Can Apple’s tablet do it again?


This Guardian article starts by imagining a future scene in which you sit down to do… something on Apple’s as yet unknown new device (it will be announced next Wednesday). What the publishing industry is hoping for is an “iPod (and iTunes) for newspapers/magazines/books” which will kick-start electronic book/magazine/newspaper sales (emphasis on sales) and rescue a dying industry.

What I’d hope for is that the old dinosaurs face competition from new, independent publishers, who will be able to make content available for Apple’s device without having to be major media conglomerates owned by News Corp. But that’s just me. I also wouldn’t mind it so much if some of these old newspapers died, but then I tend to bear grudges.

I can also imagine a more dystopian future, in which its illegal to loan books/magazines/newspapers to friends, in which second hand books are contraband; in which we drown under a sea of DRM and EULAs, unable to do the basic things we always could do.

The release of a new device is a dangerous time. I’m as excited as any of the Mac fanboys about the new device (though possibly more excited about a new version of iLife/iWork, which I used every day). At the same time, I hate the idea of restrictions being put on the content we can get for the device, and I hate the idea that in the future there will be no more beautiful, rich, typography and printed photography because of the tyranny of the screen. But perhaps that’s just me.

What is known is that HarperCollins and other publishers have already been negotiating with Apple to make their e-books, magazines and news papers immediately available on the new device. The Apple tablet's reading experience is expected to be much enhanced from the current crop of handheld e-readers such as Amazon's Kindle, which launched in November 2007 and costs about £300. With its monochrome screen, plasticky white buttons and limited web browsing capabilities, you'd never mistake the Kindle for an Apple product, and industry rumours suggest it has sold no more than 1m devices worldwide.

“With big names like HarperCollins and Time magazine weighing in, the Apple iTablet is going to change digital publishing in a way Amazon's Kindle hasn't yet done,” says Peter Moore, director of specialist publishers PSP Rare. “With a touch-enabled colour screen and a similar size format to current magazines, the experience should be almost physical – with the added benefit of live content and links through to websites.”