The iPad Will Revolutionize Reading
A new generation of 'appbooks' has the potential to transform how we learn.
Lost in all the hubbub about the new iPad is a simple truth: the iPad will be the first successful mass-market tablet computer.
While every other attempt to make a popular flat computer has fallen flat, even conservative estimates predict millions of iPads will be sold this year alone. But because there are few precedents with tablets, almost no one has any experience with how everyday consumers will use a thin slab of glass and aluminum that happens to be a blisteringly fast computer. After playing with an iPad for the last week, I'm clear that one area that will be transformed is reading.
The Amazon Kindle, as Steve Jobs acknowledged when announcing the iPad, began the revolution of electronic books. But where Amazon went to great lengths to replicate the best of the traditional print reading experience, Apple has opted for a device that more closely resembles a small, flat-panel TV. When reading a novel, the differences aren't dramatic. The Kindle is lighter and easier to hold with one hand. The iPad has beautiful visual effects for turning pages. Books with illustrations, like children's books, shine on the iPad's stunning color screen but still only hint at the full potential of marrying a high-powered microchip with the oldest mass medium.
Where the iPad really demonstrates the future of reading is with appbooks. These electronic books blend the best elements of print, like well written prose and evocative detail, with the best aspects of software, like interactivity. As I and other iPad reviewers noted yesterday, the standout example of an appbook is The Elements, an interactive periodic table, by Theodore Gray. One droll commenter responded to my enthusiasm for The Elements by posting "Wow. I really need to consult the periodic table every day." Though funny, what the clever netizen missed is how The Elements heralds a new model of interactive book.
Theodore Gary could have offered an electronic book that simply reproduced the beautiful photography from the original hardcover edition. Instead, the iPad edition presents over five hundred exquisite 3D objects that can be fully seen when spun around with the flick of a finger. The effect is jaw-droppingly cool. Woven in with the text and animations is easily accessed reference information about each element, provided by Wolfram|Alpha's "computable knowledge engine." For fun, The Elements offers a sort of music video that whips through the 3D periodic table accompanied by Tom Lehrer's classic and silly 1959 song of all the known elements.