Friday, October 23, 2009

Single-media devices, don’t get comfy

This is Friday ebook-naval gazing. No kidlit content at all.

The last year in ebooks has been weird. It’s felt a lot like an Oscar red-carpet reception, where all the celebrities showed up dressed nicely enough and we all clapped and complimented (Ohh! nice big screen, Kindle DX. Cool library features, Sony Reader. Plastic Logic Que, the Blackberry of e-book readers, how shrewd). But our enthusiasm has been a little tempered because all of us are anticipating the one starlet who will truly wow us all and change everything. Well, it’s getting late, and she’s not here.

You can probably guess I mean Apple and the mythic tablet. I’m beginning to wonder if our anticipation is one thing that’s keeping Jobs from greenlighting the device. Is it possible that Apple doesn’t want its device to appear among the riffraff at this party, this single-media device party?

Gizmodo has an interesting article on the demise of the iPod, and I think it is instructive. The iPod—that is, a device that only plays music—was a brilliant flash for eight years, but it is pretty clear that its time has come, and that multimedia devices like  the iPhones and iPod Touch devices are more like the future.  Is there any reason to believe that something that only reads print will last any longer, especially when they’re going to compete with the much cheaper and largely equally portable analog technology (books)?

So, if e-book readers have the stench of death about them already, why release a superficially similar  tablet in their midst (especially if your tablet will certainly cost twice as much)? Why not wait for all the major existing stake-holders in ebooks to do their thing, let the air clear a bit, and then bring out your new thing? (You could probably fit netbooks into this context too—I doubt Apple wants its device to be seen as a luxury netbook.)