So finally, after months of speculation, Apple’s iPad has finally been unveiled. Although there is much to discuss about Apple’s latest device, the aspect that is most interesting to me is its use as an ereader. What was particularly intriguing about this development was the announcement that the iPad would support the ePub format. This could have massive implications for the ebook market, and is potentially disastrous for one market player in particular.
I have been fairly sceptical about the Kindle for some time. On a number of occasions I have questioned the wisdom of Amazon’s decision to pursue its own format rather than embrace ePub which has quickly become the industry standard format. Whilst they have had fairly limited competition in the ebook market, they have been able to getaway with backing their own proprietary format. However, now Apple have entered the fray, Amazon’s Kindle could be in real trouble. By supporting the ePub format, Apple have left Amazon nowhere to turn. Surely no-one will seriously consider a Kindle when it doesn’t support a format that has pretty much become standard? Although speculation is a dangerous game, it seems hard to see much of a future for the Kindle unless it adopts the ePub standard as soon as possible. If it does not, it is dead. And even if it does, it could be too late. The Kindle has not been able to get a foothold in Europe due to various technological issues (Amazon’s Whispernet cannot be used in Europe). Should the iPad launch over here before the Kindle gets a proper Europe-wide release (which is pretty much a nailed on certainty), the Kindle won’t have a chance.
However, Amazon may have one thing in its locker. The one drawback with the iPad, in terms of ebooks anyway, is that users could suffer from eyestrain as it is has a backlit screen. Reading from a screen using e-ink is far more comfortable than reading from a backlit screen as it puts no strain on your eyes whatsoever, and comes close to the experience of reading a ‘real’ book. That said, more and more people seem to comfortable reading text from their iPhone/Touch. I have even heard people suggest that they will ditch their ereader in favour of reading from their iPhone. So maybe it isn’t that much of an advantage after all!
As well as sounding the death knell for the Kindle, the iPad could have a very positive impact on the ebook market as a whole. With Apple’s current strength, is it unlikely to see the cost of ebooks come down and for this new format to finally take-off? Could it be that 2010 will see real growth for ebooks? It’ll be interesting to see how things develop in the light of Apple’s foray into the ebook market.
Looks like my initial excitement may not have been well founded. Just discovered this on an Adobe blog:
It looks like Apple is continuing to impose restrictions on their devices that limit both content publishers and consumers. Unlike many other ebook readers using the ePub file format, consumers will not be able to access ePub content with Apple’s DRM technology on devices made by other manufacturers. And without Flash support, iPad users will not be able to access the full range of web content, including over 70% of games and 75% of video on the web.
I do hope this isn’t the case. If the iPad was to adopt an ePub standard compatible with other readers then, as I said above, we could really see the ebook market take-off. Maybe this will change before launch, if it does not it’s not the step forward I hoped it would be.