Apple's new iPad (watch Apple's iPad video) has been unveiled and the media coverage has of course been immense. No point in including links to the countless number of articles and blog posts on the subject, in comparison to which this humble contribution is a mere speck. One article described the iPad as an "iPhone on steroids" (Wired Campus) and certainly iPhone users will feel immediately at home with the layout and feel.
My immediate reaction was that this could be the device that will finally get e-books and e-magazines into centre stage. The screen size, resolution, feel and graphics would seem to completely blow away competitors like the Kindle. Magazine stands could also disappear fast as we download multimedia versions of our favourite publications in preference to the static paper versions. I can see a case for such publications continuing to differentiate, as they do today, between two types of publication: the free web site and the e-magazine. If the e-magazine has a clearly defined role and offers excellent material in innovative ways I'm sure people will be willing to continue to subscribe. Maybe one way of providing subscribers with added value is to give them full access to back numbers (even those from the days of paper).
However, just like the Kindle the iPad is locked into a proprietary mode where you access your books via iBooks, your music via iTunes and so on. For students the idea of having all your course literature on one A4 size tablet is very attractive but I wonder how the iPad handles other types of digital publication from sources other than iBooks. No chance of buying from Amazon I suppose or downloading the increasing amount of free literature available. It's a wonderful garden but it's still a walled garden and that is what a lot of the critics are concerned about. When we get an unbundled version of the iPad that can acces material from all suppliers then I think we'll really have a breakthrough. This is of course a business decision, not a technical one.
The iPad fits in somewhere between a laptop and an iPhone and does the job extremely well. I don't think that the iPad is the answer to all our tech dreams but, like the iPhone, it points the way for the whole industry. We're freeing computers from their wired shackles, moving from geek-friendly to intuitive commands as well as making computing truly ubiquitous. It's only a matter of time before this type of device can take over the role of the laptop and handle all the office applications as well. The future of computing looks more like an iPad than anything else around at the moment (I may regret that statement in a year or so, let's see).
One thing's for sure, if they can keep their promise of selling them at $499 they should sell like hotcakes. I may well be there in the queue.