So the iPad is launched. The grubby little thing was heading for disaster (a supersized iPod Touch -- yeah!), and Apple's share price was tumbling like a freshly-elbowed-in-the-face Junior hockey player, until Steve Jobs saved the day with two reveals:
-- the price (starting at $499 US) -- the iBook app and iBookstore, which are what concern me most here.
The iBookstore is only available in the U.S., a fact confirmed in a teensy-weensy footnote on the iPad's feature page at Apple.com. I asked Canadian publishing biz insiders if they could tell me, on the record or otherwise, whether iBookstore will be available in this country when the iPad lands here in 60 days, but no one seems to know. I guess that means negotiations are continuing.
Canadian publishers, meanwhile, are looking forward to working with Apple, etc., etc. "Today's announcement represents an important step in the development of a digital audience for books," says Penguin via its Penguin Canada office in Toronto. "Penguin already maintains a close partnership with several digital platforms and channels, and we are delighted to extend our approach with Apple. The iPad and iBookstore will, we believe, appeal to existing Penguin customers and also attract millions of new readers to the world's best books."
HarperCollins also deferred to the Mothership, which intoned in New York: "We look forward to working with Apple to expand distribution of our e-books through the iPhone and iPad. Apple has a tremendous consumer following and having our books easily available through its store will allow us to broaden the reach of our authors and connect with new readers."
Random House was conspicuously absent from the list of publishers working with Apple on iBookstore, and so had this to say: "Random House welcomes Apple's iPad and iBooks app and we look forward to our continuing conversations with them about how we might best work together."
So, what the book crowd knows so far about the iPad is that the device isn't "locked," which means purchasers in Canada will be able to buy it and use it immediately with a Wi-Fi connection without having to wait for Canadian telcoms to graciously begin gouging them on 3G charges.
We also know that the iBooks app (it's not native to the iPad, apparently) lets users change not only the font size, as with a Kindle, but also the actual font. That's a bit more fine tuning than most people will need (how many of us can really tell the difference between Baskerville and Palatino, and who wants to read a book in a sans-serif font), but it's a nice touch anyway. The screen, meanwhile, is a high-res, backlit colour screen, which many will prefer to the Kindle's black-and-white electronic-ink screen.
Some people have been making a big deal about the open-book format the digital books will be available in from iBookstore (as opposed to the proprietary format of Kindle books), but if you're going to buy an iPad, why would you care whether you could read the book on a different device? And anyway you can read Kindle books on your PC or your iPhone.
There doesn't seem to be a function for annotating text or clipping interesting passages on iBooks, the way there is on the Kindle. And the Kindle has a waaaay longer battery life.
So from a pure reading perspective, the difference between the iPad, the Kindle and other e-book readers like the Sony will be a matter of taste. Do you want a multi-functional device or a dedicated e-reader? Do you want backlit or electronic ink? Do you hate Amazon's predatory pricing tactics? Or love them?
What will make the difference to the growing e-reader market, though, is the price. If you want an e-reader, you can get the Kindle DX for $489 (Cdn), which will be about $50-$100 less than the lowest-priced iPad in Canada (it starts at $499 US). For the same money, you get a whole hell of a lot more computer and fun with the iPad. The smaller Kindle goes for $259, while the Sony eBook Reader goes for $299.99. So you can get a smaller e-reader for roughly half the cost of the iPad but with about one-tenth the functionality. From a pure price standpoint, this is a no-brainer.
The thing is, no one is going to buy the iPad solely because they're looking for a good e-book device. E-readers are avid readers, and they will always be attracted to any device dedicated to their needs, rather than the needs of the Internet-addicted, Facebooking, video-game playing, TV-watching crowd -- the crowd the iPad seems most keen to impress.
So, yes, the iPad is a definite Kindle DX killer and a real threat of bodily harm to its smaller cousin, as we now know them both. But it is not an e-book reader killer. Why buy an entire farm when you're just looking for a good horse? If Kindle adjusts its prices and gets back on board with the publishers who have flocked to the iBookstore because of Apple's smarter, more publisher-friendly pricing, then we will continue to have some really good choices in what is still just a fledgling marketplace.
Your move, Amazon.