Deja Vu?

Apropos my recent laments for the state of the ebook reader, a more positive reflection. It seems that every day brings news of another ebook reader of some flavour, each following the same kind of basic formula – e-ink screen, minimal interface, slightly geeky options and design that only a mother could love. Those of us who were around and watching the emergence of mp3 players very early this century will feel a sense of deja vu. Back then, a whole bunch of music players, each following the same kind of basic formula – LCD screen, minimal interface, slightly geeky options and design only a mother could love. Even recognised brand names such as RCA, Microsoft and Thompson couldn’t find the magic formula. It wasn’t until the introduction of the ipod in late 2001 that things shifted. And that introduction was, itself, merely the first step in a journey that took several years – which included the debut of the itunes store in 2003.

To me, ebooks 2008 feels like mp3 2000. Nothing has yet hit the sweet spot – and many are waiting for Apple to repeat its ipod trick. Of course, we need to be cautious about drawing direct parallels– there are distinct differences between books and music that can’t be dismissed too easily. At the same time, the ipod has proven that users are perfectly happy to use (and buy) digital ‘non-objects’; we’re not nearly as wedded to things as we think. So when I say that in ten years (give or take), downloading and reading ‘books’ on electronic devices will seem as natural as breathing, don’t laugh too loud. Just remember how funny the same statement would have sounded ten years ago if applied to music…

 

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