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E-Reader

My Day with the iPad

by Brian Blum on June 30, 2010

in Media,Products

Totally drool-worthy

Last week, I hired a team to design and build a cool new iPad app for me (more on that in the coming weeks). The problem was that, at the time, I’d never actually held or used an iPad. So I was truly delighted when my friend Mitch Simon, who runs a successful coaching business in San Diego and was visiting us over the weekend, offered to leave his iPad with me for a day while he went out to tour the country.

Here, then, are ten comments from my day with the iPad.

1. First of all, it’s totally drool-worthy. I don’t know why, but when you pick it up and start to play with it, you immediately fall in love. Especially kids. I had a gaggle of children, ages 13 and under, begging to touch it, swipe it, shake it and turn it around so the screen reformats this way and that. I wanted it for business reasons; they were all about the fun. And Steve Jobs is right: it really is the best way to interact with the web.

2. I can touch type on it. Unlike the iPhone, where I’m all thumbs (literally), the virtual keyboard on the iPad in landscape mode is just big enough to let me type normally. That makes the iPad an ideal device to take to a lecture or conference. I found Apple’s Pages word processing program easy-to-use and intuitive (if not as powerful as Word on my Mac). Add in the long-life battery and the iPad is, as some controversial pundits have already claimed, a NetBook killer. And for all the naysayers who say you need to “feel” the click of a real keyboard, I say – get over it. You will get used to it.

3. Typing on the iPad has one big disadvantage over a laptop: unless you’ve attached an external keyboard, the iPad has to lie flat on a table or desk. That makes it hard to fully take advantage of the benefit of the screen – it’s angled away from you. It works OK if you have your feet on the couch, but didn’t your mother teach you never to do that?

4. As print newspapers begin to be phased out, reading the paper over breakfast is something the iPad will be great at. Although I’m not a regular reader of USA Today, the app version is superb and immediately intuitive. The fonts were big enough for even my middle-aged eyes. One disadvantage: if your fingers get dirty or sticky (eating pancakes or anything with syrup), that’s going to muck up your screen much more than a smudge on a printed paper.

5. It’s still too heavy for reading in bed. I want a device that’s as light as a paperback that I can hold in one hand (you know, like a Kindle). The iPad is somewhere between that and a hard cover book. But otherwise, the screen is brilliant and some of the tricks – like highlighting text and taking notes – are really helpful. And I know it’s just a “gimmick,” but the animation for flipping the pages really is fun

6. Despite the weight in bed, walking around with the iPad is a pleasure. My friend Mitch put his iPad in a leather case and it feels like one of those “old fashioned” diary books that I used to carry so long ago. Think of it as a slightly hefty yellow note pad. I found myself bringing the iPad everywhere with me.

7. The bathroom test – come on, you know at some point you’re going to want (or need) to hold the iPad while on the toilet instead of a newspaper or book. So, to be comprehensive, I gave it a spin. Here it works better than reading a book in bed: I don’t mind using both hands to hold it and it’s great having a variety of reading material in case your stay in the washroom is, um, a bit lengthy.

The kids can't get enough

The kids can't get enough

8. Pictures look fantastic on the iPad – so much so that I can’t imagine ever printing out photos and placing them in an album again. Before the iPad, it was a bit awkward having to pull out a laptop or ask friends and family to crowd around my desktop screen to see snapshots from our latest vacation. The iPad takes it to the couch. And it’s a whole lot more convenient than carting over 17 albums worth of photos (of course, digitizing all those albums will be a major undertaking).

9. Ditto for video – it’s like having one of those dedicated DVD players they used to give out in business class in airplanes before the built-in TVs came out – except a whole lot smaller. And it’s just big enough to share – at least a couple people at once (I wouldn’t try to watch Date Night on an iPad with the gang).

10. Biggest pet peeve – no front facing camera. Come on Apple, we know you’re just holding back until next year so you can generate more sales, but I want to be able to video Skype or FaceTime with my family when I’m on the road (or in bed – what is it that makes me want to snuggle up with the iPad). This may be the killer app…why do we have to wait?

So, did I add anything new to the discussion? What do you think? Please leave your comments below.

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Kindle 2I’ve written before about how I believe the physical nature of books will change…much sooner than most of us can imagine. Within 10 years, 20 years tops, there will be virtually no print books being published – we’ll be consuming content exclusively on portable reading devices. Newspapers will fall even sooner.

Today’s text readers include the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, The Plastic Logic Que and, of course, the iPhone and its various cell phone based derivatives. Future products – perhaps even the long rumored Apple “iPad” – will undoubtedly be much easier on the eyes and intuitive to use than what’s currently available.

