An Apple E-Book?

Tech industry observers and iPod lovers are gearing up for what is now expected to be a fall or Christmas launch of an Apple tablet. The chief question is: Will this device answer all the needs of mobile users who want to listen to music, watch videos, download newspapers and books, and work on very slimmed down laptop? The betting is the tablet will be like a large iPod with a 10-inch touch screen and will attempt to conquer two markets: e-readers and netbooks. Much of the chatter centers on price, with speculation ranging from $600 to $1,000. At those levels, Apple may face resistance in broadening its market from its current followers who accept that its products are so cool they come with a price premium.

For book readers, the issue boils down to two points: What type of screen will the tablet have and how much battery power will it pack? The two issues are related - and crucial to successful book reading on any device. If Apple's tablet can't do any better than the current battery life of its other products, book readers will likely hesitate. And if the tablet doesn't incorporate the E-Ink technology found in Kindles, Sony e-books and other e-readers, it's unlikely Apple will be able to extend battery hours too much further than what's currently available. The sharp advantage of E-Ink is its very low energy demand. Because of the nature of its technology, an E-Ink page requires far less power than a traditional display, allowing for exceptional battery life. On the downside, E-Ink has yet to come up with a commercial color display, leaving photos and illustrations in existing gadgets sometimes muddy and uninspiring. The tradeoff for potentially weaker battery life with Apple's tablet would be full-color coolness.

There's one other issue: Will Apple begin selling e-books on iTunes? It would seem an inevitable progression if the tablet is marketed as an e-reader. More interesting, Will Apple talk publishers into allowing it to sell slices of books, as it does of albums - so we'll have readers downloading favorite chapters in the same way music lovers grab their favorite singles?

By Steven E. Levingston |  August 18, 2009; 5:30 AM ET
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