Originally Posted by Amorph
I'm going to posit that there is no chance at all that an Apple Tablet will merely, or even mostly, be an e-reader. That's completely nuts. Nonetheless, it's worth looking at that application to see what Apple is going for and what technologies make sense in that light.
Let's look at the publishing industry. Look down. No, look farther down. See that rapidly receding figure about to go splat at the bottom of the cliff? No, farther down. Yeah, the speck. That's the publishing industry. They are looking at what Apple did for the music industry and thinking that maybe they want a piece of that. Circulation of physical media is down sharply, and physical media is expensive and labor-intensive to produce.
Now, let's look at the Kindle. Superficially, it solves this problem, except for one little tiny thing: It offers roughly the same reading experience that users of NCSA Mosaic experienced on the web in 1995. The font is always the same. The background is always the same. Images bring back fond memories of the days when .xbms roamed the web. The design that remains is one step above what you can get by downloading books from Project Gutenberg and reading them in TextEdit. This leads to two other problems that a heavy user of the Kindle that I know well has run into: First, as there are no pages, it's useless for scholarly work: You can't generate footnotes. Second, and far more serious, is the problem that since all books look and feel exactly alike, they all blend together and it becomes difficult and tedious to figure out exactly where that passage is that you're looking for, or to remember who said what.
For these and for other reasons, publishers really sweat things like paper and margins and typeface when they set a document up for print. In the case of magazines, there's a house style; in the case of books, each is a one-off. But everything from the weight of the type to the feel of the paper is part of the experience of reading a book or an article. Would the New Yorker
still be the New Yorker
in Times New Roman?
Fortunately, Apple has a handle on publishing. They have a handle on presentation. Solving the problem of how to most effectively bring publishing into the electronic age is right up their alley. They just have to look at the problems and how to solve them. The stickiest wicket is almost certainly font licensing. Books and magazines can use pricey fonts from legendary foundries because the font itself never leaves the publisher. But if you typeset your document in, say, Sentinel
and then e-publish it, Hoefler & Frere-Jones would like to 1) have some say in the structure of that license, and 2) have some assurance that people won't be able to extract the font they got with a $2 magazine and use it for free. HTML5 does not solve this problem. Adobe AIR does. The foundry gets paid, the magazine or book gets its distinctive look, and the reader gets to associate (and merge) the visual impact of the font and layout with (and into) the contents of the book. If there are pages then 1) that's another win for designers, and 2) the e-reader can be used for scholarship, not just for entertainment, making it better not only for scholars, but for students.
The tactile feel would be gone, but I can imagine using a visual sample of real paper instead of just blank white as a background, and including a page-turning sound appropriate to the size and weight of the "paper" when the reader flips a page, to come as close as is practicable to replicating a book. There can be all sorts of advantages, like dog-earing pages and writing in the margins non-destructively.
Then comes the hard part: Apple has to make this run and run well on an ARM processor without putting an undue strain on the battery.
If Apple pulls this off, they can do for textual publishing what the iTunes Store did for music publishing, and they can use the iTunes Store to do it.