The iPad shows up the Kindle; will Apple’s iBooks store challenge Amazon?


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Apple debuted its long-rumored tablet device in San Francisco today. Head man Steve Jobs presented... the iPad. The name immediately met with Internet derision -- ‘iTampon’ is a top 10 trending term on Twitter -- yet iPad fever doesn’t seem to be abating.

The iPad looks like an overgrown iPhone -- a little more than 9 inches of screen space, able to play video and music and games. App developers who’d been given advance notice showed some of the possibilities for the larger-screen iPad. It runs e-mail, a new calendar, maps, iPhoto and iWorks. For those of us with stubby fingers, the on-screen keyboard looks droolworthy.


Oh and yes: ebooks.

Saying that Apple was standing on the shoulders of Amazon’s Kindle, Jobs showed off the iPad as ebook reader and a new ebook store, called iBooks. The Kindle mention may have been a backhanded compliment -- putting a slide of the beige-cased, black-and-white, button-laden Kindle on the screen before switching to the elegant full-color iPad showcased the superior design of the Apple device. The much better-looking iPad is priced at $499, a comparable price to the higher-end $489 Kindle DX.

As much of a challenge as the design presents, iBooks may signal a new era in book selling. Although ebooks are available from multiple online retail points, Apple’s major centralized ebooks store is the first to present a genuine challenge to Amazon. Five of the six major publishing houses -- Penguin, Harper-Collins, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan and Hachette Book Group -- have signed on to iBooks. Random House is the lone holdout, so no, you won’t be able to read ‘The Da Vinci Code’ on an iPad (at least, not yet).

Additionally, Jobs said Apple is using the open EPub format, whereas Kindle’s format is proprietary. Essentially, anyone with requisite coding smarts can make an Epub version of their own book. Smaller publishers, should they be welcomed by Apple, will be able to get in the game relatively easily; many already use EPub for their ebooks. Theoretically, an individual author could create an EPub ebook and publish from home -- could that kind of self-published book also make it into the Apple iBook store?

If so, let’s hope that they take advantage of what wasn’t demonstrated today. In this Gizmodo video of the demo of reading an ebook on the iPad, Jobs says it can read color photos and video. Video, in a book? That would be useful for instructional books -- say, cooking or gardening. But it would be revolutionary for fiction or works of nonfiction. How exciting to use video in fiction! How could it work, exactly?

And if you can embed video and pictures in text and use an ereader, what’s to separate books from Web pages? Will what we think of as ‘a book’ begin to change?

That’s a question for another day. The real nail-biter of Jobs’ presentation was the cost. The iPad comes with simple Wi-Fi or with higher-speed 3G; the entry-level Wi-Fi device, with 16GB of memory, is $499. There is a 32GB iPad and one with 64GB of memory, which, with 3G, will retail for $829. The iPad will hit stores in June or July, will, like the iPhone, use AT&T networks, and there will be no contract, just a monthly fee for data. No contract, perhaps, because the iPad, despite all its wonderful bells and whistles, is not a phone.


-- Carolyn Kellogg