By Jason Wilson
With the release of iOS4 on the horizon for both the iPhone, and then this Fall, the iTouch and iPad, users will be able to create folders of related content, say for “law.” By dragging one app on top of another, you can create a single folder containing them both and any others you choose to add. This functionality is very welcomed by users of the operating system and adds a level of organization to an already complicated array of pages (depending on how many apps you have, of course).
When I saw the folders functionality in January, it occurred to me that we are getting closer to the possibility of library collections on an iOS device. Up until now, I really couldn’t envision how users would want multiple eBook apps on their phone, swiping through pages (no matter how well organized), squinting to find the right book, and so forth. And given the legal publishing business, it was highly unlikely that publishers were going to put books on Kindle, iBooks, or the upcoming Blio reader or make DRM-free versions available for Stanza or Ibis. Giving up that kind of revenue split and loss of account information just doesn’t sit well with an industry accustomed to selling directly to the consumer (unlike trade). A good case in point would be Thomson Reuters, who has exactly one eBook app for Black’s Law Dictionary, out of a catalog of thousands. I know there are several titles of theirs I would like as separate eBook apps.
The organizational functionality of folders now allows us to segregate digital libraries of related books. This brings some measure of order to the chaos on our devices. What we’re waiting for now is the app platform, and this is where I think things are going to heat up.
Over the course of the next year, I suspect we will see several app developers create eReader platforms that pBook publishers can license and bolt onto the back end of their publishing process (assuming of course they’ve figured out that pesky XML thing). We’re already seeing some signs of this with developers like LawBox and publishers like Electric Literature, who have built platforms and will license them to other publishers. What I’m hoping is that someone will figure out the right mix of search (e.g., Boolean, wildcards, natural language), tools (e.g., back button, notes, share, community), and gestures (e.g., finger swipe down to change back lighting, one-tap page turns) to make reading digital law books more efficient and rewarding. In other words, an app platform that treats law books like law books, not trade publications. Once we hit that sweet spot of UI/UX design, the argument for law eBooks becomes very compelling.
[Image (cc) BasBoerman]