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How Will Apple's Tablet Affect Comics – Part Two
The Apple iSlate/iTablet is expected to be announced later this week.
Jim Shelley has interviewed a number of movers and shakers in the emerging digital comic book field about the emergence of the device, its effect and how they are planning to answer the challenge. The first part can be found here. More tomorrow…
Jim Shelley: What beneficial impact would you hope an iTablet might have on your software and/or business model?
As good a job as I feel we did with the UI in our reader software, I'm still not entirely happy with the user experience on the iPhone. The screen is too small, and though I think we do a better job of giving the sense of each panel as part of a whole page than some, having a bigger screen would definitely be a better reading experience. That gives me the room for better navigation controls, annotations, etc.
Also, Apple is unique in understanding that these types of products aren't just about building some cool hardware and software, they get that having an ecosystem of content for the device is really important. Remember, they introduced iTunes before there was an iPod. We were scratching our heads about this program to store and organize our music, this was nothing new, but when the iPod was introduced, the story was extremely compelling, and we'd already done the work of digitizing and organizing our songs.
So, this device is not going to launch without a big update to iTunes to accommodate whatever types of new content Apple intends to sell. They've gotten to a point where they probably have to streamline the UI to more elegantly deal with all the different types of content that are now available, and more importantly, if they really plan to tackle books, comics, newspapers, and magazines, they have to expand the business model to include subscriptions, and hopefully other types of offers, like 'buy 3, get one free.' Either that, or they have to open up iTunes itself to third-party development so that people can make their own apps for finding and getting the stuff they want.
Right now, there is one category of Books on the iPhone. We've certainly been requesting that books be broken up more by genre so that comics have their own section. But most importantly, I think Apple will have to provide a process for publishing "print" content or tablet apps that is somewhat similar to the iPhone. That may be a can of worms in itself, the wide range of materials consumers would want to read on a tablet will absolutely break Apple's current submission processes. The bottleneck that ComiXology has with approvals will be nothing compared to just handling the major US publishers. And, if you plan to do newspapers, you can't spend a week reviewing Monday's paper. So, I think there will be more of a move towards trusted partnerships for larger companies. For smaller companies, I expect there will be a process, it may be slower, and it might not be put in place right away, but it's absolutely in Apple's best interest to have a wide variety of print content.
From my standpoint, it's a great opportunity. We know how to author for this kind of device, and ultimately most publishers and creators will want someone with experience in the marketplace to help them get started. Once the screen gets big enough, too, there really is an opportunity to be the 'better mousetrap.'
Well, that depends on what the iTablet is and what developers can do with it. If we assume it will have similar functionality to a larger iPod touch then I can assure you I'm very excited about being able to show the user that much more comic. The larger form factor will encourage users to think of it as a reading device and that's got to benefit comic book vendors.
For us it really is just another distribution platform. Comics were made to be read and discussed on any device, any place with the people you choose. Graphic.ly will work on devices in your pockets, on the desktop (or in your laps), or in the living room. Its great that companies like HP and Apple are innovating the tablet space, and we are glad to support their efforts.
This is a minefield to answer, you realize…
I think, stepping back a bit, that Apple is very good at making technology 'comfortable'. Prior to the iPod, there were certainly MP3 players out in the market, some of them even had better audio quality, but the iPod's form factor and UI made it less intimidating for non-tech-heads. The iPhone is another great example… the UI and form factor… the whole experience of it is so 'fun' that even with a significant price point and AT&T as a carrier, it was a hit. More than that, it made the whole idea and concept of a 'smartphone' something that everyday users outside of business thought was great. That in turn pushed all the other phone manufacturers, so you had groups like HTC, RIM, Samsung, Google, etc all actively pursuing the touchscreen smartphone/superphone space.
If you look at the announcements coming out of CES, and all of the rumors regarding the Apple tablet, it's heating up to be another round of the same. Hell, if anything, it's going to make the phone surge over the last two years look slow by comparison. For LongBox as a company, it makes me very glad that a.)we bet two years ago that this was coming, and that b.)the client app and server side infrastructure was designed to be hardware and OS independent from day one. Makes it much easier to be on a device or piece of hardware when it launches, regardless of what OS it's running.
It'll be another platform for us to publish our titles. If we considered ourselves a distributor, mostly interested in getting as many comics out there with as little effort as possible, distributing comics through the iTablet would cost us less because we wouldn't need to adapt the comics. However, our main concern is publishing high-quality digital comics that reach the highest audience possible across all platforms, and the iTablet is just another platform for us to experiment with. And not the one we're most excited about. We want to produce comics that take advantage of the strengths of the digital medium, not just find the most natural way to transplant print material to digital devices.
As software developers, we will probably create a comic viewer for the iTablet similar to Droid Comic Viewer (which already runs pretty well on Android-powered tablets). That should make comic fans who are iTablet users very happy.
None as it is a Apple product :). Just kidding.
I think it will make Tablet PCs (also the Windows based ones) more mainstream. More people will think about all the benefits you get when buying, lets say, a convertible Tablet PC instead of a simple Notebook. I developed ComicRack for my own Tablet PC I bought in the year 2002. So using a tablet to read eComics is actually not the big news for me :)
It will reduce the amount of space I currently take up to read comics, my constant attempts to resell stuff on eBay, my battle with bookshelves, longboxes and shed space.
As a gossip writer, I know there will be just as much fuss about digital comics as there is print comics.
But if comic shops go, you'll lose much of the focal point of comic book fandom, that still can't quite be replicated online. Yet.
The tablet, if app based, will be a great addition to our platform. While we've done a great job presenting comics on the small screen, a larger screen will be fantastic. We can already support a wide range of resolutions and devices on our platform, and the tablet would be icing on the cake. I've seen our app run on a large screen, and it's excellent.
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