Tuesday, October 30, 2007

I Have Seen The Future, And It Fits In My Pocket

Because of my health situation, I did not renew my Elsevier consulting agreement when it expired at the end of September. It was a great six year association with Elsevier after they acquired LLH on August 24, 2001; I had the opportunity to work with some really great people and I miss them already.

Demonstrating what a terrific bunch of people work there, Elsevier sent me an unexpected going-away present in early October: an 8 gig Apple iPod Touch.

My reaction to it is similar to my reaction when I saw the Apple Lisa (the precursor to the Macintosh) demonstrated in January, 1983: this is the future.

In many ways, the Lisa was a clunker (its operating system was written in Pascal, fer crissakes!). It was painfully slow and did endless read/write operations to its hard drive (a whopping 10 megs!) for even the simplest tasks. But it had a graphical interface almost like the Macintosh. You could change fonts on text documents or insert graphics into them. It had a mouse, a trash can icon, and organized files into folders. The monitor resolution was high enough to accommodate graphics and used black on a white background instead of the green on a black background then common. If you had a half a brain, you knew that one day all computers were going to be. . . . . . no, had to be like the Lisa and be that simple, that intuitive to use.

And one day all pocket devices----MP3 players, mobile phones, etc.----are going to be like the iPod Touch.

The iPod Touch is like the iPhone without the telephone. And like the Lisa, its genius lies in its interface. The "touch" refers to its full color touchscreen interface. You can "flip" through lists of songs or artists, or photos, as simply and naturally as flipping through a stack of CDs or photos. Setting volume, equalization, screen brightness, etc., is all done by touching the screen. Want to zoom in on a photo? Double-tap the screen. Want to zoom out? Double-tap again. In addition to audio and photos, it also plays video, but I haven't used it for that yet. It also comes with a calculator, scheduling calendar, and "digital Roledex." In a lot of ways, the iPod Touch is what the first PDAs (like the Apple Newton or Dell Axim) were supposed to be but never quite became because of memory and power consumption issues.

But what really blows me away is that it comes equipped with WiFi and Apple's Safari browser. In other words, this is a wireless internet access device that's not much larger, or thicker, than a credit card. Yesterday I got my oil changed, and it was mind boggling to pull out the iPod Touch and check my Yahoo e-mail in the waiting room. Yes, it comes with a touchscreen "keyboard" for writing e-mails, and you access it with----yes!----a screen touch.

Many in publishing have been waiting for the right platform for eBooks to emerge before investing heavily in eBook publishing. Well, that platform is here----it will be something like the iPod Touch. I wouldn't be too surprised to see iTunes start offering eBooks before too long.

Because of its 8 gigs of memory, I went back and re-ripped/re-encoded many of my CDs at 256 kbps instead of the 128 kbps I used with prior MP3 players to conserve memory. The result is startling; I suppose someone with "golden ears" might be able to discern the difference compared to a CD, but I can't. It is so wonderful to listen to Jimi Hendrix's Band of Gypsys in full fidelity as I scoop the horse poop up from our pasture!

Apple plans to release a software developer kit for the iPod Touch (and iPhone) in January so independent third-part applications can be created. I hope an early application is one allowing streaming audio through Safari, followed by an eBook reader platform. (I bet Adobe will develop a version of Acrobat Reader for the platform.)

It's been a long time since I've been this excited over a new product.