I say, could this be the iSaviour?
The iPad's ability to integrate audio and video with text offers users a rich experience. -ST
By Janadas Devan, Review Editor
I'm not a geek. Indeed, I'm so not geeky, I learnt to SMS only about six months ago. It would take me almost three excruciating minutes to tap this sentence into my mobile. My thumbs are pre-SMS.
So it is significant that I have been much taken with the iPad, Apple's touch-screen tablet computer. iPad's technical attributes alone would have sufficed to impress geeks. To impress someone as decidedly non-geeky as I am requires a 'wow!' factor going beyond mere technical wizardry.
I believe the iPad - or something very much like it in the near future - will permanently alter our reading and studying habits. Unlike most new digital media, especially the Internet, the iPad is likely to enhance, not dissipate, our experience of reading material.
'It took about 4,000 years from the invention of writing to the Roman-era codex of bound pages replacing scrolls, 1,000 years from the codex to movable type creating printed book, 500 years from the printing press to the Internet - and only 25 years to the launch of the iPad,' writes L. Gordon Crovitiz in The Wall Street Journal.
Actually, there was something else before the scroll - the tablet. Humanity's oldest 'books' from about 6,000 years ago consisted of cuneiform markings on clay tablets. Unearthed by archaeologists in what is today's Iraq and Syria, the tablets are extraordinarily durable. They can be set on fire, and all the fire would do is bake them, making them harder and more durable still. That is why so many writings from that period are still preserved, though the ruins where they were discovered may have burned to the ground 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.
So Mr Crovitz's timeline ought to be rewritten thus: 4,000 years from the tablet to the codex; 1,000 years from the codex to the printing press; 500 years from the printing press to the Internet; and only 25 years from the Internet back to the tablet. It has taken us 6,000 years to return to where we began - only many flights up the spiral staircase of human history.
There is something extraordinarily soothing about that return. No longer tethered to the computer, one can access the Internet with the iPad sitting anywhere one likes - as presumably the first writers did 6,000 years ago when they made marks on their clay tablets. Unlike a laptop, the iPad can be read in bed; or it can be held as one holds a book, slouched in a chair, as Apple chief Steve Jobs did when he introduced the device last month. And just as our Babylonian ancestors scratched words on clay tablets with a sharp object, we would touch a screen tablet with our fingers - to disclose words, images, sounds. The device carries both a sense of continuity as well as change.
But if that is all there is to it, it would not succeed. Tablet computers are not new - Microsoft introduced one seven years ago, the Tablet PC, only to see it flop. If the iPad succeeds, it will be because it makes possible a multimedia experience.
Allowing as it does consumers to listen to music, watch video, e-mail, browse the Net and function as an e-reader, an iPad can theoretically be used to read a cookbook, say, and simultaneously watch a video illustrating a particular recipe in that book. By comparison, Amazon's e-reader, the Kindle, cannot do this for it can display only text and pictures.
For this reason, a slew of textbook publishers - including McGraw-Hill, Penguin, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster and Macmillan - have announced deals to provide textbook applications that would work on the iPad.
Digital textbooks have been available for some time, but strangely enough, students have not taken to them. In part, this may be a question of portability, which a portable digital e-reader like the iPad would resolve. Publishers are reportedly planning to include in their made-for-iPad textbooks features such as video, interactive quizzes, the ability to record lectures, highlight and search texts as well as take notes.
Imagine, say, a history textbook that would include footage of major historical events, recordings of speeches, or even illustrative docudramas, in addition to the usual timelines and chronologies, primary source documents, maps and focus questions. Imagine an edition of Shakespeare's plays that would incorporate video recordings of their performance, in addition to background historical material on Elizabethan England, glossaries, explanatory notes, concordances, bibliographies and critical readings.
As Mr Crovitz puts it: 'Why stick to text alone when other media can be incorporated into the book experience?' The ability of the iPad to integrate audio and video with text will help immerse students in their material, especially if the integration is done intelligently and imaginatively. And there is no reason why the same might not be done for novels, transforming even familiar analog classics like War And Peace or Pride And Prejudice into new, multi-media digital bonanzas. Finally, we might well have a digital device that deepens and enhances, not distracts and subtracts from, the experience of reading.
Of especial interest to journalists is that e-readers might help save newspapers and magazines too, not just books. The Internet has not been kind to the bottom lines of news publications. But strangely enough, people who are reluctant to pay for the news on the Net, seem willing to pay to subscribe to news publications downloaded to e-readers like the Kindle. For this reason, The New York Times has created a version of itself for the iPad that would allow readers to zoom in and out of articles and watch videos accompanying the stories.
It is too early to tell, but it is altogether possible that a modern version of the most ancient medium of communication, the tablet, might well help save traditional media.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.
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