Archives for posts with tag: iPad

We’ve known for a while, thanks to Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs, that Apple was planning something big in the book/​textbook market. Yesterday, January 19th, we found out it was iBook 2. Quoting from Apple’s oh-​so-​subtle press release entitled Apple Reinvents Textbooks with iBooks 2 for iPad, here are the key things that are part of the upgrade:

(1) iBooks textbooks, an entirely new kind of textbook that’s dynamic, engaging and truly interactive […] with support for great new features including gorgeous, fullscreen books, interactive 3D objects, diagrams, videos and photos;

(2) iBooks Author […] a free download from the Mac App Store and lets anyone with a Mac create stunning iBooks textbooks, cookbooks, history books, picture books and more, and publish them to Apple’s iBookstore. [You create a ibook] with Apple-​designed templates that feature a wide variety of page layouts [… and] add your own text and images by simply dragging and dropping, [… you can also] add interactive photo galleries, movies, Keynote® presentations and 3D objects.

(3) iTunes® U app [which provides students and teachers with] access to the world’s largest catalog of free educational content, along with over 20,000 education apps at their fingertips and hundreds of thousands of books in the iBookstore that can be used in their school curriculum.

At first glance, there seems to be a lot in here for advocates of self-​publishing and eReading to like. In particular, iBooks Author could be an incredibly powerful tool for getting students to engage with authorship and course material in an entirely different way — imagine every student making their own custom textbook.

However, when one digs beneath the surface a bit, iBooks Author has a few big problems. These are the two — one small and one big — that concern me…

Problem #1 — Interactivity
Kathleen Fitzpatrick notes that while iBooks make a claim of being “truly” interactive, what that really means is interactive animations…

The textbooks that can be produced with iBooks Author and read in iBooks 2 are interactive, in the sense of an individual reader being able to work with an individual text in a hands-​on fashion. They do not, however, provide for interaction amongst readers of the text, or for responses from a reader to reach the author, or, as far as I can tell so far, for connections across texts. The “book,” though multimediated, manipulable, and disembodied, is still a discrete, fairly closed object.

I would take this one step further, in that the books that I’ve seen also don’t seem to provide much connection between text and interactivity. Rather than integrating the interactivity into the content in such a way that it becomes inseparable, it largely remains there to illustrate the text. In this way, all we have is dancing baloney sort of illustration within a closed reading experience. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it isn’t a revolutionary interactive experience.

Still even if iBook Author isn’t all that interactive, the promise of providing students a tool to build their own books is a good thing… right?

Not if the book is locked down to the iOS platform.

Problem #2 — ibooks can only be read on iOS devices
The iBook format, .ida, is a proprietary build off of the industry standard .ePub format which can only be read on an iOS device. That means that a student’s work can only be viewed, as it was intended to be1 , within the iOS platform.2 “Taking home” the book you made in class to show your parents requires you to take your ipad as well.

This may not seem like a big thing — especially since we imagine that each student would have their own iPad. However, it doesn’t take much to imagine less affluent school districts where students would share iPads. Or other scenarios where school supplied iPads cannot leave the school campus. Without access to a “home” iPad, that student’s work becomes more-​or-​less inaccessible — even if the family has a computer. Further, if the student wants to share that work within her extended family, all of them need iOS devices as well.

The problem is a closed, hardware based, platforms
The fact that iBooks only work on iOS devices seems to me an exceedingly problematic development for ebooks in general.

The rational — on the surface — for going with a proprietary format, is that the current ePub standard does not currently allow for an ebook experience that meets Apple’s high standards. As someone whose struggled with the limits of ePub, I’m sympathetic to this argument. Especially, if we are talking about typographic nuances and interactive elements, by all accounts iBooks are able to do things that standard ePubs cannot do as well (if at all).

This will surely result in some beautiful ibooks.

However, if we look beyond élite publications, this slavish attention to “experience” makes less sense. Most self-​publishing authors — including students — rarely end up using many of those advanced interactive features that made it necessary to drop ePub. I expect that time will show that, outside of the typographic tweaks hard wired into Apple’s templates, the vast majority of iBooks could have been created as ePubs without sacrificing anything.

