the iPad is more a re-invention of the book than the computer 04.03.2010, 12:14 PM
posted by bob stein
As readers of if:book know, i've often referred to books as the principal vehicle humans have used to move ideas around time and space. Thanks in large part to the internet, over the past fifteen years that function is increasingly being supplanted by the internet/computer/screen combo. I know many people are disappointed in the iPad because they see it as a crippled computer (e.g. Cory Doctorow's recent rant in Boing Boing). Perhaps, if Cory and other critics would stop thinking of the iPad as a computer, but rather think of it as the container for a new kind of book, they might see its potential in a different light. Although a book (in technology terms) is a closed system and certainly not a platform for creativity in the sense that a computer (or a typewriter is), that hasn't stopped books from being invaluable to humanity. For me, the iPad is a an exciting baby step on the way to realizing Neal Stephenson's astonishing conception of the future of the book as described in Diamond Age: Or a Young Lady's Illustrated Primer. Well worth the read.
[NOTE: Having said all this, I am still very disappointed in all the ways that Apple limits that potential by insisting that the iPad live within the tightly controlled garden walls it has constructed.]
Posted by bob stein on April 3, 2010 12:14 PM
alex itin on April 3, 2010 2:47 PM:
I like to think that certain key mathematical ideas have been moved through pictures, but that get's quasi freemasonic/kabbahlic and so I'll leave that as a digression.
Personally I'm interested in the video out option of the ipad
My fantasy is being able to travel place to place with that and a small projector and my mobile art studio and sort of just do ebook lectures wherever I see fit!
I still want a big sexy large screened terabyte external drive having Mac to make content on...
but to move a smaller, less expensive machine seems like a possible life changer.
Then with my HD flip, you record the performances and voila... a sellable DVDrom, or downloadable ebook.
On a technical level, what sort of ebook software is going to work on this thing? Can I do anything like what was possible with TK3 in 2001? Or Sophie in the future?
Benjamin Bergery on April 4, 2010 9:34 AM:
- IPAD as HARDBACK or COFFEE TABLE-T ? -
Bob, you argue that the iPad is valuable in that it may offer a new kind of book, while Cory Doctorow argues that Apple's company-town approach is unacceptable.
As a publisher of thefilmbook.com an important issue for me is that the cost of the iPad determines its readership. Currently, the iPad is for the affluent elite, like coffee table books or hardbacks. I'm personally interested in reaching the paperback audience who might not be able to afford to buy another computing device.
At present there is no simple universal way of publishing video and interactive content for both iPad and, say, Internet Explorer users. While it is possible that some publishers will offer two versions of the same content, like paperback and hardback, I fear another scenario developing.
Publishers looking for paying readers may decide to target the affluent iPad readers and offer exclusive iPad "rich media" apps for a fee, and leave the non-iPad readers with "poor media" for free. In this model, the iPad becomes the coffee table book, the "coffee table-t", with no paperback version.
The danger, in short, is that the iPad may soon become the platform for future "rich media" books and magazines, designed for the affluent.
Michael W. Perry on April 4, 2010 10:55 PM:
For books, the iPad is more like a crowded Middle Eastern souk than a walled-in garden. It already has the Kindle app, which gives it access to every ebook that Amazon is selling. Apple is apparently going to make no effort to control what people can read on an iPad.
Apple has also signed a deal with Smashwords to distribute its ebooks. That means that vrtually anyone with the slightest computer savvy can publish to iPads through Smashwords. I know, I have a book about the J.R.R. Tolkien-William Morris literary link that should be available on the iBookstore this week.
The walled garden is for apps that can be run without 'jailbreaking' the hardware. Apple's chief fault there has been inconsistency and silliness rather than malice. And with 'jailbreaking,' those restrictions no longer exist. it took only a day to come up with a jailbreak for the iPad.
The greatest problem is that, with the release of the iPad, the hardware has leapt miles ahead of the software. There's no easy-to-use application that can create ebooks with more than a fraction of the iPad's ability to display. Even InDesign CS4's ebook abilities are rudimentary. And there are no well-established ebook standard either. The one the iPad uses, ePub, may be the best of the open standards, but it's roughly equivalent to HTML 1.0 of the early 1990s. It's not much good with anything other than novel-like text flows.
Gary Frost on April 5, 2010 7:44 PM:
Scenarios of past transformed to future can eclipse the present. You mention that over the past fifteen years that (the book) function is increasingly being supplanted by the internet/computer/screen combo.
It would be equally useful to say that the supplanting combo is internet/print on demand/electrophoric and paper devices/logistics of book mobility. It would also be useful to ask if the book format is advancing an inherent and emerging interdependence of paper and screen.
