admin, January 31st, 2010
A few days ago, I posted a blog entry on my initial impressions of Apple’s iPad tablet device. I explicitly did not go into the reading implications as I wanted to save those thoughts for this post. I have a lot to talk about, so thank you for your patience reading this.
First of all, let me address the iPad from the Codex perspective. Overall, I think that the device is a net win for Codex given Apple’s adoption of ePub as the publishing format. In short, this means that content that you create in Codex should be accessible via iBooks (assuming a way to push unencrypted ePub files to the device). Instead of focusing on a native Codex viewer for the iPad, I can instead focus on making your book metadata as accessible as possible within the new iBooks application. (I’m kicking myself for not adopting and trademarking that name years ago.)
In terms of reading content acquired from the Apple online book store, Codex should be able to read the metadata and catalog any Apple-ePub files that you can transfer from your device to other platforms. Assuming that Apple has implemented their DRM in the same general manner as others (metadata is in the clear, images and book text are encrypted), iBook files will have the same level of accessibility as files purchased on the Nook or through Sony’s online bookstore.
While I am not initially prioritizing the creation of viewer for Codex-generated content on the iPad, there may be some potential for a portable editor. Since I have a full plate working on the desktop application, I am waiting until I have an iPad before making the decision to port Codex to the platform as an editor. However, I will keep the iPad in mind as I continue the Codex UI development so that I can minimize the differences between the desktop and mobile interface. Since the iPad sports a 1024×768 display, the only major deviations that I will tolerate are differences between the input methods (touch vs. keyboard & mouse).
Those are all the thoughts that I have now that directly pertain to Codex and the iPad. If you’re interested in my more general thoughts about what the iPad means for the electronic reading ecosystem, please continue on.
In terms of the overall impact of the iPad on the electronic book ecosystem, I believe that the new device is significant on several fronts:
1. Hardware: I always like competition and the iPad has raised the bar in terms of polish and design. Competitors like Sony and Amazon will decide if it’s worth competing with Apple on the polish front or if they can distinguish their offerings in other ways (cost, battery life, etc.).
2. I have mixed feelings about Apple’s invention of a new ePub DRM scheme. In developing Codex, I had always hoped that I could license Adobe’s DRM so that Codex users could do full-text searches on protected content acquired elsewhere. Apple’s new DRM dashes my dreams of universal read access and I doubt that they will be about as open to licensing their DRM as they were with FairPlay. (Which is to say – not very.)
3. However, given that Amazon is the only major ePub holdout, I think that Apple’s move may force their adoption of the format – at least as a readable format. I also believe that over the long term, Amazon is better off as a content distributor than a device manufacturer. While its proprietary format continues to protect Kindle device sales, I think that it will soon begin limiting Kindle book sales as consumers diversify to other platforms. At this point, I see no good reason for Amazon to ignore ePub – great readers are on the market and its own reader is now under assault from Cupertino. Ideally, I would like to see Amazon’s Kindle business adopt the approach used by Audible: create your own player to jumpstart the market, then license your format to other device makers and profit from content sales.
4. In defense of the Amazon and others’ eInk hardware, I doubt that the iPad will become a serious reading device. Stave Jobs doesn’t understand people who use electronic readers and I suspect that the iPad will introduce ergonomic issues (mainly eyesight problems) when used over long stretches of time. In my experience, the Kindle has proven itself as the most efficient medium through which I can assimilate printed content and I doubt that the iPad will match it in terms of readability, content availability, ubiquity, and robustness.
Overall, I’m happy that Apple’s entering the electronic reading market. While they do not have a reading platform that interests me (I remain a big Kindle fan), their mere presence will force Amazon and others to innovate and compete more vigorously. Given how long I’ve been waiting for some UI improvement in the Kindle, this is a great thing. (I’m happy with the “in-book” interface – it’s the navigating between books that drives me nuts.)