And if those books had been “born” ePub, they could have been read on just about any computer, tablet, eReader, or phone available today. Instead thy will be locked to the iOS. In this way iBooks coverts generic content into something that can only be viewed on Apple devices.

Considering that the iPad’s traces its lineage back to the iPod, whose success was based on the cross-​platform MP3 standard, there is a certain irony to this decision.

Beyond the issue of experience, there’s another compelling reason for Apple to do this. As was recently pointed out to me in an email discussion, while Apple makes a lot on content (some $1,571 million in its 2011 fourth quarter!), content only accounts for 6% of all of Apple’s revenue. Almost 70% of revenue in that same quarter came from the sale of iPods, iPhone, iPads, and their related services, carrier agreements, and accessories.

To be blunt, iBooks are about selling iOS devices, not the other way around.3

Thus, there is very little incentive for Apple to develop an iBook reader for Windows or Android, let alone for Apple lap– and desktop computers.4.

For the foreseeable future, expect iBooks to be locked to a hardware platform. And that in turn means that a lot of new, traditionally platform agnostic, content will become locked to a platform for no other reason the artificial restrictions of the platform it was authored on. While that might not seem like much, it’s a very different approach to electronic texts than we have seen up to this point.5 Granted, there have always been technological barriers to reading and writing, but I cannot think of a bigger attempt, in recent memory, to restrict mass-​market reading and writing to a single platform. It may result in a win for Apple, but I can’t help but this of it as a loss for the rest of us.

  1. Apple does provide the ability to export a platform independent PDF of an iBook. However, all of the much touted interactivity is stripped from the book. And PDF is a format that still is primarily intended for print consumption, which means that all of the screen-​reading advantages of an ebook, such as dynamic text reflow, are also lost. []
  2. Additionally, the iBooks Author EULA contains a big “catches” to the distribution of ibooks. While free ibooks can be distributed how ever the author wishes, ibooks can only be sold via the iBookstore. []
  3. see Joe Espisito’s spot on analysis for more on this []
  4. In this way Amazon has a fundamentally different reading platform strategy. While they are heavily invested in Kindle, one must understand that it’s the Kindle platform versus the hardware that Amazon really cares about. In order to reach the broadest community of readers/​customers, Amazon has published Kindle software for every major Computer, Tablet, and Smartphone platform. Kindle books, which typically have DRM applied to them, may also be in a proprietary format, but, to some degree its platform agnostics approach makes it a far more available format to readers than Apple’s hardware locked .ida []
  5. Even during the browser wars of the late nineties, text on a site optimized for a given browser could still be typically read by anyone who visited that site, regardless of their web browser. []

29/365 (IPAD) by Jesus Belzuncem Licensed Through CCLast week two opposing editorials appeared on TechCrunch representing the two oppositional poles of a discussion on reading and the iPad. On the side of the iPad killing reading was Paul Carr’s NSFW: I Admit It, The iPad Is A Kindle Killer. I Just Wish It Weren’t Going To Kill Reading Too . In opposition to Carr, stating the iPad is going to fundamentally change reading and we need to rethink books is Dear Authors, Your Next Book Should be an App, Not an iBook, written by 21 year old1 Cody Brown.

On the weekend of its launch Cory Doctorow and others (like myself) critiqued the closed nature of the iPad development platform and its relationship to innovation. Others have written in support of it.

What is it about the iPad that activates discussions like these? I mean, it’s a wonderfully engineered device, but it’s not all that and the proverbial bag of chips. Though it may replace some people’s “traditional” computers2 , neither the desktop, nor the notebook, will be going away anytime soon. And, while Apple will probably capture the slate tablet market, there are tons of competing tablet devices on the way. However, if the iPad had “just” been a tablet (like upcoming models from HP, Dell, or Google), I doubt that we’d be been having such focused conversations.

Having been witness to lots of debates on the iPad and its potential effects on publishing by pragmatic folks who, though technologists, are excellent at getting beyond the spin, I don’t think most of these discussions can be dismissed as simply buying into hype .

Nor is it necessarily the given reality of the situation, though transformations within the marketplace, like the move in publishing to agency model pricing is most definitely based in the immediate real. For the most part these conversations, take for example Carr and Brown, are fixated on the future.

