The smart option?
18.09.09 | Tom Tivnan
I have seen the future and its name is Bunny Munro.
Futurology is, of course, a mug's game, but here goes: when we look back in five years' time on Canongate's recent release of its iPhone and iPod Touch app for Nick Cave's novel, The Life and Death of Bunny Munro, we may mark it as a point when trade digital publishing came of age. It is an e-book that fully embraces digital technology using colour, moving images, and a full audiobook which can be synched to text. And it is updatable, with a news
section that adds information on Cave's upcoming readings, gigs and media
In this week's Digital Focus, we look at iPhone app development, and one cannot help but wonder whether Amazon's prolonged negotiations with European wi-fi providers—the oft-reported reason why the Kindle has not yet launched in the UK—will prove troubling for the e-tailer. The technology is moving so quickly that a monochrome e-reader device looks almost quaint; in six months' time it could look ancient as gaslight.
Amazon and Sony are surely developing the next generation of devices that will have video, audio, etc, and are to make the reading experience increasingly pleasurable. But precisely because technology is moving so quickly is perhaps why smartphones will be the device of choice, mostly because of the ability to upgrade. Why commit to a dedicated e-reader when
it will be outmoded in, say, 18 months time, when a mobile contract will allow you to upgrade to the shiniest, newest, most modern handsets?
The numbers may be stacked against the dedicated e-reader. There are currently 4.1bn mobile phone contracts worldwide, with 25% of people having two or more contracts. Content is, of course, not just being developed for the iPhone, but publishers are working with handset makers and mobile platforms such as Nokia, Blackberry and Google Android.
I should note a disclaimer. I am predisposed to iPhone apps because, yes, I am one of those insufferable people who own one and will take any opportunity to show it off: "Why no, I can't give you directions to the Tate Modern, but my iPhone can. And have you seen the light sabre app?"
There are still problems with smartphones. The small size of the handsets can be off-putting for some—no phone will ever be able to match the screen size of the Kindle DX or some netbooks, which are increasingly being used to read e-books. Lack of paid-for UK content is a problem, particularly when compared to the relative abundance of e-titles across the Atlantic. But with the ability to upgrade, the growing number of smartphones, in use,
combined with increasingly faster mobile wi-fi connections, it seems for the moment smartphones are in pole position in the e-reader race.