Why iBooks (currently) Suck
I bought a couple of iPads last weekend. I’ve already shared with colleagues how although I think it will be wildly successful in K-12 for all of the wrong reasons*, I’d buy one anyway because:
1. I like new gadgets
2. I like Apple products (since 1985 – prior to that I preferred Commodore)
3. It’s my job to keep up with emerging technology
4. My best friend has one
5. I’m an adult with disposable income
I didn’t wait for the 3G model because I don’t want yet another stinkin’ AT&T bill. Had they come up with a fair plan for multiple devices, I would have jumped at it. I won’t even complain about 3G costing an extra $130 making the 64gb iPad the same price as a MacBook.
I harbored no illusions that the iPad would change my life like my laptop, iPhone or even iPod have done. Yes, the iPad is beautiful. Yes, the battery life is great. Yes, I feel less neurotic about losing or breaking it, as I do with my laptop. Now, I just have to figure out what to do with the iPad.
Go ahead. Call me an old codger, but I’ve been around eBooks/interactive books since the late 1980s. I still own a bunch of the groundbreaking Voyager Expanded Books. The Society of Mind, MacBeth, Who Built America?, The Rite of Spring, Poetry in Motion, Beethoven’s Ninth and Dazzeloids represent few of the examples of true commercial digital art ever created. It’s hard to think of any digital media that is better since those Voyager titles from nearly twenty years ago.
In 1991-92, I led countless workshops for educators on how to create their own interactive books using the Voyager Expanded Book Toolkit. Digital books would soon be widespread, right?
That said, I did not buy a Kindle because the design is ugly and I expected Apple to produce something better, an iPad perhaps? I love books. My house is filled with them. Had Amazon offered me the option of paying $2 extra and getting a digital copy of the physical book I ordered, I would have bought a Kindle. I recognize the value of carrying lots of books around in one device and the power of personal digital annotation. Whispernet is brilliant too. Anyone can use it, anywhere.
So, now I own an iPad. Oh, how I would love to use it as my primary way to read, but alas – not so fast!
Here are some of the reasons why Apple iBooks currently disappoint. I hope they get better quickly.
Steve Jobs is contemptuous of print
Mr. Jobs can be like that when he assesses the competition.
Today he had a wide range of observations on the industry, including the Amazon Kindle book reader, which he said would go nowhere largely because Americans have stopped reading.
“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” he said. “Forty percent of the people in the U.S. read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.” (1/15/08)
Further evidence of Jobs’ contempt for print is the fact that iPad owners have to wait for their iPad to ask them, “Would you like to download iBooks?” before the application is on the device. Why doesn’t the iBooks app come pre-installed?
I won’t even raise the specter of Jobs banning books from the iBooks Store because he disagrees with the content as he has done in the physical Apple Stores.
The iBooks catalog is pathetic
Although I hope that every book ever written will soon be available for download, the Apple iBooks store doesn’t even have relatively popular recent publications in it.
I eagerly await word from Apple that they are just as serious about publishing books for the iPad as they were in encoding YouTube videos for the iPhone.
Jobs must know how craptacular the iBooks Store is or otherwise he would have given Amazon the “Adobe-treatment” and forbidden a Kindle app for iPad.
Jobs hates Amazon.com so much that he’s letting publishers punish us
One of Steve Job’s greatest accomplishments was getting tough with the music and video companies and forcing them to charge a fair price for audio and video via iTunes. He single-handedly broke the cartel that was raising CD and DVD prices to absurd levels.
So, what’s the first thing Jobs does regarding written content? He tells publishers to go ahead and charge anything they want, not just the reasonable $9.99 per book pricing instituted by Amazon.
iBooks cannot be annotated
I hope this obvious omission will be rectified soon via a software update. Surely, Apple would like to offer functionality customers came to expect from Hypercard 20+ years ago.
There are no magazines for subscription in the iBooks store
Surely, Apple knows that this is a potentially fertile revenue stream. I’d love to save some trees.
Amazon’s Kindle Store offers too few magazine currently. That’s still better than zero magazines available from iBooks.
Are the books I purchased backed-up in the cloud?
Unless I’ve missed it, Apple has not indicated where my purchased books reside in case something goes awry with my iPad.
Why can’t I subscribe to a podcast on my iPad?
For a super-dooper mobile media device, I would expect that I could download audio and video podcasts directly to my iPad without requiring syncing with my laptop. Why can’t I do so? Shouldn’t the iPad make me less dependent on an old-school computer?
One more funny iPad observation… Apple is a company famous for protecting its intellectual property. Therefore, it seems peculiar that iTunes automatically copies my iPhone apps for use on my iPad as well. I know that I MAY have the legal right to maintain the software of two computers as long as I’m only using it on one, but how did Apple miss the opportunity to make me buy the same software twice?
Recommended reading: Ken Auletta’s 4/26/10 New Yorker article, Publish or Perish: Can the iPad topple the Kindle, and save the book business?
* I will write an article on why the iPad is a bad choice for K-12 education at a later time.