A while back I wrote a post on why we still use paper. I’ve talked about the idea of consumption of digital content, mainly textual content. We still read books and magazines because they’re much more suited for consumption — it’s just much easier to sit comfortably in an armchair read a book than to read a book on a computer monitor at your desk. Personal computers are more suited towards content creation because of their size, input devices, big monitors and so on.
I believe than eventually paper books and magazines will become obsolete. This will happen when we get a good digital device for reading them, a good reading tablet. Amazon has begun this with the Kindle, Barnes & Noble have recently answered with the nook, but I think it will take us a lot more time to arrive at a perfect device of this sort. When it does arrive, there will become little point in printing thousands of paper copies when you can distribute the same content in digital form.
One interesting thing I notice a lot is that people tend to be confused about tablets. They see no reason for making a digital tablet. Who would use it and why?
But the reason is staring back at them. The reason for a tablet is this: to consume the Web. You see, the Web, is the world’s biggest collection of content. People today don’t just write books and magazines, they write blogs, participate in social networks and other forms of social media (forums, comments on blogs, photo sharing, etc.). Content is created not in a very rigid form of books, magazines and journals but in a very flexible form, spread all around the Web.
But books, magazines and other forms of old fashioned content that’s distributed in digital form are still packaged up in formats like PDF, or worse, closed, proprietary document formats. Old-fashioned content types are clinging to an old-fashioned distribution model when all the time we have this greatest distribution channel ever made sitting right there, open to all.
The best way to distribute tomorrow’s content then (the content that is currently printed on paper) is simply by using the tools we’ve always had: HTML and CSS, delivered over the Web. No PDFs or proprietary formats — simply web pages. This has obvious advantages. It’s easy to create the actual hardware to read them because we’ve already got browsers that can do it. It’s easy to style — we’re creating websites every day. Easy to modify styles for different devices and to make content more accessible (e.g. resizing text). It’s easy to update content when it’s stored in a central location, making error correction much faster. You can download the pages should you need the content locally when you don’t have Internet access. It just makes perfect sense.
What’s even better is that Google is working on an operating system well suited for this task: Chrome OS. The operating system is just a web browser. While I’m sure many notebooks and portable devices will benefit from the power of Chrome in running web apps, I see Chrome OS a perfect fit for tablet devices as well, where reading will be the main usage.
I think the important thing to consider when thinking about tablets is that these devices aren’t meant for content creation — that would be difficult on a small screen and tiny keyboard — they’re meant for content consumption, reading books, blogs, newspapers, email, etc., which they’ll be much better at given their size and weight.
Steve Jobs once made a comment saying that: “people don’t read”. But they do read. Even if they don’t read books or newspapers, they read other things like blogs and social media. Content is changing. New media has introduced many types of new content that was born on the Web. The Web is its original habitat.
Not so with old content like books, newspapers, journals. They were born long before the Internet was invented and while we’re seeing some move into this new medium, a lot of it still clings to the old. I think eventually books and magazines should migrate online as well. A simple tablet reading device powered by a browser will be the means of accessing them, together with the rest of content we already consume daily on the Web.