Does the iPad change things for libraries?

Apple has just announced their new iPad.  It’s meant to fit somewhere in the spectrum between a proper computer and an iPhone.  It runs a somewhat modified iPhone OS and has access to almost all current iPhone apps.  It has a 10″ screen to accommodate the new ebook reader and ebook store iBooks that comes preloaded.  Will this be the ebook reader that breaks the library?

In short, no, I don’t think so.  It’s from Apple, and it has been long awaited, so it may reach critical mass like the iPhone before it.  Unlike the Kindle or Sony Reader or Nook, this gives an ebook reader to people who are not readers and not willing to invest several hundred dollars to carry digital books around.  But it has drawbacks as a reader.  The reason Amazon, Sony, and Barnes & Noble, use eInk displays is that it is really annoying to read books on an LCD screen.  The constant screen refreshing and bright backlight cause eyestrain in many individuals.  Further, it does not represent the kind of paradigm shift that allowed the codex to leapfrog the scroll in popular use.  While ebooks remain imitations of books, they will not supplant books as a reader’s choice.

It might have some interesting implications for newspaper and magazine publishers though.  Unlike novels, newspapers and magazines are divided into shorter forms that are more appropriate for LCD screens.  Also, the New York Times app previewed at the Apple event has shown the way as to what can be done for newspapers.  Navigation, which can be overlooked as an important innovation for newspapers, is simple and intuitive and makes good use of this new era of technology.  Embedded pictures and videos can be viewed in context or popped out.  This could be a portent of things to come for the publishing world.  We may finally have the impetus for changing the paradigm of serial publishing.

It may change things for serials and probably won’t for books, but there’s a great potential for librarians and other professionals.  Despite being aimed at casual users with its media capabilities and gaming promise, it’s professional applications are more intriguing.

  • Mobile reference.  With it’s light weight and wi-fi, it could break reference librarians from the chains of the desk.  One could easily help patrons find items in the stacks, or on databases on the web at any time.  It’s efficient processor and finger friendly browsing makes finding information incredibly easy.  A good shelf browsing app could also open things up for reference.
  • Graphic design.  The Brushes app that debuted for the iPad looks like a robust, multitouch finger painting application.  It could make graphic design more intuitive than a normal Wacom tablet does.  The eventual Adobe Photoshop app (I would be fairly devastated if they don’t make a Photoshop app) will undoubtedly improve everything.
  • Notes.  It’s a clipboard with access to the internet.  Even regular tablets do this.  Get Evernote on this thing NOW

If only this thing had a front facing camera and a rear facing camera.  Then it would be the ultimate work tool.  You could have web conferences anywhere.  You could plan a space by taking a picture of your space and photoshopping what it should look like.  You could make an augmented reality shelf browser and navigator (imagine being able to input a call number, then looking through your iPhone or iPad camera and seeing a pop-up where the item is shelved.  It’s hard to explain, but in my mind it’s awesome).

My uncle, who is a doctor, swears by his years old tablet PC and wonders why the technology never took off.  This time it possibly could.

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