But before we go, I want to say something, and I want to say it in all sincerity: I want an iTablet. Give it to me.
Steven Colbert, The Colbert Report,
January 26, 2010
Apple's iTablet (or probably called, it seems to me, iPad) is expected to be announced later today. So this is my last opportunity to write something about it without knowing what it is, exactly. But the truth is, we won't know what it is for a while, as was the case with the original announcement with the iPod. I recall being underwhelmed with the unveiling of the iPod. Maybe because bringing music with me wasn't going to change my life. But I wasn't the only one who damned it with faint praise. No one could see at the time that that it was going to take off as a product, and re-define the MP3 player market, in part by creating the iTunes (now the world's largest music retailer) culture to support it.
This time around, we know not just to look at the gadget itself, but the role it will play in a networked media environment. And there has been much speculation about the tablet's capabilities, but especially the media libraries that will be available to it, including video and formerly traditional print vehicles like Time magazine. In addition to the speculation, there has been one outright confirmation, from Terry McGraw of McGraw-Hill Publishers on CNBC:
“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.”
(quote courtesy of crunchgear)
E-books have never not been horrible. They're difficult to read on the screen, and until recently they were mostly only as portable as a laptop (not very) and unless ebooks or etexts leverage some other computer-powered capability like search across libraries, they have seemed fairly pointless (at least to me). I will always remember David Seaman describing the experience of reading etexts on the Windows handheld as "surprisingly non-horrible." That was as good as it got. In any case, the rise of the e-book was threatening to erradicate the phrase "pleasure reading" from modern parlance.
E-book readers have improved over the years. The Kindle certainly gave page-like lighting, and came with a iTunes-like library for easy acquisition of content. But the cost of the Kindle still seems too high for a dedicated device; and unlike music in an iPod (for most people, what they want to do with music is play it) text almost requires interaction. You want to do things with it. The first thing you want to be able to do is pick it up to read it. So far so good with the Kindle. And I believe you can also annotate. But another fundamental difference with the iPod is to music as the Kindle is to books analogy is that the iPod didn't force you to listen to your music only on that device. Apple in fact made it easy to use that same music in, for instance, creating a multimedia slideshow of photographs in other applications. And the "more" you really want to do with text is not just to write in the margins, but copy and share (at least fair-use size snippets!) to use in some other format.
No college student will make the Kindle part of a student workflow (if such a thing exists) if they can't use it directly in connection with their work, and if Kindle content can't interact with other media. All the other things this tablet will be able to do in terms of multimedia and access to content libraries will certainly help expand its market and appeal. It matters less whether you'll be able to write an actual term paper on this device (though likely you will; I'd think physical keyboards will be able to connect to it) than that you'll be able to send the notes you create from the content you read and hear to a place where you can; and that alone will make this device (and those that copy it) a commonplace first for college and later for secondary education as well. But we'll see after today.
As for the Kindle? See "Nomad, Roxio" and "ROKR, Motorola."