But how about the creation of books? Bob Stein of the Institute of the Future of the Book suggests that the same phenomena of “crowdsourcing” that forms the backbone of content creation on social media – from blogs to Facebook – and that has made Wikipedia the world’s largest and most popular reference source, will be applied next to novels, biographies and all sorts of non-fiction.

The initial reaction of traditional authors – myself included – has been a quick harrumph. You can’t displace a well-trained and experienced writer with the power of isolated individuals across the Internet.

Or can you?

Stein gives the example of a well-known biographer who receives a $2 million advance, goes off for 10 years to research and write, and returns with his latest best-seller. Crowdsource me? says the writer. Not going to happen.

But at the same time, there is undoubtedly a newly minted PhD in Creative Writing who grew up on Facebook who has no problem writing in public and letting her thousands of friends and followers contribute. It may seem improbable today, but then so does the total demise of a hard cover book you can hold in your hand.

You can already see companies exploring this space. WeBook is probably the best known. Founded by Israeli serial entrepreneur Itai Kohavi and backed by some of the biggest names in venture capital, the site allows anyone to start a book topic and solicit submissions from other WeBook members who can also collaboratively edit the book in real time for all the world to see. WeBook runs periodic votes where members determine which books WeBook should actually publish (gasp) in print.

The startup Vook is more traditional in that most of what this company publishes is written by a single author, but it breaks the traditional mold by including video as an integral part of the storytelling process. “Vooks,” of course, are digital only.

Group written books are actually not that new. Take a look at the Talmud, the massive work of Jewish law, folklore and history. The original source material for the Talmud was oral, written by multiple authors and handed down from generation to generation until it was finally written down.

Legally, publishing crowdsourced books can be pretty tricky. The Internet culture of free sharing makes it tough to solicit help on a book and then charge for it. For example, I have a personal crowdsourcing project called SiddurWiki and I’m still trying to figure out the lawyerly language so that content on the site can be widely distributed electronically at no cost, while at the same time, be set up so that I can also sell it and make a profit.

So what does an established, traditional author (or an electronic publisher of any type, for that matter) do in such turbulent times? I think that individual authors have to begin thinking of themselves as hybrid writers and managers. It’s not enough to lock yourself in a room with just a typewriter (boy, that really dates me!) Rather you have to view your work as a “product” that needs leadership.

Writers of the future will be need to be cheerleaders, evangelists and social media experts, as well as dedicated craftsmen.

Ultimately, writers won’t go the way of the dinosaur. Indeed they’ll be as valuable as ever: a single person will still need to put it all together. But the process that leads up to that is about to change forever.

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The battle of the e-readers is heating up. Barnes and Noble has announced it has entered into an exclusive agreement to sell the upcoming device from Plastic Logic. The unit competes directly with the Amazon Kindle DX – both are about the same size – although the Plastic Logic device is spiffier in our opinion – all touch screen, no controls at all. It weight about 13 ounces.

Both the Kindle DX and Plastic Logic devices are highly anticipated to become large size useful digital newspaper readers.

Plastic Logic also announced that AT&T will be providing the wireless backbone for its machine. The Kindle uses Sprint and provides it for free to Kindle owners. Will Plastic Logic do the same?

The AT&T deal is a bit strange since Apple’s uber-popular iPhone runs on the same network. If both get big, AT&T may have trouble keeping up.

Plastic Logic will also build WiFi into the device, another feature the Kindle doesn’t have. A third device – the Sony Reader – doesn’t have WiFi at all (although it does have a touch screen).

Plastic Logic talked up its deal with Barnes and Noble on Fox Business. Video here. The Plastic Reader device will launch in “early 2010,” the company’s VP of biz dev said on Fox Business.

Barnes and Noble, which is looking for any corner to cut these days, seems to be betting on e-books. Their newly announced e-book store has 700,000 titles (with plans to increase to a million by next year) vs. 300,000 at Amazon. Of those, however, half a million are public domain books from Google. Barnes and Noble’s titles won’t be exclusive to Plastic Logic reading – they’ll be open format and will work on the iPhone and iPod Touch a well as BlackBerrys and most laptops and desktops.

As a result, Amazon may be forced to embrace more formats (and we hope lower the ridiculously high prices on its Kindles).

One other cool thing announced during Barnes and Noble’s Monday conference call – a free iPod app that lets users snap a picture of a book (presumably in a Barnes and Noble store) and use that to get product details, editorial reviews, and customer ratings via their mobile device. Neat.

For more articles on newspapers and classified advertising, visit the industry experts: AIMGroup.com.

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