, applications, books, periodicals, etc.) and the user. And the ratio of 70% to the creator and 30% to the store is shared by most now. There are still music publishers and book publishers in the middle of many offerings, but independents in those areas are gaining ground. And interestingly what I think has made that possible, given the zillions of competing products, is social networking. More specifically it’s the advent of Crowd Sourcing which is one way to manage and make sense of too many offerings. But of course a stores own editorial staff providing reviews and featuring products is probably still a major factor.

The other area that makes a lot of difference in usability is the means of displaying the material on the screen. There are a number of competing screen technologies, and many of these are just emerging. The choice of technology here also depends on what you want  your device to do. If it’s only about reading text, then the current electronic ink based approaches are pretty nice. These e-ink systems require no backlighting and so are easier on the eyes. However if you want a multi-purpose device, then e-ink as it is won’t work because it is too slow at refreshing for complex graphics. There are newer technologies that can function like normal LCD screens, but then can switch to e-ink type screens. This appears to be the most promising for multi-purpose devices, but has a ways to go.

Now back to print publishing and journalism. As we all know, newspapers seem to be dying in the US. They offer their papers for free online using an ad based model for revenue. That is wildly popular. But to the detriment of print subscriptions. And unfortunately many newspaper businesses aren’t set up for an online only business. Previous attempts to charge for online papers has failed. WSJ being the main exception. In the textbook realm, Terry McGraw, McGraw-Hill CEO, Tuesday on CNBC said the following:

Yeah, Very exciting. Yes, they’ll make their announcement tomorrow on this one. We have worked with Apple for quite a while. And the Tablet is going to be based on the iPhone operating system and so it will be transferable. So what you are going to be able to do now is we have a consortium of e-books. And we have 95% of all our materials that are in e-book format on that one. So now with the tablet you’re going to open up the higher education market, the professional market. The tablet is going to be just really terrific.

As much as newspapers might get a boost with this technology, I think e-books is where the action will be. Time will tell though.

Product Review

Today Apple introduced their “latest creation” the iPad:

The new iPad

iPad showing NYT

iPad Contacts Book

iPad Showing Contacts Book

It looks like they’ve done a nice job. We have a new slick gadget to be sure. They’ve nicely integrated audiobooks, music, video, TV/Movies, apps, etc. It has the benefits of mobile platforms which in the end will be the critical thing I think. It has 10 hours of battery life, which is pretty nifty. And similar to other efforts, it’s very green. But what’s interesting now is the e-book application and integration with the newspaper, magazine, and book publishing worlds. (Note: images above thanks to Engadget).

The New York Times has developed an application for the iPad. They’ve made quite a nice interface that, well, makes it really nice to navigate through sections and articles. And they’ve nicely integrated embedded video. They appear to be working with other newspaper publishers to do the same. The question not answered is what the business model will be for NYT. I suspect it will be free for basic stuff and subscription for additional functions like archives, etc. And like current online papers, the ad model will be used.

In the e-book world, they have initial deals with Penguin, HarperCollins, Simon&Schuster, Macmillan, Hachett among others. The iPad has a bookshelf store, iBookStore (of course). And they have a book reader built in, iBooks (of course) that acts as a book reader and book library. Clearly the book and magazine world is where they’ve put most of their effort. Sorry newspapers. The current library of books seem to be in the range of $5 to $15. There is a big effort for educational/text books, so expect to see more there. This appears to be the biggest deal for the show today.

But to me, a big issue is that they’ve added creation related software since the device is powerful enough. So their iWorks product is available for the device. Which means you can use it for blogging, writing, etc. And you can get a hardware keyboard accessory if you like. There were lots of other applications demoed. I quite liked the Brushes demo which allows you to use the device as an art tablet.

And now the requisite price info:

WiFi (only): 16GB – $499, 32GB – $599; 64GB – $699 (available in 60 days)

3G (and WiFi): 16GB – $629, 32GB – $729, 64GB – $829 (available in 90 days, contract with AT&T)

End of the show shows a street sign showing Technology (street) and Liberal Arts (street) and Steve saying they’ve always tried to be at the intersection of technology and liberal arts. OK, completely cheesy. In fact it was a laugh out loud bit.

What does it all mean?

A nice gadget. Perhaps a big deal in the e-book business. Perhaps not. Time will tell. Will it change the world? No. To me though, it’s symbolic of our creativity, ingenuity, and innovation in the face of a horrible economy and seemingly the end of our country as we know it. Unlike our administration and congress, it gives me a bit of hope. But then again, it’s just a gadget, and I’m clearly biased about cool techy gadgets. Tell me what you think.

Update

Just adding a photo that shows off the e-book aspect (the real winner I think):

iBooks on the iPad

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