On the one hand, Apple’s new gadget is a big fat iTouch. After all, what’s the real difference between an iPhone and an iTouch to begin with? Voice calls via 3G, for one. Take those out and the only real difference is the video camera, which is neglible since they can put one in at any time.
Here is why the best ebook reader in the world will still not get me to buy one, and it’s not because I’m a book nut who loves the smell of paper. Ready? You can’t rip a book.
Go back to when iTunes was new, and you could buy music from Apple. Not all music, sure. But what were your options at that point? If you already had the music in a different digital format then maybe you could port it. Fine. But the big killer idea was that you could get the CD and you could rip it. Convert physical into digital. And then you win.
What’s the comparable example for books? I don’t read a great deal of brand new bestseller types. When I pick up a book it’s either a non-fiction thingie out of the Shakespeare section, or its a classic scifi that I missed the first time around. Sometimes, to be fair, a new scifi tome or Shakespeare novel will come out and I do pick those up off the “New Releases” shelf, but those are only a portion of my purchases.
So, what am I to do? The book I want is not available in iPad format. Is it available in some other digital format because somebody else did the work for me? Maybe. Sometimes. Not often.
So then what? I can’t meaningfully rip a book. I am well aware that there is technology that can do it, and Google’s pioneering some work in that area. I’m talking about a single home user trying to turn his physical book into a digital version. Can’t be done. And that kills me. If you told me that you were installing a book ripping machine in every Apple retail store, and that I could walk in and get a genius to rip my books into iPad format for me? I’d be all over it. I’d systematically rip my whole collection (depending on much Apple charged me for the service :)).
Where I do see a future for these devices is a few years down the line when my kids go to college. I see them carrying a single device, instead of a backpack full of text books. All their text books are right there in a tablet. All the updates, too. And homework and study guides, and question and answer forums. It’ll have a keyboard for speedy word note taking, but you can also draw on it for diagrams. It’ll have net so you’ve always got Google and Wikipedia, but it’ll also have instant message and SMS because you can’t live without those.
The big question will be how you keep the difference between “study machine” and “cheating machine”. If you’re allowed to have it, you’ll be able to cheat with it. But if you’re not allowed to have it, you’ll lose all your reference materials. I’m not sure how that will play out yet. I’d love to imagine some sort of signal blocking device so that once you’re in the classroom your teacher could assure that all your devices switched to local mode, but I don’t see that happening.