Dan Tonkery on the iPad and the Future of Technical Publications

Written for Unlimited Priorities and DCLnews Blog.

Dan Tonkery

Dan Tonkery

The much-anticipated iPad has arrived! Consumers, publishers, and video game developers are on cloud nine. What can the technical publications industry expect?

The iPad has finally arrived. This magical and revolutionary next-gen tablet computer with its online library of books and magazines, music store, and theater from Apple is now available. Industry pundits claim this device will change the future in publishing and may be the transformational product for our society, equivalent to the introduction of the television or print itself.

The iPad is a very hot looking product that can be used in multiple fields such as entertainment, business, and education. The device is a 9.7-inch touch-screen tablet computer that features a multimedia e-reader and mobile Web surfer. Since Apple’s release of the iPhone in 2007 they have become the leader in mobile devices and the release of the iPad will continue that leadership position.

Pre-orders for the iPad are over 200,000 units and sales for this first year are expected to be over 5 million for 2010. Apple insiders are projecting sales from eight to ten million. While the initial sales are in the United States, sales in the UK and Canada are projected to start by the end of April.

The iPhone app business created in 2007 is already a billion-dollar business as application developers have produced over 150,000 applications for the iPhone. The app business has created an entire industry. Apps have been downloaded some two million times, and most of those applications will work on the iPad. There is currently a gold rush by developers to create applications for this new platform. Apple has been secretive about the iPad and has been offering developers emulation software.

So who are the early adopters and developers of the iPad? A large group of publishers are working on new apps as they see a golden opportunity to reinvent the newspaper, magazine and e-book with a multimedia touch screen offering video mixed media, 360-degree product walk through and new products with embedded audio, video, and streaming. Now is the perfect time for publishers of books, magazines, and newspapers such as the New York Times, Macmillan, and Penguin to develop exciting new products that offer an opportunity to monetize their web applications and reverse the trend that everything on the web is free.

Publishers are not the only community excited about the new platform. Video game developers, retailers, and educators are building apps for this new platform. What is for sure is that the multimedia products will offer a combination of text, audio, still images, animation, video and interactivity content forms. The range of tools available now will give developers the most creative landscape ever and an opportunity to push the edge of technology forward.

The first version of the iPad will not be perfect as many users want features like a camera, multitasking, a GPS, and support for Adobe’s Flash software, but there are sufficient features to make consumers buy the iPad. The early adopters and market leaders have their orders placed. Many corporations that wanted to buy in bulk were turned away. Expect major corporations to spend millions on this new device as product catalogs, documentation, training and other enterprise-wide applications are developed.

Apple is a big winner with the iPad. The applications from publishers, video game developers, and major corporations marketing their favorite food, car, and beverage are going to provide users with sufficient content to justify buying an iPad. Already Seton Hill University has announced that they will supply all incoming freshman this fall with an iPad and other universities are considering similar action.

So what will the iPad add to the technical publishing and documentation industry? What will the introduction of the iPad have on the community that produces and develops the technical documentation for business and industry, including military applications? First and foremost, the introduction of the iPad will raise the bar on the look and feel of technical documentation. No longer are users going to accept the status quo. The tools that are now available to modernize, upgrade, and reinvent technical documentation are abundant, powerful, and ready to be implemented.

Most of the technical documentation applications build on some variation of XML, and most data conversion shops are experts in building applications and products working in the XML world. If your organization is working with DocBook, then the path to EPUB is straightforward. Hopefully your organization is working in a presentation-neutral form that contains the logical structure of the content, and then it is available to be published in a variety of formats.

What is clear for the technical documentation industry is that future applications are going to demand embedded audio, video, streaming and such features as 360-degree product walkthroughs with video-mixed media. Think for a moment about the documentation for a tank repair manual: how much more educational would it be to offer video and audio embedded in various pages? There is an exciting new world opening up and I think that many of the future technical documentation projects are going to utilize a range of the multi-media features.

The iPad and software tools provide an exciting opportunity to open up the power of art and creativity. The introduction of multimedia eBooks is an example where we have multiple formats, hardware, and software. Developers have many choices now to build exciting products.

Even Amazon with their best-selling Kindle is working on an iPad app. Kindle users will be able to read their eBooks on the iPad. Kindle is the best selling e-Book reader to date but the iPad may make the Kindle obsolete. It was a great tool in its day, but Apple may have leapfrogged it.

The benchmark for the look and feel of technical publications has been raised, and users will be looking and expecting to find image and sound support, interactivity, embedded annotation support and affordability of both the device and the product. Publishers are seeking a new platform that offers Digital Rights Management and an opportunity to shift the user from a free Internet mentality to a paid environment, and it is my belief that users will pay for bells and whistles.

The iPad is the first in a new field of tablet computers. The market is going to explode with new apps. Look for a flood of creativity. The convergence of technology that has brought us to this point has been a long time in coming. With the introduction of the iPad, we have crossed over to a new world that has great opportunity for users, developers, and corporations. The biggest impact on society is going to come from the millions of creative and artistic individuals that are going to build applications for all of these new tablet computers.

The new tablet computers will radically impact technical documentation and the data conversion industry. Since the community is already XML-savvy, working with the standards organizations like the International Digital Publishing Forum to build new expanded standards is a must. Whatever markup language you are using will be modified to include multimedia tools and features. Just think of all the potential upgrades to the various technical documentation projects that have already been completed. There should be work for many, many years. You have an opportunity to bring life into your works. Let the fun begin…


About the Author

Dan Tonkery is president of Content Strategies as well as a contributor to Unlimited Priorities. He has served as founder and president of a number of library services companies and has worked nearly forty years building information products.

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