Apple's iPad could revolutionize the way people read
People love their books and newspapers. It's the feeling of the page and the portability.
People love the Internet. It's infinitely searchable, with up-to-date information.
Apple Inc. CEO and techno-prophet Steve Jobs introduced last week perhaps the most ballyhooed tablet since aspirin — the 1.5-pound iPad. With a portable, 10-inch screen, it's a computer at heart that merges the printed page and could revolutionize how people read.
At $499 with no frills, it's not going to take the place of a laptop or desk computer for running complex applications. It's more of a digital companion to keep people informed when they're away from their serious hardware.
"What makes the iPad interesting, and the reason why I think it will change the way people read, is because now it's possible not only to carry the books you want to read, but the entire Web as a reference library with you," said Edward H. Chi, who leads a team of researchers at Palo Alto Research Center in California, a subsidiary of Xerox, studying systems that enhance people's ability to remember, think and reason through computers.
If you're reading a book about woodpeckers, Chi said, the iPad allows you to go on the Internet and find photos of woodpeckers, references to the birds in other books or articles and, by cutting and pasting, passages in the book cited elsewhere.
"That presents an entirely different reading experience than reading a book," he said.
The iPad's predecessor and rival, Amazon Kindle, allows users to read books on a tablet computer. Chi has one.
"Doing a Web search on a Kindle, it's so painful," he said. "It's pretty sad."
The New York Times is the first newspaper to tap the potential. It spent three weeks at Apple's headquarters "creating something that joins the best of print with the best of digital, all rolled up into one," said Martin Nisenholtz, senior vice president of digital operations for the newspaper, during Apple's iPad debut Wednesday in San Francisco.
The New York Times news application allows readers to see the day's news and flip virtual pages to find their favorite sections. Then it kicks into high gear by allowing readers to save articles in a reading list, change the number of text columns, resize the text with a two-fingered pinch, and flip through slideshows of vibrant color photos. There's video. Turn on the updates and you get breaking news.
"We think we've captured the essence of reading the newspaper," said Jennifer Brook, an information architect for The Times. "The finite snapshot in time. The exquisite typography, images and content, and a superior reading experience. ... It's so much more."
Clyde Montevirgen, an equity analyst for Standard & Poor's in New York City, thinks the iPad could be "revolutionary."
The iPad will be available to consumers in March. Montevirgen predicts sales of 2 million to 3 million units in fiscal 2010 and said Apple is aiming for future sales of 10 million a year.
Montevirgen admires its versatility. Users can run 140,000 applications available for the iPhone on the iPad.
"If I get tired of reading a book, I can press a button and play a video game," he said. "If I get tired of that, I can press another button and watch a movie."
Chi acknowledges none of the components in the iPad is a breakthrough. What is novel, he said, is how well components are integrated.
Two drawbacks are that it has no camera, so video chats aren't possible, and it has no phone, although users can place phone calls if they install Skype's free application.
One problem holding back the expansion of digital books is the better reading performance when reading on paper than online. One possible explanation, Chi said, is the difference in resolution. A screen has 70 to 100 dots per inch, compared with 300 to 1,000 dots per inch on paper.
A key test for the iPad will be how it appeals to Apple's core customers: college students.
Yuni Graham, 20, a sophomore at Carnegie Mellon University from Memphis, won't be buying an iPad anytime soon.
"I like the feel of the book," she said. "I like turning pages, and I like to collect books."
Kaitlin Healy, 20, a sophomore from Philadelphia, prefers reading a real book to a digital one. But the idea of not having to lug around textbooks and a laptop appeals to her.
"Some of them are pretty huge, thousands of pages, so having them on a small compact thing would be really nice," she said.
Kyla Graham, 20, a junior from Aiea, Hawaii, is not a fan of tablet computers, but might make an exception for textbooks.
"Textbooks are really expensive," she said. Digital textbooks generally are cheaper, sometimes by one-third.
That leaves people such as Stacy Waymire, executive director of the Independent College Bookstore Association in Ashland, Ore., musing about the future. He conceded the iPad is speeding up the time when most college materials, including textbooks, will be digitized.
"Are (college bookstores) dinosaurs• No," Waymire said. "Are they going to have to change• Who isn't?"
Other media at risk
Chi said people are spending more and more time online, and that eats into use of television, newspapers and books. The iPad, he predicts, will further erode the time people spend with other media.
"If you're a bookstore owner, you should be worried," he said. "If you're a newspaper owner, you should be thinking about how to change your business."
John Schulman, co-owner of Caliban Book Shop in Oakland, said the iPad could hurt stores that sell new books, but could help stores that specialize in used and antiquarian books.
"It might make people fall in love with certain books, and then they'll want to get a first edition of it," he said, as he painstakingly cleaned up a first edition of Jack London's "Call of the Wild."
He estimated the value of the book at $1,000. That's the cost of two iPads.Additional Information:
Even as Apple's iPad will likely energize electronic reading, the new device is undermining a painstakingly constructed effort by the publishing industry to make it possible to move e-books between different electronic readers.
The slim, 1.5-pound 'tablet' computer introduced last week will be linked to Apple Inc.'s first e-book store when it goes on sale in a few months. The books, however, will not be compatible with Amazon.com Inc.'s Kindle or with the major alternative e-book system.
Apple's creation of a third choice is likely to further frustrate and confuse consumers if they accumulate e-books for one device, then try to go back to read them later on a different one.
The effect could be akin to having to buy a new set of CDs every time you get a new stereo system. It could keep people from buying new e-readers as better models come out if they aren't compatible with the books they have.
This could cool consumers' enthusiasm for e-books, the way sales of digital music downloads were hampered by a variety of copy-protection schemes.
'There are going to be some potentially painful lessons' for consumers when they try to move e-books they own to new devices, said Nick Bogaty, senior manager of digital publishing business development at Adobe Systems Inc., which provides the major alternative e-book system.
• The Associated Press