I’m a bit late with my blog post today, as I was hoping to have some news of my own to announce. So, you’ll have to make do with some from Steve Jobs instead.
Today Apple announced the iPad 2: thinner, lighter and faster than the original model, it begins shipping later this month. Now, obviously I don’t need a new iPad – I only got mine in autumn last year, after I grew disillusioned with the limitations* of the Sony eReader – but boy am I tempted. Apart from the general improvements, it will have a hardware rotation lock, just as the original iPad did until the software was changed to make it a mute button. This is a change I protested about, so it’s good to hear that Apple listened to its customers.
When the iPad first came out I was unconvinced. I liked my eInk reader and didn’t see the need for an oversized iPod Touch. As with the iPhone, it wasn’t until some killer apps came along that I changed my mind and bought one. I now use it extensively, for reading ebooks and manuscripts, checking email and Twitter, making notes and mindmaps and book outlines. I even use it for my day-job, at least on business trips, because of its lightness and superior battery life.
I still prefer my MacBook Air for work that needs substantial amounts of typing or a more sophisticated piece of software such as Scrivener, but the iPad serves me well for lighter tasks. And I’m not alone. I saw someone mention earlier this week that the iPad is now the tool of choice in the publishing industry, presumably for reading manuscripts and staying in touch on the move. No more worrying about WiFi hotspots; these babies can be bought with 3G, and ten quid a month buys you enough O2 bandwidth to pick up emails, etc, on those odd days when you’re away from a WiFi network.
The other thing I love about the iPad is the iBook app. It’s much slicker than its Kindle equivalent, which I only installed because a couple of books I wanted were only available in that format. It’s much faster than an eInk reader; I can skim through pages much faster, almost as fast as with a paper book. I can buy books within the app or import ePubs obtained elsewhere, whether bought from a website or made myself by exporting one of my own manuscripts from Scrivener. And unlike a paper book, I don’t need a bookmark, a reading light, or a magnifier.
This latter is a huge boon to those of us whose eyesight is not what it used to be. In fact I reckon it’s not the younger generation who are going to be flocking to ebooks, but the older one. The price of paper being what it is these days, the type size in mass market paperbacks seems to be getting smaller and smaller, to the point where I have to check inside a book before I decide to buy it. I put a copy of George R R Martin’s A Clash of Swords back on the shelf in Waterstones a few months ago, simply because I couldn’t read the text comfortably, even in a well-lit shop. Once readers discover the sheer convenience of being able to resize text at will and adjust the light level with equal ease, I hope they will realise that ebooks provide a superior reading experience, at least for novels, and are worth paying a sensible price for. Not hardback prices; those are ridiculously over-inflated. But certainly around the price of a paperback seems to me to be entirely realistic.
Now, if only HM Government would see sense and exempt ebooks from VAT…
* Like, what’s the point in having built-in PDF annotation if you then forget to put a hyphen on the software keyboard? WTF, Sony??