Digital Directions: The iPad Impact
The iPad launch was a classic bit of business theater. In what may prove to be one of the great product launches of his fabled career, Steve Jobs unleashed his unique alchemy of stealth, spectacle and awe to lay his pearls before the impatient masses. The public played its role fervently, at once being swept up into the rapture of the Apple hype machine and then recoiling at being manipulated so skillfully.
This is the device that is purported to save the publishing world. Cynics among us snickered at this notion, both before and after the launch. It's a pretty tall order for a device to single-handedly transform an industry. (Although I suppose the iPod did.) The real significance of the iPad event is that it represents a significant step forward in the evolution of the e-book marketplace by signaling the end of the prevalence of electronic ink and the wholesale distribution model.
The Waning of Electronic Ink
Electrophoretic displays—or electronic ink, such as used on the Kindle—involve significant trade-offs. While electronic ink's ability to generate a reflected display makes it optimal for extended daylight reading, some crucial shortcomings are disadvantageous to content providers. The inability for electronic ink to support media types such as video and software applications relegates the world of e-books to a beige, text ghetto, while all the other media types—rich, social and otherwise—are happily cohabiting on LCD-based displays. The launch of the iPad clearly illustrated the advantages of having e-books delivered with other media on the same LCD-based device.
Soon after the iPad launch, Amazon announced its acquisition of Toucho, a very early stage New York University startup that has developed some intriguing and lower-cost, force-sensitive resistance technology for multi-touch screens. While it is theoretically possible for Toucho's technology to be overlaid on Kindle's e-ink display, Toucho's work to date has been with LCD-based displays. This may signal the adoption of LCD displays for Kindles, especially with color electronic ink a year way and, even then, not able to support video.