So what’s driving all the churn?

I propose that the iPad is the metaphor3 that has allowed/​enabled existing ideas to be developed in new (and potentially more productive) ways.

The iPad’s promise of a tight “device” (versus computer) experience, able to be “infinity” expanded through apps, creates just enough space of ideation to activate all the debates that we’ve seen (open v. closed, book v. app, etc). What the iPad adds to this discussion is a common understand of interaction and experience that allows us to greatly refine the discussion.

Beyond the specifics (like app store pricing and agency models), the iPad offers an “open bounded” experience — neither as single purpose as an “eReader” or as open as a “computer” (or perhaps even a “website) — with an easily understood interface (emphasizing the immediacy of touch) and platform (the easy availability of apps). If you’re in a ‘modern’4 country and within a general age/​demographic grouping, you don’t need to have held an iPad to participate in the discussion — we can easily conceptualize the experience from interactions with other technologies (computers and cell phones being obvious examples, but also think about interactions with touch screen interfaces in retail and other locations).

The brilliance of Apple, for better or worse, is the iPad’s intuitiveness5 — using an iPad is far easier to imagine and explain than any other type of computer (including Macs).

If we take the iPad as both the subject of and a metaphor for the arguments, we can try and “step outside” the discussions to see what’s actually being argued. And the answer is, “the future.” Each of the debates, and positions held there in, encapsulate a specific ideology/​imagination of a future (for publishing, for software, for users) which have been going on for quite a while. Should devices (with the iPad standing in for all) be open (democratic) or closed (authoritarian)? Will literacy fail or be irrevocably transformed? Is all development positive? And what is lost when, with the move to digital production and distribution, “all that is solid melts into air?” 6

From this perspective, the increasing heat of these reactivated debates should not be a surprise. Previous discussions about future7 suffered from lack of a shared conceptualization of computing. We might have conceptualized unfettered computers with transparent interfaces, “elegantly” fitting into our lives, but I don’t think that most of us were truly able to imagine them, at least in a shared way. Turning Marx’s quote on its head, Apple has taken the conceptual and given it a material form. And it doing that, it’s (momentarily at least) reshaped the discussion.

  1. The only reason I called out the authors age is that it was invoked twice within the article, once by TechCrunch and once by the author himself. I’m assuming that being 21 years old is important to understand his right to comment on these issues (as opposed to the fact that he’s a Reynolds Scholar in Social Entrepreneurship at NYU, and on the board of CoPress). For the record, as of presstime, Mr. Carr is 30 and I’m 35. Hopefully our ages are as important to our messages as Mr. Brown’s is to his). []
  2. in particular folks who use a computer primarily for eMail, web surfing, & light word processing []
  3. I’m thinking about a metaphor in terms of Wittensteinian categorization, and not necessarily as Lakoff and Johnson do. []
  4. I admit that Modern is a deeply problematic term. I had initially “first-​world”, but that is equally, if not more, problematic. Any suggestions? []
  5. Intuitiveness should be thought of as a mediation between intangible individual and cultural expectations about how a device should work and its material functioning. It emerges in dialog with an ever emerging total social experience of technology, and is therefore a constantly moving target. []
  6. Marx and Engles, The Manifesto of the Communist Party []
  7. I’d go so far as to say every discussion of the future, as like technology, the discussions around it are in an ever emergent state. Thus categories and concepts are always being created and modified []

Disclaimer 1: I haven’t played with an iPad yet.
Disclaimer 2: While I agree with everything Cory Doctorow wrote about the iPad, I still want one. Please don’t judge me…

Today is launch day for the iPad, and, it’s going to be remembered as an “important” day in the development of computers, as the launch day of the iPhone represents an important day in the history of the mobile phone (and, as we’ve discovered, the eReader and the computer). That said, I think it’s important to stress that the iPad is not a computer.

In an editorial published yesterday entitled “Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)”, Cory Doctorow makes the case for why the iPad is not a “revolutionary” product when it comes to user empowerment. Take a moment and go read the article. Seriously… whether or not you agree with Doctorow’s conclusion this is an important discussion.

