I feel like I’ve harped on this before, but I think David succinctly describes what print companies are doing wrong with their digital magazines.
I think it’s a stretch to say “printed magazines work better in every way.” Print doesn’t work better for breaking news, interactive visualizations, collaborative real-time problem solving, blogging whimsical ideas that aren’t print-worthy (a la The New Yorker), community, e-commerce, location-aware behavior or searching archives.
Boom. Tablets have the potential to bring the best of the web and print together, but no one is going to buy a more expensive, harder-to-read version of a print magazine. But if you bring social and interactive elements, then it becomes something really interesting.
I need another device like I need a hole in the head, but I keep coming back to this. It’s a monochrome tablet device that uses eInk technology and a stylus. It looks great and it’s only $99.
I’m making an effort to attend meetings without my laptop, but I take notes much faster on my laptop than on a phone. With a uni-tasking device like the NoteSlate, I could capture my notes without the computer (and they have a plan to add OCR soon). It’s true, I might not use it, but it’s only ninety-nine bucks. I think it’s worth the risk to have something that looks so awesome.
Ideo considers three aspects of the digital book’s future. It’s a nicely done video and it takes some features I looked at in my Multi-Layered iPad talk to a whole new world (a dazzling place, for you and me). Below is the video and some interesting points about each of the interfaces.
It provides a view into what your friends and other important people think about the content you’re reading.
I like how easy it is to scan through a book and find passages that are important. These would be a great research tool.
Showing debates that started from a particular passage is interesting. It’d be nice if you could actually respond to the discussion inside the app. Bringing in outside content is a great start, but no one has built a reader that lets you discuss the media inside the app.
It’s designed to show you what your colleagues, or social network, are reading.
In theory, you can have a discussion about something inside the app, but you’re not actually reading the app here (I think), so it’s still not a direct link between consuming and creating.
Remember that talk I gave at SVA last month? Me too! They’ve now posted the video online, so you can watch me talking if you don’t like reading or pictures. If you prefer those, you can check out the post and see the slides.
SVA has also posted all of the videos online. I recommend you watch the other two; they were great.
As discussed, I gave a talk last night about The Tablet. Thanks very much to Liz for organizing the event. When I began planning my talk, I found it was easier to write it out as a blog post so I could find the narrative. I did just that.
What follows is the blog post and some of the imagery attached. At the very end, I included my slides from the talk, which have some additional imagery. (If you’re more of a visual person, skip to my slides on Slideshare.)
Up until now, we’ve done most of our reading using a single layer of data. This works well when you have abundant space, but breaks down when you try to work on a smaller device. As we pack more and more data into smaller spaces, we need to consider how this data is presented. The answer that provides the best compromise of accessibility and usability is to layer our data using modal dialogs. And now, a story.
During college, I oftentimes bought my textbooks used, primarily because they were cheaper. The cheapest books were thoroughly marked up, with notes in the margins and important phrases highlighted. Sometimes, it was great to already have the important bits noted for me, but most of the time I just wanted to read. My wish was to be able to remove that layer of data only temporarily. Little did I know that 10 years later, that would be possible.
When data is presenting it a single layer, ancillary data exists separately from the primary text. When you’re studying, you write down the important parts in a notepad and create study tools with flash cards. When you’re watching a film, the credits appear at the end of the film and the deleted scenes are accessed in another menu entirely. When you’re reading a novel, contextual content is often in appendices and definitions are, well, in your dictionary.
The iPhone and other smartphones have improved the situation. Instead of having to make a note during a movie or keep your finger on the current page while flipping to the appendix, you can pull out your phone (or laptop or whatever) and look up the information. Of course, that is still two information sources in the same plane.
It’s also gotten a lot easier on the web. Sites like the New York Times offer the ability to double-click a word and get the definition. Flickr lets you annotate photos with text. The Definitive Guide to Django provides an online version of the book that lets you comment on each paragraph. As the ultimate example, Google lets you overlay a variety of information on top of a map.
Since we still do most of our reading on paper, we’ve been stuck with just a single layer of data. The best we’ve got are footnotes and notes in the margin. The introduction of the Kindle has provided a suitable replacement for reading devices. Having 1,000s of books in your hand is wonderful, but the Kindle only provides two layers of data: text and definitions. And without a touch screen, trying to get a definition is tough. You have to navigate to the word with the thumb nubbin before the definition pops up. It takes you out of the flow of reading a lot more than clicking a mouse or tapping the word.
How This Would Work
Bringing the multitouch interface to such a large surface area will allow us to bring far more layers of data to a document. Let’s come back to our studying example. My wife is taking an Anatomy & Physiology class and has a test coming up. She has out her text book, flash cards, a notebook and a reading guide. While going over her notes, she might want to refer back to the source text for some additional information. She has to find the right page, then find the right paragraph and look for context.
Now, let’s say Apple or some inventive fellow builds an iPad application meant for studying. You can download your textbook and, as you read, tap on a paragraph to open up a modal dialog for taking notes. Or maybe you just select some text and copy the text into your notebook. Next time you go through the book, you’ll see a little speech bubble, like the Django book example, alongside the text. When it’s time to study, click the ‘View notes’ button and you’ll see a version of just the text you’ve highlighted and your notes. Back to the book. If something you’re reading is confusing, selecting text could let you define or Google it. If that doesn’t pan out, you can add a public note. Your friends in the class would be notified and can answer your question. The answer will show up in context. Taking the social element further, being able to view your study partner’s notes overlaid on your page could answer questions you didn’t know you had.
