1 February 2010

Why the iPad could be a good thing for the UK

So the hype and the secrecy is over and we have all seen the iPad device previews. There has been a mixed reaction to it, some asking why buy one when they already have an iPhone? Others meanwhile have commented on it's lack of Flash plug-ins, multitasking and USB ports. Whatever you think of the hardware, two things are apparent from the outset.

The first is that Apple think this is what you should use to read ebooks and emagazines. The rest of the world is unconvinced, especially those who spend a lot of time reading books. Those who sell books are also quite busy promoting E-ink devices which update their screens only once (for each page turn), therefore supposedly doing less damage to your eyes and preserving precious battery life. Just this last week I started reading an ebook on my HTC magic, only for the experience to be cut short as my battery ran flat.

Still, it's the second point about Apple's new device which may be good for the UK. The iPad appears to be just another platform for iTunes. Yes they really want you to buy most (or all) of your digital content from them. A lot of people in the US are commenting about how this is not a good thing and that Apple will do to publishing what they've already done to music. Now stop and think about that. In the UK you can get iTunes gift vouchers in most supermarkets these days. Contrast that with trying to buy an ebook. In the cases where I've tried, I've been confronted by pages which say things along the lines of "This file is only available in the U.S. or Canada". So if Apple actually do improve this situation then maybe, just maybe something useful will come from the iPad.

Still the ebook market is young and vibrant. It's been interesting to see how certain online music stores, supporters of drm-free music downloads have not applied this ideaology to their core business and released their ebooks in drm-free formats. This market is young yet and I wouldn't be a bit surprised if E-ink screens start turning up on mobile phones or as plug-in USB accessories; maybe even add-on wi-fi screens. So in such a volatile market why would I rush out to buy an iPad? In 12 months time there will be another, maybe with USB or a video camera and probably with more battery life.

If they do actually sort out the UK's access to ebooks I might be tempted. I have shelves which are stressing under the weight of hefty computer books because that's the only way I could buy them. So the old web-master saying that "Content is King" applies here. It's HD-DVD vs BluRay for books only with more formats and devices. Eventually one will lead the pack. Authors will want to be exposed to as many income streams as possible so expect some severe market shake-ups. Consumers also want to choose their readers based on tactile feel and user-interface rather than which files they support and how easy (or not) it is to get the right content.

When it comes to electronic media distribution you have to concede that love it or hate it, Apple is a big player, possibly even the biggest. When it comes to user interfaces, Apple are again emulated by everyone else. Damn it I'm not ready to turn into an Apple fanboy. Not until they implement proper drag & drop. I guess I need to see the Lenovo hybrid, the Entourage Edge and the Notion Ink Adam before I part with my hard-earned. I just hope they are all represented at the Gadget Show in April.