I for one agree with Doctorow. Apple, by extending the “successes” of the iPhone with the iPad, is defining a new, restrictive, device space — one in which the device you purchase is wired shut (I’m borrowing both the phrase and concept from Tarleton Gillespie1) . As Doctorow points out, as with the iPhone, the iPad is a device that you buy but don’t own.

  • Even though you paid hundreds for it, you can’t take it apart without voiding the warranty.2
  • Even though you paid hundreds for it, you can’t customize it in an non-​Apple approved way it without voiding the warranty.3
  • Even though you paid hundreds for it, you can’t load apps from 3rd parties without going through the Official App store without voiding the warranty.

To appreciate how this model is different, think about a car. I can perform routine maintenance on my car without voiding the warranty (provided I do it correctly). I can put alternative grades of gas in their car without voiding the warranty. Most importantly, I can open up the hood and take a look at the engine without voiding their warranty.

The iPad is, to borrow another metaphor from Gillespie, a car whose hood is welded shut. If you break that seal, even if you don’t touch a thing, you’ve voided the warranty. Further it’s a car in which I can only put in approved gas, and that gas can only be bought from the manufacturer of the car.

This all leads me to why the iPad and other upcoming tablets are not computers. The computer, as we understand it, was the ultimate in customizable equipment. Take a trip to the grocery store and take a look at the magazine rack. Even at a time when magazines are ceasing print edition, you’ll still find numerous magazine dedicated to how you can mod your computer. And even if you aren’t interested in modifying your computer, you still have full choice over what software you can load on it. You can purchase software at computer/​electronic stores, big box business stores like Staples, and even at supermarkets and dollar stores. You can also download software from countless websites. There’s no approval processes. For better or worse, anyone can write and distribute software. For all the reasons stated above, this isn’t the case with the iPad.

The iPad is not a computer. It’s a device which the user has limited control over.

An argument has been made that this closeness doesn’t matter when the platform is so easy to program for that a 13 year old child can create and market their own app through the store. The problem this argument conflates access to authoring tools and a marketing channel with control over the device/​distribution. Put it a different way, yes that child can build their own app. That’s nothing new, precocious children have been programming for years! What this argument fails to take into account is that the child’s ability to distribute that app is controlled not by the child but by Apple. If Apple decides that the app is inappropriate — of course, everything that junior-​high-​school-​age boys produce is always appropriate —then it will be removed from the store. Once that happens, there is no way to load it onto the iPad, even if that child ops to eMail it to friends. Private distribution, outside of the app store, is not a option.

And while someone might say that the child could get around this restriction by building their application on the web, there are two problems with this model. First, there is still no easy way to charge for access to a web app. Second, and more important, the primary graphic tool for building web applications, Adobe’s Flash, cannot run on the iPad.

Others have suggested that the iPad is nowhere near as closed a platform as the printed book. While this is a bit of an “apples vs. remote controls” type of move, even if we take the comparison seriously, I don’t think it holds up. Yes, I can’t directly change the content of the book. I’m not easily able to add pages or words for example (at least not additional printed words). However, I’m free to alter the book in any way I want. I can make notes in the margins. If I’m a dadaist (or a ransom note writer), I can cut the book apart and reassemble the words in different formats. And I can also choose to create my own book, radically altering the form of the book, as well as its contents.

What is particularly interesting for me, as a social scientist, is that this “locking down” of the iPad and other tablets can be seen as reversing a key trend of modernity/​promise of technology. According to its proponents, the “computer/​internet revolution” enabled us to move beyond the “mass” prefix. No longer were we the “mass produced” culture of the industrial age. Technology enabled choice; it allowed us to personalize our commodities and our media. Mass media was replaced by web 2.0 where anyone could create their own content and share it.

The iPhone, the iPad, and a number of other devices on the horizon, step away from this. In the name of user experience4 we are taking a step back towards Fordism (“You can have any app you want on your iPod as long as it’s approved by Apple.”) Cynically, one might argue that what this is really doing is pulling the veil off of the “mass customization” that we have really been experiencing5 — that we have never realized the freedoms promised to us by technology. I’m not quite that cynical.