High speed scanners for example (experimental high speed video can capture a fanned books at 500 pages per second) can augment paper book reading extending display options without confining content to either paper or screen. The relationship can just merge.
The logic of such interdependence would allocate special functions to the more sustainable, efficient and alluring paper or screen displays. Many separate agendas including place based learning, unison textbook study, archival repository and recreational reading would all benefit from options of display and all opportunities for moving between paper and screen.
Finally, I suggest, the most needed parsing at the present moment is the allocation of functions of authentication to print and indexing or automated searching to screen components of the book format. This wasn't so in the past and may not be in the future, but it is the present definition of the book.
Richard Pfeiffer on April 11, 2010 5:01 PM:
I think you're on to something, but for me the key thing about the iPad is that it is personal -- as in" intimate," as in "it's almost a part of you" -- and that this allows it, in combination with its other attributes, to annihilate time and space.
The iPad is unlike the original personal computers, which merited that designation primarily due to the fact that they could be used and afforded by individuals, but were mostly tied to a single location such as a desktop. It is also different from a laptop, which is more portable than a desktop, but is still obtrusive both in its size and in the disjuncture between its screen and the way you interact with it. Although its smaller cousins, the iPhone and the iPod Touch, are more nearly ubiquitous than the iPad -- which I don't think most of us will be carrying in our pockets anytime soon -- they suffer from the perhaps paradoxical limitation of being too small to disappear. They are cramped by comparison with the iPad, and that often gets in your way.
The iPad, on the other hand, is "of crystal-clear glass, thin as a bubble, and as transparent," just as Beatrice Warde described fine typography in her essay "The Crystal Goblet." It might be even more appropriate to compare it to the subtle knife described in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, which opened windows into other worlds. For that is most fundamentally -- and most amazingly -- what this little piece of glass allows: It is a window into other worlds. And you work it with your fingers. And that is all.
A little piece of glass that you work with your fingers! What a concept!
Combine that with software that makes your iPad a bottomless book, such as Stanza, iBooks, Kindle, Eucalyptus, iAnnotate, and Google Books; software (Instapaper) that lets you gather web pages in the alien environment of the internet and put them where they are always at hand; software (Pages) that lets you read and write your own documents, always and everywhere on that little piece of glass -- if you put all of these things together, to mention just a few, you have an utterly different relationship, not only to books, but to text itself, which by its very ubiquity becomes pervasive. That is, text is no longer an object in space, but an intimate and omnipresent relationship, in line with the thinking of Alfred North Whitehead and the ideas put forward by Jean Gebser in The Ever-Present Origin.
There is definitely a walled garden, and that is a real problem -- along with the more fundamental reality that the iPad is an industrial artifact that carries with it a cost to both our planet and the lives of those who manufacture it. These issues have to be worked out.
But they do not detract from the transformation that is already taking place for those who have started to use these little gadgets. This transformation will only deepen as the iPad reaches into wider circles -- and as it is supplanted by devices that are even more astonishing.
[Composed on and sent from my personal glassy rectangle]
Cory Doctorow on April 18, 2010 9:08 PM:
If this is a new kind of book, it's a pretty deadly one: it's the kind of a book that allows a single company to censor and control the entire distribution AND retail channel, using DRM and the law to appropriate the copyrights of every author and publisher in the field on non-negotiable terms.
Bob, I think you've mistaken my review for a review of the *technology* in the iPad. It's not. The technology is fine (and kind of uninteresting; I guarantee you that whatever you love about the technology in the iPad will be obsolete and superseded by a new version in 18 months at the latest). The problem is the *policy* and *infrastructure*, which is a disaster for publishing, authorship and copyright.
The important thing about an invention isn't how it succeeds -- it's how it fails. You wouldn't buy a car that could successfully get 1,000 miles to the gallon and go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds if it also exploded at random intervals.
The iPad's technology isn't anything fundamental. It's not even an invention -- it's an assemblage. It's a bunch of off-the-shelf parts assembled with expert skill and integrated with a reasonably good software layer. Yes, it may take a lunatic in a turtleneck to stop the engineers from adding too many buttons to the UI, but let's not lose sight of the fact that this is just an accelerometer, a tiny SSD, a slow CPU, a capacitive screen, a marketing campaign and a bully.
The failure mode of the iPad is that a single company ends up controlling the market for all the native code that can be run on it. There has never been a book or a form of book that is as closed as this. The book is *not* a closed system and hasn't been since Gutenberg's technology escaped into the wild.
If this is the future of the book, heaven help us all.
