Two weeks ago, Apple launched (among a few other things) iBooks 3.0.
Before the announcement, some, myself included, had hoped that an iPad-mini and iBooks-update combo would indicate a renewed vigor from Apple at competing with Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem.
Here’s why I hoped for that.
Depending on where you live, Kindle has between 50-85% of the ebook market, whilst Apple struggles to get near 10%. It’s my personal opinion that an Apple/Amazon ebook turf war, with each company seeking to out-innovate the other and gain customers though a distinctive reading experience, would be incredibly positive for digital reading. On Twitter I likened this to the Beatles / Rolling Stones rivalry in the mid-1960s, characterizing one of the most creative moments in pop musical history.
ebook reading UI is currently dominated by “skeuomorphic” interfaces that ape the printed book. This is best characterized by the page “flip”, an action that is utterly redundant in ebooks, but which provides a comforting familiarity to the printed page for people new to electronic reading. But why? When you read an email or a web page on a computer or mobile device, you don’t flip the page, you scroll. Why should books be any different? [Aside: not everyone agrees that books should scroll; the debate has run for a while]
Skeuomorphism is often seen as representing the first stage of adoption for a new technology, before it evolves out into a more natural digital interface,
“[skeuomorphs], smooth […] the transition between one conceptual constellation and another. The Kindle is easy to use precisely because it behaves so much like a traditional print book.” Source: Wired
But now that Kindle has been around for over five years, surely the transition has been made – and ebooks are ripe for a new interface style?
Ultimately, we didn’t see iBooks (and a war against Kindle) at the heart of the iPad mini launch. But we did see the announcement of “continuous scrolling” in iBooks. This move away from page flips alone is something to be celebrated, but then just a few days later, came the ousting of Scott Forstall (widely seen as the father of skeuomorphism) from Apple.
With Forstall’s departure, Jony Ive will be taking over the human Interface (HI) design team at Apple. This means software, and hopefully iBooks. Jony Ive is unlikely to favour much more skeuomorphism.
iBooks has a long way to go before it is as elegant or pleasurable a reading experience as something like Readmill, but my hope is that the next few months will see some of the best design talent in the world thinking hard about how books should be experienced in the age of the iPad.