Below are some design explorations I put together to illustrate the example.
These types of interaction could be carried over to a work of literature. If you’re in a book club, the reading questions could come be visible at relevant point. You could make notes in the margin that the rest of your book club could see. There’s also an opportunity for authors to provide something like a director’s commentary. When you find out SPOILER ALERT that Bella choses Edward over Jacob, Stephenie Meyer could put in a note explaining that it took her months to make this decision and it was only after talking to a bellhop at the Paris in Las Vegas that she made her decision. Or, possibly more interesting to some of you, how Malcolm Gladwell did his research about Hush Puppies.
As a final example, adding a touch interface to films, means one of my personal dreams can be fulfilled. When you want to know more about an actor, pause the movie and tap his face. Using iPhoto’s facial recognition software and a partnership with iMDB, the actor’s name and his last 5 films will pop up in a modal dialog. They’ll also be a link to any relevant extras that include that actor.
What We’ve Learned
There is nothing wrong with the old way of studying or reading, so long as you have all of your information around you. The challenge of bringing a comparable or better experience to the iPad is finding a way to improve portability without sacrificing accessibility.
Using modal dialogues and layering data lets you display ancillary content without taking away from the source text. Since that’s why people are coming to your content, that should have the focus. Providing the rest of the data should be seamless, but natural. Finding that balance will lead to an engaging (and hopefully unforgettable) experience.
Update (4/2/10): Video!
SVA has kindly posted a video of my talk online. Please enjoy, if you prefer moving pictures:
Typical consumer family:
1 iMac for everyone, 1 MacBook for travel, 1 iPad for the couch and 2 iPhones
Professional user family:
1 Mac Pro for home/office, 1 Macbook Pro for the road, 1 iPad for the couch and/or clients and 2 iPhones
And when they're better, an AppleTV in every room.
My friend Adam, and others I'm sure, are concerned about this being a peripheral. While you clearly need a computer to sync the devlice, but I don't think there's reason for concern. If it's not true already, most homes will have one computer that acts as home base. You'll keep your music, movies, contacts, etc. stored there and everything else will sync with it. If you already have a laptop and a desktop, the laptop is as much a peripheral as an iPad would be.
Sure, the iPad is more geared towards consumption, but so what? As I've read a few times lately, the vast majority of time that most users spend on a computer is consumption, so it only makes sense to optimize towards that. If you don't want a consumption device, there are plenty of other options at your disposal.
After outlining my thoughts on the tablet, a few folks have noted that Apple has never made a modular device because they're clunky and harder to produce, but I don't think that means they never would. While I'm not positive it will be a laptop, I am quite confident the tablet will act differently in different environments (see Pogue's explanation of Droid docks).
After writing the last post, I found some examples, new and old, that showed similar ideas.
Two years ago, Popular Mechanics envisioned a truly modular tablet. I think this is further than Apple would go, but is most similar to what I discussed above.
I couldn't find the source of this image, but I see something like this as a distinct possibility. Tim Van Damme posted a thoughtful piece yesterday that struck a similar cord. "Combine this 'shell' with our tablet, and you get a fully functional desktop computer".
Finally, here's a real product. Lenovo is coming out with a hybrid laptop/tablet that is pretty ugly, but is theoretically identical to what I proposed.
I think I'm done prognosticating (for now), but I'm growing more and more excited about this device. I've also started thinking more about how content will be displayed. More to come on that later.
Sippey believes the iTabletSlateTab will be a laptop with a touchscreen where the screen can fully wrap around. I almost agree, which means it's time for me to stake my claim in the tablet sweepstakes.
The Apple Tablet will actually be the second generation of the MacBook Air. The screen will be 10" (as predicted by many), touchscreen, have very high contrast and will be detachable. That is right friends, the screen will be attached by a magsafe-like connector that keeps the screen attached to the keyboard.
The last time I blogged about the tablet, I thought there'd be some docking station so you can use it as a computer at home. Instead, it will just be half of the computer. I could imagine some kind of stand for watching on the plane or just for around the house, as well.
As for price-point, I think it will indeed be $800-1000. I think they'll add editorial content to the iTunes store using web technology similar to the iTunes LP format (as John Siracusa has predicted). I think it will be based on OS X and not another new operating system, but it will likely require a new 10.6.x version to operate properly. I also think it will be awesome.
Apple's developers conference begins today and we're all fairly confident they'll be a new iPhone and a release date for Snow Leopard. They'll probably be some speed bumps to hardware and some exciting new iPhone apps, but I'm not expecting a "One more thing..." Still, I think there's a "One more thing..." right around the corner — I'm convinced Apple's building a tablet.
There have been rumors floating around for a while, but I think everyone's got it a little wrong. Instead of a tablet, I'm envisioning a tablet-sized iPod. Something with a 5-7" screen that's focused on playing video and games. Instead of bringing your laptop on planes to watch movies, you'll bring the tablet. And despite Apple's insistence that people don't want to read books on their computer, it'll be the perfect size to compete with the Kindle. I also imagine they'll be a fancy dock that will charge and service as a USB hub.
It'd be great if Steve Jobs rode in on a unicorn holding this new iProduct above his head, screaming "Kneel before me, peons!" but I think this will get its own event. Anyway, if this comes to pass today or if any tablet is ever released by Apple from this point forward, be sure to credit Matt Jacobs, creator and proprietor of Capn Design.