Thursday, January 28, 2010

Book Technology

Yesterday Apple unveiled their much anticipated ipad, a sort of cross between a computer and an mp3 player without a phone. There has been much excitement and anticipation around this launch as the device (which will cost between $499 - $829 depending on memory size)

"is a touchscreen computer designed for browsing the web, managing email, viewing pictures and videos, listening to music, playing games and reading electronic books." (John Collins in today's Irish Times)

As Steve Jobs of Apple says

"iPad creates and defines an entirely new category of devices that will connect users with their apps and content in a much more intimate, intuitive and fun way than ever before.” (Irish Times)

I'm not sure that I want to be intimate and intuitive with a machine but obviously some people do!

The interesting thing is that this acts as an e-reader to challenge the Kindle and Sony's device, there are others but these are the two market leaders. For those who don't know an e-reader is (or was until the ipad) a dedicated device into which you can download electronic books to read. The devices work on the basis of e-ink technology (don't ask me to explain, I have only a hazy idea how it works) which means that its less strain on the eyes but the device will hold hundreds of books.

When I heard about this I wanted one - so badly - but then I got to thinking.

The electronic 'books' are not that less expensive than their paper counterparts and the device itself is approx €250, that would buy an awful lot of traditional books.

Who do the books belong to? There is no physical object that you own, you can't even copy the book to a disc although (and I'm not sure about this) I assume that if you exceed the memory capacity of the device that any excess can be put on a memory stick or stored in an electronic library. This is a pertinent question, especially for Kindle owners that operate wirelessly. Recently Amazon were selling '1984' by George Orwell, they discovered that the book contained a breach of copyright. All the customers who had bought that edition of the book (and the irony of it being that book title) found that the books had been removed from their kindles without prior warning. So, I have paid my money for the book but the seller can still take it back - wouldn't happen with a paper copy.

Where do I read? I read at work, in bed, in the kitchen while cooking dinner, on the beach, in the bath - infact the list is endless. My favourite spot is in the bath with a glass of wine, how would an e-reader cope? OK until the inevitable moment where it's dropped in the bath. I doubt draping it over a radiator to dry out would work. Similarly, on the beach if sand got in to it can you shake it out and it would continue working? I doubt it.

There is however another piece of modern technology that is portable, can be read in almost every environment, will not short circuit if it gets wet, you can write on it, it can be read in most lights and is available in various font sizes for those with sight problems. This piece of technology is the book - why are we trying to reinvent the wheel with a price tag of €250 - $829 attached. Plus you can't decorate a room with an e- reader.

Love your books because once bought no one can take them away from you unless you loan them out, they are friends that you can return to again and again, they will provide comfort when down, humour and thought provoking discussion. To handle a good quality book is a joy that no electronic device, however expensive and interconnected, can replace.

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