The iPad, Apple's new tablet and the textbook / reference market

By Grant Jacobs 28/01/2010

As almost anyone interested in Apple devices knows, today Apple announced it’s tablet device.

Interest on internet has been high. To give the scale of interest, the Arstechnica website, normally a busy site, was unable to cope with the load. I watched a small portion of the presentation live, via TVNZ’s (Television New Zealand, for those outside New Zealand) live streaming on their technology news website.

Caveat: as “breaking news”, please realise there may be errors and there certainly will be omissions. As someone with a hearing “disability”, I would welcome the day when captions were more widely available, the streaming feed is very difficult to follow, so I’ve written most of this from running around the internet picking up other’s reporting, with all the flaws that come with that!


As expected, they use the 9.7″ screens (the rumour-mill started as Apple essentially bought out large volumes of the small screen, without having a product which used them). It features a style very similar to that of the current iMacs, with the screen itself surrounded by black backing, then a thin brushed aluminium border.

If you’re after images of the device, try Joshua Topolsky‘s engadget page on the iPad (the images in this article are from this source). This page is well worth scanning.


dockThe device itself has no keyboard, but can present an on-screen touch keyboard. There is no mouse. As Bluetooth is available, I imagine you’ll be able to “connect” a wireless keyboard (or mouse) should users want that. There is a separate “dockable” keyboard (I’ve no idea if this is bundled or not, I’m assumed it’s an add-on.), the dock appears to be an independent element that also serves as “prop” to pitch the screen on an angle.

There is no camera, which some critics are disappointed at. Among other things they point out that it has the potential to be an excellent Sykpe device.

Reportedly pricing starts at $US499. (This may be cheaper than some expected, but it’ll still translate to a fair whack in NZ.)

An interesting problem people have pointed out this that in order to use the device on it’s own with two hands, you need to put it down! It’s just big enough that using it with one hand might prove clumsy.

Another interesting remark has been the expanded possibility of gestures to control using the device, exploiting the larger interaction surface.

The device can work in both landscape and portrait modes.

As you’d expect the major applications like Safari (web browser) and Mail (obvious!), iWork (word processing, spreadsheets, presentation), iCal (calendar, planning) are present.

ipad-bookAn new application, iBooks, was presented, with links to Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Macmillan and Hachette, delivering books based on the ePub format. No mention was made of McGraw-Hill. I’d imagine that’s tit-for-tat for their leak yesterday (see below). A key element may be if the screen is more readable and appealing than that of the Kindle or other book readers.

The demonstration featured yisual presentation of books on a shelf (see image below). Good use of appeal–Apple all over–and exploiting that that book cover images are already widely available on the WWW.

I would like to think that these books will include technical books such as textbooks and reference works.

A “pre-announcement” by publisher McGraw-Hill suggested at least one market for Apple’s new tablet is the book market. McGraw-Hill is best known to scientists for it’s textbooks, but it also publishes a wider range of media.

Several years ago I informally (but in fair depth) surveyed the e-book market as I was exploring presenting biology in electronic form (in particular computational biology).

My general conclusions–for my purposes–were that the textbook or technical reference market seemed a viable option, with another possibility in software documentation.

ipad-bookshelfTextbooks costs considerable money. They are heavy and take up desk, shelf and bag space. There has been for sometime a trend amongst some areas for high-quality electronic versions of textbooks.

As an example, most computer programmers no longer tote their reference book collection to the site they are working but carry on their laptops the electronic versions of these books.

One advantage is cost: the electronic versions are cheaper. O’Reilly books is a popular seller of developers books for computer programmers. Their books are available in “dead tree” and electronic versions, with the latter being around 20% cheaper. Many (most) of their smaller works are available only in electronic form.

Other advantages are that the electronic versions can be searched for keywords, have “live” indexes, cross-reference links to other sections and so on. Likewise, material can be copied from them (e.g. sample code).

A tablet adds to this by offering a more compact, flat, form to present the material.

Other technical uses that already use portable device come to mind. Many areas that require recording of technical data in the field already use equivalent devices. People like surveyors, environment control officers, on-site engineers, and so on. It’s easy to imagine other applications for a small “recording” device, but an obvious concern will be if the tablet is robust enough for field use. I would think that this won’t be the case. (The brushed aluminium is prone to scratching, for one thing.)

There are–of course!–games, but that’s not my thing to review.

On that note, I’ll have to leave readers there to catch the remainder of the news.

Other articles in Code for life that you might like:

Your cameras has 15 mega-pixels? Bah! Mine has 570 mega-pixels.

All this talk about 3-D movies and TVs is depressing

Telecom’s compensation letter: remissly late?

Developing bioinformatics methods: by who and how

Beautiful and informative data presentation

Retrospective–The mythology of bioinformatics

Automatic video captions for YouTube

Windows 7 on Apple computers

Digital smiles

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