Will the Rumored Apple “Tablet” Take on eBook Readers?

John Gruber just published his Macworld Expo Predictions. While reading his well-reasoned arguments why we will see a new thin MacBook Air?, should see a new Apple TV, and won’t see DRM-free music, one prediction got me thinking. He suggests the rumored Newton-like tablet device is very likely in development but won’t make it out of the labs in time for the Keynote tomorrow morning.

There’s still the “what would I use it for?” factor. It seems to me it would need to be something more than just an iPod Touch with a larger screen — if that’s all it is, then what’s the point of buying one instead of a smaller, pocketable, iPod Touch or iPhone? I simply lack the cleverness to imagine what that hook might be — but I can’t imagine Apple releasing such a product without an obvious “Oh I gotta buy that” hook.

John Gruber gets it right – the tablet needs a hook. I think that hook might be eBooks.

Amazon KindleThe Sony Reader hasn’t sparked the market; neither has the Amazon Kindle. But both have set the stage for the typical Apple product introduction. They’ve raised awareness of this type of device, established the basic underpinnings of a market, and gotten people excited about the prospect of carrying multiple books in a very light device.

Sony ReaderBut they’ve also failed to live up to the hype in some big ways. The interface on the Sony Reader is much too complex. All the device should have is a simple control that navigates a menu of titles, and turns the pages when you’re reading an ebook. Philippe Starck said the Kindle designers weren’t “courageous” enough to strip everything else away and focus on the one thing that matters when reading a book: the page.

That’s where Apple comes in.

Time and time again we’ve seen that Apple’s design team are courageous enough to focus, focus, focus on what really makes each device sing. I can imagine an Apple designed ebook reader being a simple, incredibly thin, magnificent piece of aluminum that looks as simple and uncluttered as it should be. It would be the technological version of the book page – nothing to distract you when you’re trying to focus on reading.

So that’s the design argument. What about the infrastructure?

Apple already has it: iTunes

As of July 31, 2007, the iTunes Store surpassed Amazon and Target to become the third largest music retailer in the US.

Apple already sells music wirelessly via the iTunes Wi-Fi Store for iPhone and iPod Touch. This makes selling eBooks feasible, especially since the file size for eBooks would at least be the same, if not slightly smaller than music files.

So that’s the infrastructure argument. What about the experience?

Now we wait and see.

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