The iPad and e-Books: A Missed Opportunity


Before the iPad announcement pundits, including myself, were frothing at the mouth over what an Apple tablet device might mean for the e-book industry. There were strong expectations that the iPad would revolutionize e-books. A week after the announcement, I have to admit that my expectations were not met.

It’s not that the iPad isn’t an e-book device, it is. Nor is it that it’s a particularly bad e-book device, everything from the new iBookstore to the book interface on the device look very nice and is probably superficially better than the other options out there. What it’s not, however, is revolutionary in the way that I hoped it would be.

It makes sense for Apple to get into the e-book game with the iPad, it’s an obvious use case for the device. But what I was hoping for from the iPad was a new format of e-books that would be a game-changer in how we consume text. The use of the EPUB format, however, shows that Apple is not yet ready to make that move. Although I applaud the use of an open standard like EPUB, the reality is that EPUB’s interactive features are very limited right now, basically limited to simple images and videos. I was hoping for more advanced features.

What kind of features? How about reading a fantasy novel and tapping a single button to pull up a map showing exactly where you are in that fantasy world. How about tapping on any name in a non-fiction novel and getting biographical information about that character? How about textbooks with graphs that can be enlarged and class networking features built-in? And these are just some suggestions from an unimaginative dolt.

Of course many of these possibilities exist via iPad applications. The New York Times presentation at the iPad keynote indicates some of the possibilities available for print publications. The only problem with that is that I don’t want a device with a hundred different applications, one for each book or magazine that I read. What I want is for Apple to do what it’s best at: creating a standard framework with consistent features and enough flexibility to allow developers to create a rich user experience.

Lacking such a new format the iPad may become the default book reading device for many people, but there’s no certainty that Apple’s new iBookstore will become the main point of purchase for those books. You can be certain that Amazon, Barnes & Noble and others will have e-book applications on the iPad from day one, and you can also be sure that they’ll be working aggressively to integrate as many of these interactive features into their e-books as possible. Perhaps Apple will address this in a student-focused event later this year? I certainly hope so.

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