Tech news on Friday morning was unsurprisingly dominated by geekgasms over the new 3G iPhone and Apple’s 2.0 software release for the iPhone and the iPod Touch. There are a ton of goodies to be found in the new iTunes App Store for both devices (covered at length on tech blogs like Gizmodo and Lifehacker), but one particularly significant if expected development was the release of dedicated ebook software for download and purchase. There are even public domain ebooks being sold for $0.99 each, bundled with self-contained reading software.
Happy iPod, courtesy of DerkT
It’s true that it has always been possible to read some ebooks on these devices, either as text files or with the aid of applications that required software modifications known as "jailbreaking." But the important shift here is that ebooks and ebook readers like Bookshelf and eReader are now being made easily available to users via Apple’s official distribution channel, and are guaranteed to work with no set-up or modifications required.
Now, almost all of the gadget-specific attention over the last couple of days has gone to the new 3G iPhone, which makes sense as it is the shiny new toy of the day. But if we take a quick step back from the hype for just a moment, let me propose that the slightly less glamorous iPod Touch with the new functionality added by the 2.0 software upgrade may be the dark horse contender for libraries and publishers in terms of ebook distribution.
For ebooks, iPod Touch > iPhone > Kindle
In June, Roy Tennant wrote a great post about the advantages of the iPhone over the Kindle as an ebook reader. I agree with everything he said there, but I’d also like to further point out that the iPod Touch in a wifi-enabled environment shares most of the same great functionality, and accesses the same killer content distribution system via the iTunes Store. And while the iPhone requires an expensive two-year voice and data plan that can cost nearly $2000 over two years, a one-time $310 purchase ($300 for the device plus $10 for the 2.0 software upgrade) gets patrons an 8gb device with vastly easier access to ebooks than they’ve ever had before. Other than the ability to download ebook apps on the go with the iPhone’s data service, there’s no difference as far as I can tell between these two devices as ebook readers. They share the same high-resolution screen, and the same proven digital content delivery system.
Millions of Americans already have wifi at home, while more and more universities and public libraries are blanketing public spaces with wireless Internet access. As the reach of public wifi extends further, I think we’ll see the iPod Touch become the ebook device of choice for many readers in the near future, especially in light of Stephen Abram’s recent comments that it can cost more in gas to drive to a library than it could to rent something to read online from Google and others.
Admittedly, the iPhone and the iPod touch sport significantly smaller screens than dedicated ebook readers, and lack the impressive e-ink technology that makes reading more pleasurable on dedicated devices from Sony and Amazon. So in much the same way that audiophiles never embraced the original iPod, true bibliophiles likely won’t embrace the iPod Touch as an ebook platform (if they ever embrace ebooks at all). But for nearly everyone else, the new ebook functionality on the iPod Touch may be just what it takes to convince readers to give ebooks a try on a device that millions will come to own in the coming years.