On the iBookstore

The iPad is billed as an eBook reader. Apple built a very pretty, Classics-like reader app for the iPad called iBooks. But more importantly, Apple created a new eBook distribution system based on the previous successes of the iTunes and App Stores: the iBookstore. It seems to me that Apple would be crazy not to make a version of iBooks for the iPhone, ideally one that syncs like the NYT reader app showed off on stage yesterday. But doing so makes me wonder if the relationship with Amazon will change.

Amazon’s Kindle app for the iPhone is brilliant. The UI is better than the Kindle’s making annotations and note-taking much easier. The WhisperSync capability is convenient for reading bits of a book while away from the Kindle, standing in line at the bank etc. I wouldn’t want to read an entire novel on the tiny, back-lit screen, but I know of many people that do.

Nevertheless, the iBookstore changes the game because Apple will get a cut of every book sold — the distribution fee — something that it does not get from books sold by Amazon and downloaded into the Kindle app on the iPhone. How will this impact competition from Amazon’s Kindle app, which effectively “duplicates functionality”, a sin known to lead to disbarring from the App Store? I see a few choices for Apple:

  1. Make iBook an exclusive iPad app, which will help differentiate it from the iPhone/iPod touch, and prevent competition by not approving an Amazon Kindle app for the iPad. Kindle users with iPhones can continue on their merry way.
  2. Make an iPhone version of iBook with WhisperSync-like functionality, which increases reading platforms and hopefully sales, don’t allow Kindle on the iPad, and find some way of de-approving the iPhone Kindle app to prevent competition.
  3. Let both iBook and Kindle compete side-by-side on all devices.

Despite potential lost sales for the iBookstore, allowing Amazon Kindle books to be read on the iPad could translate into more hardware sales, which are probably worth more to Apple than the commission on book sales. Furthermore, Kindle users are already used to tablet-like hardware and are primed for a device like the iPad. A portion of those may not feel so loyal to E Ink and switch. Some Amazon customers might buy at the expense of a Kindle, eschewing the iBookstore completely. Or they may keep on using the Kindle, feeling that the iPad’s reading functionality is only secondary, but appreciate the capability to read their Kindle library if they want to. Regardless, we have a few months to consider this problem. I don’t know how Apple worked its deal with the publishers, but as a Kindle user, I hope it turns out to be option #3.

Obsessive compulsory iPad observations

When I watched the iPad keynote this morning, I waited for an aha! moment that didn’t come. This device didn’t turn out to be revolutionary, as depicted by the cynical (yet funny!) pic above. I knew Steve’s aim would be lower than the ballooning expectations of the punditocracy. It just turned out lower than even I thought. But I don’t want to sell the iPad short. Someone said that the iPad was a “bunt”. I think that is true, but I do see potential which makes me think that the iPad made it to first base. Like the iPhone, I am confident that the iPad will get better.

Despite the image above, the iPad is not just a bigger iPhone (or four for that matter). The size and speed of this device allow for freedom in designing entirely new application interfaces, which could lead to apps not possible on the iPhone’s 3.5” screen. We got just a peek of this on stage today with the beautifully redesigned Photos app. Another element with great potential is two handed multitouch gestures. The iPhone is designed to be held with one hand and operated with the other. The iPad has a large screen and can be set down which means more room and more hands. There are many more potential gestures than the tap, pinch and swipe of the iPhone. Phil Schiller used his second hand during his iPad Keynote demonstration. Gamers on the iPhone are already used to two-handed gestures, but we’ll be seeing more of these in regular apps. Hopefully conventions will appear. Apple should define these in the Touch OS HIG, but letting the developers experiment might be good. The speed of the device could see a bifurcation between the iPhone and iPad operating environments with the addition of multi-tasking. But that remains to be seen.

Though I will not be lining up for the first iteration of the iPad, I see potential for this device. And don’t forget: there are still two more months to go before it is released. Obviously we are not going to see any hardware changes during that time (eg. webcam) but we might see some software changes (eg. multiple processes). Not to mention the content deals that can be made. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to get one a year or two from now.

I know you are supposed to end on a high note, but since everyone has been listing their disappointments with today’s announcement, here are my quibbles with the iPad:

Can’t stand alone

With all my harping about “appliance computing” for the past month, I was a little disappointed that the iPad did not quite make it. It cannot be used as a standalone appliance. Though there are ways to get photos onto the device, it still needs to dock to iTunes for other media. Lala and stronger cloud-dependence might change this but until then the iPad is another “spoke” in the digital hub. Since the hub must be a “real” computer, it adds too much complexity for an appliance. For the sake of my parents, I am still hoping for a “toaster” computer that can be work independently from a fridge computer (mixing metaphors I know, but you get the idea).

A living room device but not a family device

I have an iMac and a MacBook. The MacBook (my wife’s handmedown computer) is the living room computer. It is mainly used for browsing the web, checking email and watching vids when the other person is using the telly. The iPad is the perfect replacement but for one weakness: it can’t be shared. My wife and I don’t have the same bookmarks, email accounts and taste in movies or television. At this point the iPad does not seem to allow for multiple account syncing. This means the old Macbook, which is on it’s last legs, will be replaced with another MacBook (which is cheaper than two iPads).

Lack of HD

The iPad pixel density is only 132ppi while the iPhone clocks in at 163ppi. You could almost get 720p on the iPad’s screen size by just increasing the ppi to match the iPhone. I mean, the Motorola Droid has 265ppi and the Nexus One has 252.15ppi so it’s not impossible. The only reasons I can think of why not to do so is 1) because a large pixel-dense screen increased the price too much, or 2) Apple want to preserve a ratio relationship with the iPhone display, which sadly also means that iPhone 4 won’t have a better screen.

That is the end of my quibbles (without having actually played with the device), but I think these are all solvable issues. Only time will tell.

(The title of this post was nicked from TWiT‘s “Obsessive compulsory coverage” of the event today)

Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science, the whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.

Ray Bradbury