Whoa, hold on there! Before you read the title and start reacting, read it again carefully. Notice what I’m not saying before I launch into my reasoning below.
I’m not saying the iPad itself is the future. Nor am I saying I think the iPad is THE model for the future.
Calm now? OK, then let’s do this.
As a writer, I read loads of articles, blog posts, and tweets prophesying the future of publishing. Now, take what I have to say with the requisite grain of salt. I’m not a published author, and I don’t claim to understand the intricacies of the publishing industry. What I am, however, is an observer of said industry, and a lifelong consumer of the industry’s products.
Many talk about how, if you purchase a particular brand of eBook reader—Kindle, Nook, iPad—that’s you’re buying into a closed, tightly managed ecosystem. This is partially true. If you buy a Kindle, and only download books via Amazon, then all of your eBooks are stuck in the Kindle ecosystem. The same could be said for any of the other devices as well.
Not so fast.
Here’s the difference with the iPad, and why I think it is a good model going forward.
I’m a former Kindle owner. I bought the very first model back in the days when Amazon pretty much admitted it was still beta hardware. I bought numerous books over the course of two years before passing it down to my daughter when I bought an iPad. As limiting as the device could be, I soon learned I was able to download and install books from sources other than Amazon, such as the Gutenberg Project, the Baen Free Library, or MobiPocket. Modern Kindles are far more capable, by the way, allowing you the ability to read additional filetypes such as PDFs.
When I made the move to the iPad, one of the selling features was the existence of the Kindle app. Not a single Kindle encoded book was orphaned on my old device. Amazon was even nice enough to do the heavy lifting for me, making every book I’d ever purchased via Amazon available within my Kindle app after syncing my account.
Using Calibre I was able to convert all those free .mobi files I’d downloaded here and there, and dump them into iBooks. If I didn’t feel like converting them I was able to load them manually into the Kindle app. Again, no loss.
Do the math. I had more books available to me than on the Kindle alone. On a single device.
Guess what? I’ve had gobs and gobs of eBook and PDF files floating around my hard drive waiting for a home. Every time a publisher or author gave a book away online, I downloaded it. Suddenly, I owned a device into which I could load those file into the appropriate app with minimum fuss and read at my leisure.
Add Apple’s ever-growing iBooks library of offerings, and I had more books available to me on one device than I could possibly read in one lifetime.
As an author self-pubbing through Smashwords, I can check every filetype their eBook converter can generate with on iPad.
Is the iPad a perfect device? No, but it’s not the locked ecosystem its sometimes made out to be. Now, to be fair, if Amazon or Apple or any of these players suddenly go under, I understand support for their apps and filetypes could disappear. I have a feeling we’d figure out some kind of legal workaround.
Thankfully, Apple has chosen—for now—to open the App Store to these competitor’s apps. Hopefully they will continue this policy in the future.
Going forward, the best kind of eBook reader is going to build upon what the iPad does best. I foresee—and hope for—a day when DRM on eBooks is a thing of the past. A future where we own devices that are filetype agnostic, allowing us to load up any eBook from any source, giving us true freedom of choice. To make eBooks behave like physical books, we should be able to take the file with us anywhere, and read it on any device.
The iPad isn’t perfect, but it’s a model for the future.