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In praise of the digital world

Apple iPadA new year has begun, and it’s fair to say that one device more than any other ruled the roost over the past 12 months. The Apple iPad outdid even the iPhone in terms of speed of adoption. Not only that, but the interest in devices of the iPad’s ilk meant that dozens of tablet PCs were hastily produced and a whole new market was born.

The iPad wannabes, in the meantime, have not had such a rapturous reception, in part because the medium and the form were not designed together. They variously run Android, Windows and various versions of Linux, rather than the made-for-iPad edition of Apple’s iOS. Where hardware innovation has stalled – as in the case of the netbook – a new software approach can be its saviour. Even so, we’re laying our bets on a tablet being the next type of PC you buy.

Other innovative devices also came good in 2010. The Kindle 3 finally got the form and price equation right and became the bestselling product on Amazon’s site for the second year running. It was also a firm favourite with PC Advisor readers.

In December, Google opened its eBookstore for business, prompting us to reassess the state of the e-book market. The fact that Kindle book apps now exist on iPhone, iPad, Windows, Android and PCs, and can be read and downloaded to any or all, shows how the e-book market has matured. Even diehard ‘real’ book fans are converting in their thousands.

With well-established competition in the book sales market from Amazon, which shifts vast numbers of paperbacks and hardbacks and is able to undercut their cover prices for digital editions, Google has significant ground to cover.

Google has been assiduously digitising both out-of-copyright and new publications and doing deals with publishers and direct with authors for the past five years. This allows it a potential revenue stream for the eBookstore consisting of titles that Amazon et al can’t offer.

Salon.com author Laura Miller suggests independent bookstores also have an important role and could see a resurgence thanks to Google. However, she also points to eBookstore’s biggest weakness: search.

While we’re pretty sure it won’t be all that long before the world’s most successful search tool gets that sorted, there’s one more development in the realm of e-books that has us excited: colour. Tablet PCs and iPads are amazing devices, but the Kindle 3’s lightweight form-factor, twinned with a colour E-Ink display and lengthy battery life, would more than make our day. Now US bookselling behemoth Barnes & Noble has its Nookcolor device on sale, we can only hope a British counterpart takes the lead and launches its own.

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