The iPhone was introduced in 2007. In 2010, according to this NYT story, the App Store, for which no need existed three years ago, is expected to generate $1.4 billion. The breathless anticipation and hype then, surrounding the widely-rumored Apple tablet device finally unveiled this week, isn't surprising and may even be warranted. In particular, much hope is being pinned on the possibility that the tablet will be the platform that saves print, or more specifically that reverses the magazine and newspaper death spiral we've been witnessing for the past decade, which has accelerated with each year.
I am a big fan of Mac products--I made the switch from a PC about 6 years ago and never looked back, and in a household without cable, we all love our Apple TV for bringing us Mythbusters and Phineas and Ferb. Still, the problem I have with putting my faith and my reading future in digital devices is that in some fundamental ways, digital does not improve upon print on paper. Sure, it's all interactive and woo-hoo cool factor, but:
- if you drop your book in the bathtub, you can still read it
- a magazine never needs to be plugged in
- your book never overheats, and doesn't require a fan
- I have 25 years worth of back issues of the New Yorker under my bed and in boxes in the attic. 50 years from now, their "platform" (print on paper) will still be just as accessible as it is today, only maybe a little yellowed with age. By contrast, have you ever tried plugging a 5.1/4" floppy disc in your circa 2009 computer?
- if the book I'm reading is lost, stolen, accidentally left behind on the subway, then the result is not that I have lost my entire library with it
- you can stuff a book or magazine into the bottom of a suitcase, drop it down the steps, spill coffee on it, write on it, fold back a page, tear out an article--and it still works!
The Junior Member of the Household and I went to the last Harry Potter book release. There were probably 1,000 people, many of them kids, crammed into a suburban Barnes & Noble, all so eager to get their hands on the book that most people started reading it even as they were paying the cashier for their purchase. It was an inches-thick tome, black text on cream paper. A few pen & ink illustrations. No slide shows, no interactive multimedia, no touch screens. Just text on paper.
Still, the possibilities of interactive books are undeniably many, and interesting.