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EBOOKS

The future of books.

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A good book on your shelf is a friend that turns its back on you and remains a friend.

Books, books, books. A lot has been written, especially over the last couple of years, regarding the decline of book sales and how technology plays an important part of it.

Life Shifting

When was the last time you checked the TV schedule to see when something was on and make special arrangements to watch it? Unless it’s some special broadcast (e.g., the World Cup), the likelihood of that happening (assuming you fall somewhere into the savvy Internet user demographic) is quite low. Pretty much everyone that I know time-shifts all of their entertainment media. Notable examples include Hulu and iPlayer - we’re slowly changing the rules of the game where the consumer dictates when, where and how they want to consume media. It’s a gradual shift but it’s happening and that’s the way it’s going to be. Content producer will have to either adapt or they will be out of business.

It’s been particularly easy to time-shift video and audio content (iPods, iPhones, DVRs, etc) but what about books? Can’t you just take the book with you?

There are a couple of problems. Firstly, depending on how busy your daily schedules are, carrying a book around is not that convenient and practical. Secondly, what if you want to read another book which you didn't bring along? Surely you can’t just carry 2kgs of books with you for that rare or not-so rare situation.

I don’t want to even mention carrying around books that I need for uni - those beasts weigh a ton, have at least 500 pages each and if you blindly listen to your lecturers’ book recommendations, you’ll end up walking around the campus with 10kgs of books in your bag and your daily walk would resemble a military fitness exercise.

Enter the world of eBooks.

Nothing New

eBooks have been around for quite a while. The problem has been that good eBook readers have not been around up until a few years ago. The first major product in that category, from my point of view, was the Kindle. The eInk display works quite nicely for reading and generally, provides a very good overall experience.

But then again there’s a problem, being pedantic as I am - I want to unify my devices, not keep adding more and more. I don’t want to be carrying a laptop, an eBook reader, a phone and whatnot. In my book, the less I carry around, the better.

The iPad has practically filled the last remaining gap for me. I no longer need to carry around a laptop, all I need is my iPhone and my iPad. 3G coverage is superb around the places I go, so I’m always connected which is a good plus. But I want to talk about iBooks, in particular.

iBooks

The app is beautiful. It launches fast, reads very well (especially with the latest v1.1 update) and I couldn’t be happier. I’m delighted to be able to read books again, as in most cases, good books go into depths that articles on the Internet don’t (obviously, there are exceptions to the rule where the roles are reversed). Having the ability to carry thousands of books in your small bag and start reading exactly where you left off, at any time, anywhere, is quite convenient. It actually enables me to fit reading into my no-free-time-at-all schedule. Let me quickly go through some of the features that I find quite important for the whole experience to work.

Universal Access

Along the lines of time-shifting, I must have universal access to my virtual book library. If I cannot, at any given moment, reference some chapter from a book or look up some algorithm, then I’m not going to bother carrying around another device.

Instant Access

Do you know how many times I’ve looked at stuff on Amazon that I wanted to buy but didn’t want to wait for the stuff to get delivered? Even one day delivery is too long for goods that are available in a digital format. With the iBookstore, I can just press a button and start reading. No need to go through any online ordering procedures, no shipment tracking, don’t have to go to the Post Office to pick up my books if no one was at home. Simple and easy.

Sync

I’m crazy about syncing and information centralisation (amongst other things). If I put a bookmark or a note in a book, I want it stay there, perpetually. Now that iBooks syncs them over the cloud, what more can I ask for?

Dictionary

Most of the books that are on my virtual bookshelf are of scientific nature which means that I will encounter words that I don’t know the meaning of - guaranteed. No problem in iBooks - just tap the word and look it up in the dictionary. Forget the old days where you had to go and find The Oxford English Dictionary.

The Kindle

Most of the features that I’ve outlined are also available on the Kindle - that’s all well and good if you only want a device to read books. For me, the iPad provides a platform to perform pretty much all the computing tasks that I need (except development).

All in all, you should always keep this mind - use the right tool for the right job. Maybe an iPad as a eBook reader doesn’t work for you, maybe it’s too expensive for your taste, maybe you want an eInk display. Just pick the device that does the best job in your situation, that’s all that matters. Everything else is moot.

Any opinions and viewpoints expressed, explicitly or implicitly, are not endorsed by and do not represent any of my previous, current or future employers.