Will the iPad spell the death of books?

14 days ago, Apple CEO Steve Jobs gave the world a glimpse at the super-company’s latest product: the iPad.

Besides having most of the features of an iPhone on steroids, both the 10” colour display and the new iBookstore offer a new function for Apple: online reading.

The iPad’s iBookstore, similar to Amazon’s Kindle project, offers a way for hundreds of books to be downloaded, stored and read on a reasonably easy-to-transport device.

When Jobs announced the new iBooks application, he also revealed that five of the six largest publishers – Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins Publishers, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster – have signed on to provide e-book content for the new digital reader.

The dwindling print world of newspapers and magazines also welcomed the iPad, hoping to sign with the new tablet, like the book industry, and eager to tap into the super-company’s massive consumer audience.

Many believe that the unreleased product will be the saviour of print media and revive a technological generation’s interest in reading. While this possible revival is undoubtedly exciting and revolutionary, what does this potential change mean for the future of paper and books?

Will the super-company succeed in transferring consumer interests from reading to screening?

Despite Apple’s enormous success rate, the plain fact is that we read differently from screens than we do from paper.

Web usability researcher Jakob Nielson reports that we generally read 20 to 30 per cent slower from a screen. Other issues include the accuracy of screening, as well as comprehension.

The iPad has an LED-backlit glossy widescreen that is useful for the web-browsing purposes of the device but that encounters the same issues of reading accuracy and comprehension that a computer screen does.

On the other hand, Amazon’s Kindle has e-paper, which is designed to replicate the look of ink on paper, making it much better for reading.

Alex Albrecht from the online show Diggnation was quoted saying, “The reason why Kindle kicks the shit out of reading a book on your laptop is because your laptop is an active screen and the Kindle is passive, e-paper.”

Unfortunately for Apple, having e-paper as well as a screen functional for Internet browsing does not yet seem plausible.

However, it’s no secret that the potentially eye-straining iPad’s iBookstore will outsell that of the Kindle simply because of the Apple logo.

Co-host of Diggnation, Kevin Rose took an Internet poll, asking, “If you could pre-order Apple’s new tablet today, without seeing it, would you?”

Previous to the device’s unveiling by Jobs, 35 percent said, “Yes, I trust Jobs and know it would be cool,” 52 percent said “No, I’d wait to see what it is” and only 13 percent said “No, I’ll never order one.”

So this is what it comes down to. Will competition from new media devices like the iPad and Kindle manage to out-book the book?

You can’t take your techie devices to the beach for a relaxing read, or in the bathtub.

But on the other hand, you can’t share your favourite chapter via a friend’s Facebook page with a regular book.

Overall, it is fairly certain that the iPad itself (like most products Apple brands) will successfully sell.

Despite the huge step iBooks will make for online reading and the potential revival of popularity for print media it offers, there are certain features that this technology cannot yet master – at this point it is not quite ready to take down the book.

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