I, like Doctorow, think it’s important for a space of experimentation and resistance to be available.6 And the failure of the iPad, and a number of other tablets that look to be on the way, is that it doesn’t provide that space. If anything, the iPad works to enclose possibilities, not expand them. My hope is that this model will not win out. My expectation (especially considering that after writing all of this I still want an iPad) is that this will be the future (or at least for a while).

Why I won’t buy an iPad (and think you shouldn’t, either)

  1. For an excellent summary of the parts Gillespie’s argument that are especially relevant to this discussion see his article “Designed to Effectively Frustrate.” []
  2. Note that the iPad and the iPhone were by no means the first devices to forbid the user from taking them apart. []
  3. The iPhone was, however, the device that popularized the App store model which has since been embraced by Google and Microsoft. []
  4. Note that I don’t want this to be an either/​or situation. Just about every decision Apple has made can be justified in terms of user experience. Of that there is little question. However, failing to acknowledge the trade offs that are occurring because of this and contemplate how this may be indicative of a larger trend would be a mistake as well. []
  5. See Mark Andrejevic’s iSpy: Surveillance and Power in the Internet Era for a particularly excellent summary of this position. []
  6. This is a fundamentally different position than being technological Utopian — I don’t think technology is the solution, its what the people do with the technology that matters. []

One of the many technologies on displays at this year’s TOC was Qualcomm’s new Mirosal display technology. This and Pixel QI’s tech will probably kill the eInk reader. Both technologies are low powered, “quick” refreshing (though not as quick as a traditional LCD, color displays. While they do consume more power than eInk, my understanding is that they are far lower draw than a traditional LCD. That means that the battery on an eReader (or tablet) powered by this technology should be able to easily last between routine charges. Note that all of the smaller displays in the background are demoing Mirosal as well.

Qualcomm Mirasol Color Display from Matt Bernius on Vimeo.

A couple points of clarification. The handheld unit running the video-​loop is not an eReader. Nor is Qualcomm/​Mirasol getting into the eReader business. They are, at this point, just providing the displays. The Qualcomm rep confirmed that we would see Mirasol on an eReader by years end, but could not confirm the manufacturer/​marketer. My guess, based on Qualcomm’s previous relations and the desire to make a big splash with this technology, is that it will either be a Sony or Kindle reader. I don’t think there are other players big enough out there to compete with those two for the technology.

[Rendering of Notion Ink Adam]

As far as it’s competitor, PixelQi… we will see that premier on Notion’s Ink Adam tablet (pictured above) later this year. The Ink Adam is a really interesting device that has the potential to give the iPad a real run for its money in terms of feature/​price set (see comparison chart below — click for higher resolution version).

(BTW, you get my narration in the video because I was not able to synch up with the official Qualcomm rep, and the nice fellow working the booth isn’t allowed to be interviewed)

As part of my PhD work at Cornell, I get to hang out with folks from Science and Technology Studies and Information Science. Both groups are very interested in how various parties, and in particular “users” affect the development of technologies. Case and point: the Model T.

When Ford introduced the Model T, a significant number of rural adopters found a novel use for the car – as a “mobile” engine for powering farm equipment. As the illustration above depicts, farmers would jack the car up, remove the rubber tire and attach the wheel to various crank driven machinery. 3rd party vendors even sold kits to help adapt the car for this type of use (in modern terms they were jailbreaking the Model T) – at least until Ford Motors cracked down on this application.

The moral of this example: the way users use technology can vary greatly from the way the creators imagined it should be used.

So how does this tie into a discussion on eReading?

As I’ve posted a number of times, pree iPad Steve Jobs, as late as two years ago, was holding firm to the idea that people didn’t read anymore, and even if they did, the iPhone wasn’t a reading platform. In 20/​20 hindsight this may seem like an odd position, especially with the launch of iBooks and the iPad. But at the time it made some sense. Seriously, who would read on a device with a tiny LCD screen that consumed a lot of power?

Well, as it turns out, iPhone users, especially those who had a daily commute, would.

Like the Model T and farm equipment, there were outside factors that influenced how people used the technology.

