The Apple iSlate/iTablet is expected to be announced next 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 and the second part, here. Concludes tomorrow…
Jim Shelley: Based on the what you have learned developing your software, what features do you think would be key for such a device to be successful with comic fans?
A wide selection of top-tier content is going to be the key. Secondary to this is price. Much like the iPhone, this type of device actually takes the place of multiple devices, so it’s not a straight comparison. An iPhone OS-based tablet will be a fantastic video player, it will be a great portable gaming console, will support digital LPs with all the additional artwork, will be awesome for browsing the web, will support reading, will really take the place of carrying an address book, etc. It’s not just a comic book reader. I would be shocked if the device isn’t also set up to support video conferencing. I think the more important pricing question is going to be whether it is Wi-Fi only, or uses cell phone networks, and if so, which one? That’s going to be the biggest driver on the cost-to-own. Personally, if Apple just had a slot for a wireless card and let you just pick your own carrier for the card, like you can with wireless PC cards, that would suit me just fine.
If we assume that the device will have features similar to the iPhone ie. touch screen, wi-fi etc then I think the most important feature the device can have is a display that works better in sunlight.
Another question one could ask is: What features it needs to benefit the comic industry?
I think that with the tablet Apple will add a new revenue stream to the iTunes ecosystem. I think the revenue stream will be driven by very targeted advertising and will initially be deployed to the printed content industry. Apple will aim it at newspapers and magazines, keeping track of what you’ve been reading will allow them to present you with great ads.
I think that if the table ushers in that kind of technology, and if the comics industry adapts to use it by dropping the price to read a comic in exchange for advertising revenue from a much larger audience, then I think that comic fans won’t have to worry about their industry any more.
The reader component has to be pixel perfect and add to the reading of the story. Too many times people try and replicate the real world reading experience and it just doesnt translate. For comics, that holds true even more so. But the value of an internet connected reading device is not just the reading experience, but how to do allow readers to extend their experiences beyond the comic itself. Our relationship with Starz Media will allow us to bring exclusive video content and interviews with actors from Starz shows and movies into the readers world. Adding in social components, and allowing people to discuss the books while they are reading them is a key feature.
On the hardware side, it has to be the responsiveness. Lag in this day and age is death. Resolution is obviously huge (no pun intended)… even moreso that physical screen size. A 1200 x 1024 resolution screen that’s 7 inches is a much better option than a 9 or 11 inch screen running 1024 x 768, etc. The thing that I think will be the biggest factor (removing issues like price point and the like) will be the user experience… how do you interact with the object… how does it *feel*… in terms of weight, in terms of balance, how much of the screen is framed by the bezel, does the screen smudge/scratch easily, etc, etc. Doing a color tablet is easy with today’s technology.
Doing one that is GOOD is damn hard… doing one that is the ‘Standard” that all others chase after… that’s an insanely difficult task, especially with all the players in the field right now. As Gizmodo aptly noted, there are many many Tablets coming out this year, and many of them that are good will fail because the expectations and the bar has been set so high.
The price will definitely be a factor. As long as it has all the hardware and software features of the iPod touch, it should be enough for developers to give comic fans a great experience.
That said, I think it’s more important for the comics that are published on the device to be successful with a broader fan base than comic fans. The key is to make those who love the device love the comics offered on it.
Good display quality (vibrant colors, sharpness, good display angles). One thing I’ve learned from the users of ComicRack is that digital comic readers are split down right the middle into the natural camp (the ones that want to have the reading experience of a paper book replicated with all kinds of effects like natural page flipping) and others, that do not really care about such fancy features. eComics also have one specialty that every good reader has to do right: double page spreads. Something books do not usually have. And a good database support and sync options (like ComicRack has) also helps. Comics are a lot shorter than eBooks, so you have to navigate and browse a lot of them quickly and comfortably.
And one final point: people want to own their stuff. The readers must support local eComics without DRM and from lots of different sources (this should also include my hand-scanned rare 70s German comics :)).
To be really popular and to cause a big dent in the pirating problems, comics need to be available on the iSlate or whatever on the day of release. Of course, as I said, that could cripple the direct market as a whole.
LongBox has talked about making their product available to use with pirated comic books, albeit it without the organisational and sorting aspects that legit comic books will have – and we all know how comic fans love to sort their comics. And if, as rumoured, LongBox will be installed on each and every iSlate, that may be just the thing to bring a whole bunch of those who pirate back to the fold.
In essence, comic fans need it to be inexpensive, high resolution, and with a terrific amount of memory. I’m not sure about the price, but I’m betting that Apple will deliver on the rest.