David Oliver on May 24, 2010 9:16 PM:
I'm glad Cory Doctorow got to comment here. Though I don't worry to the degree Cory does, it's refreshing to have a counterpoint to all the hype and hysteria over the iPad. Michael Perry's comment is also useful - ePub is really just a baby step forward in the history of the book. That fact makes Cory's point important - we're not fighting the current definition of a book, rather we're fighting over the next definition.
Throughout the era of the Internet, we've also had to suffer through the challenge that all access to networked information was through the Personal Computer. Yeah, it took many forms - but it was always stamped with Microsoft's (and Apple's to a vastly lower degree) operating system view of the world. And, before iPhone, mobile phones were headed in the same direction.
What iPhone and now iPad have done for us is release us from the PC prison and its ossified thinking. They've given us a glimpse of what it's like to have almost nothing between you and your media (books in this case). I worry less than Cory because I think iPad has opened the gates for a lot more creativity to define non-PC form factors. Google's Android is already available in the B&N Nook and several other tablets. And, as I think we all know, Android is open source.
But, if books are to become something new, we'll need more than a data format for text (ePub). The next books need to be "reading applications" - with the full expanse of creative capability applied. Today, the most capable platform for such creativity is Apple's iPad. Tomorrow, I'm not so sure. The legacy nature of Apple's native software architecture is masked by Apple's glorious user experience. But I submit there is a huge opportunity to modernize in that space - and in a manner that does not make Apple the overlord.
For purposes of this discussion, thus, it might be useful to separate the iPad - and its usability concepts - from the fact that it is tied to a single retail store. Is this, then, a form factor we like for future books?
Alexandre Leray on June 10, 2010 6:48 PM:
The concept of personal Computer as defined today by Apple is flawed. The IPad is an expensive gadget of mass consumption which, on the fallacious argument of providing the ultimate user-experience, is trapping its users into an even more passive role (It's like the GUI: Alan Kay has always thought of it as a first step to introduce computers to a non-literate audience, whose eventually could start scripting the interface, making it their own. Apple removed that functionality and never reintroduced it). So to me net-books are much more empowering devices, for half of the price.
Smitty on August 2, 2010 11:08 PM:
Cory Doctorow wrote:
You wouldn't buy a car that could successfully get 1,000 miles to the gallon and go from 0 to 60 in 2 seconds if it also exploded at random intervals.
I don't know - that sounds like the standard Windows computing experience, seen from my 15 years in user-level support for both PCs and Macs. Macs, and, specifically, the iPad, have a much better success rate, with first-run, training, and with long-term ROI than anything Windows. Yet, because there is a certain mindset of "we need an open PC to do everything", there are people who will only buy a Windows box, and suffer along not knowing there is a better experience to be had.
The idea of a lighter, less "open", more user-friendly single-piece device that users can get most of their information on or with is quite liberating. Not all information that comes in to the iPad is vetted by the App Store - email, the web, various clients for services of all kinds, as well as content creation apps have no content that is controlled by Apple. Steve's not a bully, he's just a perfectionist - and a protectionist. Let others (Android, WebOS, one of the Unixes, heck, even MIcrosoft) come up with something else and sell apps on it. Android is on the way to this. Others will follow, That will still be what the author is saying: the App is the delivery mechanism. Not "the Apple App," but "the App." Apple just happens to be the front runner in that game right now.
Jay Rutherford on August 15, 2010 4:59 AM:
A couple of commentators here have trashed the iPad for being a closed system. This is far from the truth. I have on my iPad the last few issues of "Die Zeit" (a German weekly), several articles from "The Economist", "Brand Eins", as well as ePubs and PDFs created by my students and myself. I read them with Stanza or iBooks or even within emails. I save links to interesting web sites (such as this one), receive emails from colleagues or friends who might be critical of Apple or Microsoft or whoever. No-one, including Steve Jobs, can censor or control in any way what I put on, or read from, my iPad. I suppose Steve could decide not to allow PDFs on future versions, but that would be just a bit counterproductive.
I am known at my school by some as a traditionalist; I have cabinets of lead type and a proofing press in my project room and my assistant and I offer bookbinding courses alongside typography and graphic design. But I am running a project in the coming semester on design for mobile devices. It's called "Beyond the Book – the Future of Libraries". I want to see what ideas students of Visual Communications and Media Design might have on how we will read. I'll post results here as they develop.
Brian Whalley on August 17, 2010 2:09 PM:
An interesting reference to Alan Kaye and Young Lady's Primer - a point I made a while ago (http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue49/whalley/). The e-book is here (sort of) and looks like a Wiki. The iPad itself is an 'e-book' reader in terms of form factor and colour screen (http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue63/whalley-rvw-2/) rather than its present iOS configuration; it will be better when there is a capability to run Mac OSX.7 ...... (18 months?).