A Tablet from Heaven?

February 6, 2010

A good deal of ink has been spilled arguing the merits of Apple’s Ipad tablet during the weeks since its launch. Apple’s hype has been almost messianic, with the great Jobs calling the new gadget magical about twenty times in his presentation. I admit to being an Apple devotee, but this put me off a bit. The inflated Iphone will not change your life, and may not even sell very well in a depressed economy. But, should we dismiss this new portable entertainment device without considering its potential?

As the author of four books with another on the way, I have mixed feelings about the emergence of Kindles and other digital book avatars. Amazon has nearly killed the book publishing industry with its punitive discounts. We need traditional books, and will continue to enjoy reading them for the foreseeable future. The Kindle has not yet made a real dent in book sales, and many find its screen cold and impersonal.

The question is, can a tablet with dazzling color rendition become an alternative form of media dissemination in an era when other forms are vanishing? Notwithstanding the spate of cool Iphone Apps that may run on the Ipad, there is a very large untapped market for rich visual media that can be carried in a light, portable device, enriched by text, music, video and other as yet undiscovered means of communication. Apple has been clever in opening the doors to these kinds of innovation in the past. Will it do so with the latest miracle device?

As an architect who writes for a broad audience, and likes to see lots of color in books, I am aware of the economic limitations of color printing in a paper format. What if that drawback were eliminated in tablet publishing? What if other media could be combined with text and photos? Wouldn’t art and architecture publishing benefit profoundly from these new methods of “printing?”

I can’t help but believe that, sooner or later, this generation or next will figure out a way to present the wonders of the visual world with the kind of sharp clarity that we now appreciate digital film and music. What a dazzling show that will be.

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