Yesterday I saw a new eBook for the iPad called Alice for the iPad. This is an adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” for the iPad that incorporates wonderfully interactive illustrations that move when you rotate or shake the iPad.

In seeing it, it became clear that the publishing industry is undergoing at least two major disruptions. Not only does the iPad disrupt traditional distribution models (i.e. publishers in conjunction with traditioanl retailers as gatekeeper and the only viable distribution channel) by allowing authors to go directly to consumers through the App Store, but it also is on the verge of creating a disruption in terms of content. Content is now free from the static limitations of print and moving into a truly interactive realm. Imagine textbooks with built in simulations and interactive diagrams in place of static images. Imagine books that actually teach rather than present information to be consumed. It’s a true convergence of print, video and interaction into a single, portable medium that hasn’t existed before. Add to this the ability of the iPad to connect to the Internet and you now have the potential for entirely new notions of publishing.

Imagine that same textbook with interactive diagrams and simulations with online forums for students to pose questions and engage in discussion. Links to additional content examples and excerpts from class lectures on YouTube. Add in the professor teaching the course and you have a textbook that is fully integrated into the classroom curriculum. Add in Wikipedia and you now have the ability to expand on the content itself by letting authors, professors and student augment and change the content so it becomes a living document rather than a static record of our understanding at a fixed point in time. The notion of textbook “editions” become obsolete – the only edition is the edition available this second.

Depth of content and progressive disclosure also become possible now. Imagine a textbook where you can adjust the depth and complexity of a story or explanation on the fly. For example, move a slider on the interface to go from the “4 year old” version of why the sky is blue to the “PhD” version.

It’s not inconceivable to think of the iPad as a giant leap towards a real “Young Lady’s’ Illustrated Primer” as envisioned by Neal Stephenson in his wonderful book, “The Diamond Age.” A book of all the essential knowledge one needs to know to grow up to be an educated and interesting individual that adapts to your age and level of understanding over time. The iPad makes this notion start to sound more like reality than science fiction.

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