First, for most people, the iPhone was a replacement device; by that I mean that it probably wasn’t a “gateway” cellphone for most people. While it might have been their first smartphone, the vast majority of users had already integrated a cellphone into their daily rhythms. They were used to carrying that sort of device with them wherever they went. And, more importantly, they were used to routinely charging it (we’ll get back to that latter point in a moment).

These same people had also grown accustom to the notion of using a phone to help pass downtime (waiting in line, at the doctor’s office, and, most importantly, on commutes). In fact, cell phone providers have been touting this as a “feature” of cellphones since the early 2000’s (apps as a revenue stream predate the iPhone). So iPhone users did what you might expect – they used their phones to “kill time.” And the best way to kill time was to explore the App Store.

As mentioned previously, ¾’s of the apps downloaded from the store are free ones. And, not surprisingly, most (if not all) of the eReaders available on the App store are free. So, people began to download reading apps. And, while projected text (as opposed to the reflective eInk surface of the Kindle) is “harder” on most folks the eyes, when content is begin read for limited periods at a time (say on a commute), people didn’t notice the strain (especially when there were convenient, multi-​touch zoom in and out controls).

Likewise, while an LCD consumes far more power than an eInk display, people had integrated routine charging of the phone into their daily routine (see, I told you I’d get back to it — this, by the way is why, even though LCDs consume far more power than eInk, eInk isn’t going to win on its power efficiency). And they did it regardless of if they had read or not.

Thus common wisdom about reading on an iPhone (or other smartphone) was proved wrong.

The lesson here is that people use technology in unexpected ways. And the unexpected ways that they use technology have unintended consequences on other technologies. Nothing operates in a vacuum. As the cliché goes, a pebble dropped in one end of the pool can case ripples (if not waves) in the other end. So let’s discuss a potential downside to these mobile technologies.

Data Strain

While smartphone and the apps that run on them may change our expectations about what “technology” should do, they have lost of unintended effects. In June of 2009 AT&T revealed that the average iPhone user consumes upwards of 400MB of voice/​data bandwidth a month. That is significantly more traffic than AT&T is used to providing. In fact, according to AT&T, 3% of smartphone users, primarily iPhone owners, are responsible for 40% of total data usage on the network. If you’ve been to a major US city and experience poor quality on your iPhone, this is part of the reason.

This isn’t just a problem with AT&T. As more feature and app rich phones (and tablets) come online with different companies (for example the Nexus One and Droid on Verizon) networks are going to become increasingly stressed by data demands. And, at least as of this writing, US cell phone providers are not quite sure how to keep up with the demand.

Typically smartphones require subscribers to sign up for both a voice and a data plan from their cell phone providers. Current carriers offer a variety of tiered data plans, ranging from a few megabytes a month to unlimited data transfers. Typically customers are “nicely” pushed toward the more costly unlimited data plans. However, carriers are beginning to discover that consumers are more than capable of consuming unlimited data and more.

The problem that US carriers are facing is that their existing infrastructure is not prepared for load that unlimited data use puts on it. AT&T’s recent network issues in cities like New York have been directly tied to the overwhelming amount of wireless data transfers taking place. As more and more devices rely on mobile networks for internet access, this problem is only going to increase.

To date, the networks have responded in three ways. First, new cellphone plans require a larger amount of cell phone subscribers (including non-​smartphone users) to sign up for basic data plans. The second move is to create a number of tools to “politely” inform users of the amount of bandwidth that they are consuming. This is directly tied to the final move: AT&T and Verizon are beginning to float (or perhaps threaten) the elimination of unlimited data plans.

And that was before this:

Not only is there a tension between users and cell providers, but, there’s also one between the providers and equipment manufacturers. Take for example Steve Job’s rhetoric during the announcement was that of a “breakthrough deal” with AT&T allowing unlimited network access for $29.99 a month. Thus Apple positions itself as the good guy, fighting for better data rates. The question remains, how will the influx of new users tax the existing networks (and potentially lead to everyone else paying higher data prices to make up for the difference).

Either way, there’s a message from Apple and Google to USE THAT 3G NETWORKING at the same time AT&T and Verizon are taking actions that say “but not too much.”

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