Thursday, 21 January 2010

Tablet Explosion

This year is going to see a revolution. Its impact will be profound. The sudden feasibility of "e-readers" and tablets, and their expanded applications, are set to have a largely unexplored impact. Previously expensive and not as usable as real books, they have finally come of age, giving us cheap technology that is as readable as a piece of paper.

No more physical media, less waste

There is absolutely no reason to collect and horde physical media any more, and now, the same thing will be true for books. Imagine the reduced quantity of trees that will need to be felled if e-books and magazines are adopted by the majority of the population (and in due time, they will be).

Mass adoption of e-tablets and i-pads could also finally see the the realisation of the "paperless office". The practicality of this way of working finally looks set to become better than dealing with paper and printouts, so will hopefully bring unforeseen applications as well.

This is yet another way in which technology, and therefore the engineers, are saving the environment instead of the green movement. Yes we need to look at our consumption. But in many ways, technology can provide the means to reduce our impact while maintaining growth.

Blurring line between "real" books and "ameteur" more prominent than previous mediums like videos

Anybody can make an e-book. Yet they've never really been as big as "real" books because of their lack of readability on a PC screen. Now this has changed, we can expect to see a resurgence in e-books created by every man and his dog.

This will of course lead to a lot of junk, but could also see the birth of many new stars. (And when I say "stars", I don't mean like Afro Ninja, but more established online commodities such as ProBlogger and Steve Pavlina.) It will certainly become harder to tell who is an established publisher and who is "new in town", and indeed, it will begin to matter less.

Of course, this is going to find publishers struggling if they don't find a new business model fast, as people question their usefulness.

Increase in Piracy

Let's not kid ourselves. e-books are already rife on file sharing sites. With more users this will increase exponentially. And as the demand increases, as will the range. Writers, you may get rid of the publishers, but soon, it's possible nobody will be earning much from creating publications.

Let's hope you do it for the love of it.

Educational Impact

Once tablet PCs are as established as mobile phones, there will be no reason that they are not adopted in the classroom. The applications are unlimited. With wireless network capabilities, the teacher can link to all their student's devices. Augmented reality on a big screen can bring all sorts of new learning experiences.

It's also likely that this, combined with the new possibilities of tablets, will provide more opportunities for remote learning.

Animation and Interaction

Reading plain text is as old as the hills, and illustrations failed to radically change the landscape of books. However, animation, interaction, augmented reality, internet connectivity, and all the other as-yet-un-thought-of applications that a tablet will provide will add many new dimensions to reading.

Textbooks could incorporate Q&A sections, research projects, even practical guides for many topics. They can be updated remotely with the latest knowledge. Your favourite data can be bookmarked and compiled.

Fiction could be broken up with video-game adventures, cut scenes, and background information downloads. It could even lose its linear format, bringing the ultimate "Choose your own adventure" experiences. It's highly unlikely that traditional books will die, but the range of possibilities will certainly bring new and interesting choice to the marketplace.

2nd Time Lucky?

A lot of technologies emerge and fail because of a lack of practicality. Often they stay dead, but occasionally, they return when the technology reaches a level where they can be practical. I believe this is the dawn of the the tablet PC's revenge. The issues they had in the past are gone, and their cultural, practical, and commercial possibilities are just too great now for them to fail.

Of course, let's not forget the most significant cultural change. Suddenly, reading is going to become "cool". Maybe.

More info

Courier: First Details of Microsoft's Secret Tablet
'Major' Apple announcement coming January 27th, devs already working with beta SDK (update: shipping in March)

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