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That syncing feeling

If I can read on my new iPhone4, then why would I bother to invest in an iPad? It is after all, just a big iPhone but with less features isn’t it?

Steve Jobs officially launched Apple’s new handset last week (as opposed to the unofficial launch in a bar several weeks earlier) and presented us with the next chapter in the history of the mobile phone. The pre-ordering frenzy saw 600,000 units reserved on day one and the first new iPhones will hit the UK streets on June 24th.

No frivolous feature set other than FaceTime, allowing face-to-face conversations. The rest is just delivered without a fuss, cleanly, simply and as unobtrusively as possible. This is what Apple does best and relates to Jony Ive’s view that good design doesn’t shout “look at me”, it’s just there, looking beautiful and performing its function without drama.

This is exactly how we’d want an eBook reader to behave. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to be reminded of the book jacket on every text page, it’s only right that the viewer should be recessive and tactile.

A slick and approachable user interface unites a 5MP still camera with flash and HD video recording, email, web browsing, music player and over 200,000 apps.

So is this now the ultimate convergence device? Actually, quite the opposite. In the absence of a fully-portable printed book with bookmarking facility (a book mark), none of us wants to be forced to read in any one particular location. We all want access any time, any place, anywhere – much like our thirst for wireless internet connectivity or a Martini.

One of the most significant additions to the feature set is the iBookstore for iPhone. We’ll now be able to transfer our book collection to our pocket as simply as we do our music or videos via iTunes. This effectively introduces the iPad as a complementary device and throws the idea of divergence into the ring.

To illustrate this, let’s imagine a day in the life of a digital book:

– You start the day by reading a literary masterpiece on an iPad over breakfast.

– Quickly syncing the iPad with iTunes, the iPhone picks up the baton before you head for the train.

– Sitting (or standing as this is rush hour) in the carriage you now continue your novel in the palm of your hand using the iPhone’s new high-resolution Retina display.

– You’re now at work and you can forget about reading until you hit lunchtime.

– The iPhone syncs with iTunes again and this time you’re able to continue your literary journey on a laptop or desktop screen.

– You repeat your iPhone browsing during your return journey.

– Relax, put your feet up and sit down with the iPad again (or your iPhone in a waterproof case if you’re reading in the bath).

Admittedly, the process isn’t yet as smooth as it could be. We really need the ability to wirelessly sync to iTunes but this is on the horizon and the simpler the process, the more willing consumers will be accept a change to their reading habits. This does, however, state the case for an integrated digital platform for literature and why a divergent iPad, iPhone and the general iPlatform makes sense.

I’m not suggesting this is the ideal solution and in all likelihood we’ll see the introduction of the iPad Nano next year to further add to the option list. It’s not unreasonable for us to demand something the size and weight of an iPhone that folds out to the size of an iPad. The technology exists but we’ve got to get there in digestible steps. Consumers need to embrace digital publishing on their own terms first, then we’ll come back and talk about flexi-screens in a couple of years.

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