When it comes to the launch of new and exciting techno-gadgets, I--and perhaps, we all--have been spoiled by Apple. Yes, they've gotten it wrong on occasion, but so often, they get it so right. They've repeatedly raised the bar, and our expectations. Perhaps that's why, when I first saw the unauthorized, leaked images of Amazon's first Kindle on the web all those years ago, I thought surely they were the creation of an internet ne'er-do-well. I laughed, because I thought I got the joke. "Yeah!" I said. "That DOES look like it's from 1980! Good one, you internet pranksters you."
But so it was.
In the days of high-speed streaming video, 5-second song downloads, 30" computer monitors, and a nation of media addicts, Amazon released this.
Amazon's Kindle (along with all the other faux-paper e-ink readers) ignores the fact that all media is evolving--books included. These e-ink readers are nothing more than a cautious step between the old and the new. They're too married to the formatting and failures of their paper predecessors to take full advantage of what's possible. They'll never be as good as paperbacks for quiet, un-powered reading. And they'll never be as good as computers for multimedia content. Why offer a device that offers a poor version of two experiences?
By releasing an e-reader so hopelessly tied to the paper, Amazon gave Apple an opening to provide something better. If the latest swirl of rumors is true and Apple plans to release a tablet computer, or iSlate, early next year, you can bet your life it will put the Kindle to shame when it comes to digital content delivery. Any e-ink device simply will not be able to compete. I'm not going to reveal any names, but I have it on very good authority, for example, that--unlike the Kindle--the new Apple tablet will, indeed, have a color screen. Might it also ... play video?! (Please pardon the sarcasm.)
Book publishers are feverishly searching for the best ways to pour their content into the new digital stream. And rightly so. I've argued here in the past that book publishers, as producers of a continuous stream of high-quality and edited content, are perfectly suited to capitalize on the new opportunities presented by the digital content revolution. Selling e-books has long been the most accepted method--and though I have my reservations--I wouldn't necessarily disagree. I would argue, however, that the best e-books are certainly not Kindle e-books.
Book content should no longer be imprisoned by the limitations of paper. Digital books should include author interviews, instructional videos, pop-up definitions of esoteric terms, instant foreign translations, optional soundtracks, links to helpful web sites, and anything else publishers and authors can dream up to increase the value and effectiveness of their content.
What the rumored Apple iSlate represents for publishers and e-book readers is the ability to break free from the limitations of paper--which were so dutifully copied by Amazon and Sony--and provide book content to readers on a portable device with a screen big enough to be reasonable for reading long-form content.
I understand the arguments for the e-ink format: the non-back-lit screen is easy on the eyes, easy on battery life, etc. And since we spend upwards of ten hours a day staring at glaring screens--whether 30" wide or glowing in your pocket-- I can understand the argument for not wanting to read the latest vampire novel off yet another backlit screen. When I desire such a quiet reading experience I pick up the paperback. It is still the best at what it does. No electronic reader could ever truly duplicate the experience of reading off paper. So why try? When building a digital reader, build something different. Build something that offers book readers new material--and publishers a new revenue stream. With the coming of the iSlate, it looks like Apple may have finally done just that.
This was originally published on Jesse's blog.