Wandering around the London Book Fair this week there were times I almost became convinced it was actually an Apple fan convention, or more specifically an iPad one.
It seemed like every stall, kiosk and stand had an iPad on it – if they weren’t being used to showcase content, demonstrate a technology or sign a deal they were being used as handy monitors on which to run presentations, trailers and adverts. Plus, because so many publishers have digital reading or content apps, they even appeared in the ads they were being used to display.
Kindle fans might want to look away now because I’m afraid their treasured little grey-screened device was not as widely on show.
Like many early adopters or technology literate users, Kindle owners are almost fanatically convinced that their device’s e-ink screen is The. Best. Thing. Ever. for eBooks.
Sadly though the greyscale, non-touch nature of it means it’s not a contender for many of the uses ebook and digital content publishers are putting the iPad to.
Let’s take the AA’s Hotel Guide 2011 for the iPad. This is a big, bright app with maps, embedded links, contact details for hotels and a search facility. The Kindle simply can’t compete with the abilities the iPad offers publishers of apps like this.
There are fiction apps too which offer publishers a dynamic and innovative way to display content.
One of the most interesting is the app for A Visit from the Goon Squad. This allows readers not to just follow the text in a dull linear fashion but to reorder the chapters of the book (each of which forms a mini story in its own right) and listen to the BBC Audiobooks version of the story which is presented in a ‘sentence-by-sentence’ sync with the written version.
All this plus social media fans can share an excerpt of each chapter on their Facebook wall.
Again, Kindle just can’t match this user experience and yet, ironically and tragically, it’s exactly the sort of ‘added value’ content many Kindle users have called for in the debate on ebook pricing.
While many Kindle owners believe of the two devices only theirs is a ‘proper’ ebook reader and that’s what people should read their fiction on, most people packing for their holiday aren’t going to want to take both an iPad and Kindle with them. Guess which is going to get left at home. (Clue: It’s not the one with the map!)
And though the most passionate Kindle owners like to robustly tell dissenters how technologically superior their device is over anything with an LCD screen, the history of consumer electronics tells us this is no guide to success.
CDs, MP3 players, digital cameras, VHS – all these beat competing and existing formats despite widespread and vocal belief they they were technically inferior to the formats they beat for dominance. Even the iPad is kicking the rear ends of tablets with more RAM and faster processors.
History shows us time again that what counts in consumer electronics is desirability, not hardware specs.
When the average punter sees an iPad and Kindle are seen side by side, they don’t weigh up the technical pros and cons of two different screen techs. Instead they compare a colourful box of apps and content with a rather dull looking grey piece of plastic which can only display lines of text.
I believe the Kindle – and other e-ink readers – will be around for a long time yet, but I’m increasingly convinced they’re destined to become niche products for purists who want to read only novels which exactly replicate printed books.
The unspoken message from this week’s Book Fair seemed to be that, while dumping text only content on the Kindle remains a big part publisher’s current plans, all the real innovation is being focussed on a single device. The iPad.