Apple iPad: A closer look at the iBooks, Photos, iPod, and video apps

Apple's Guided Tour iPad videos, released this week, provide a detailed look about how the iPad will work. Some of the more interesting videos focus on the entertainment apps -- iBooks, Photos, Video, YouTube, and iPod. It'll change the way we entertain ourselves, the same way that the iPod changed the way we listen to music.

First, the iBooks app. It looks great. Books appear turned face-front on a bookshelf. Tap one of the covers, and that book comes forward to be read.

When you turn pages, the display changes with a page-turning animation (which might turn out to be a bad idea -- see this essay by Marco Arment, lead developer at Tumblr and the fantastic Instapaper reading app for the iPhone: "Overdoing the interface metaphor").

Book illustrations look great on the video. Of course, anything can look great in a video, but I predict they'll look just as good in real life. The iPad is going to give the Kindle, with its monochrome display, fierce competition in illustrated books, such a children's picture books.

Want to buy books? Go to the bookshelf display, which turns around like a secret door in a horror movie to reveal the digital bookstore behind it.

This is going head-to-head with the Kindle store. You can see lists of bestsellers, reviews from readers, and buy with one tap, just like the Kindle.

On the Kindle store, you can download sample chapters for free, and read them at leisure, and then buy the book instantly if you like what you've seen so far. Everybody wins. If the iPad supports free sample chapters, I didn't see it in the video. Free sample chapters are a great feature, they're a powerful tool for turning shoppers into buyers.

Update, 11:25 am: An anonymous person in the comment thread below says: "It's there. In the iBooks preview, at time marker 1:59, the iBooks page for 'under the dome' has a 'get sample' button. That's for the free sample chapter." Thanks!

For photos, the video shows the iPad sitting on a shelf. When not in use, it appears you can use the iPad as a smart pictureframe. A really, really expensive pictureframe.

The Photos app organizes albums in virtual stacks. Pinch a bit to peek at the photos in the stack, or pinch open to see all of them. Watch the video to see what I mean.

The Photos app has many equivalent features to the desktop iPhoto. You can tap a photo to fill the screen, flip or scroll through them, do slideshows, organize them using Events or Faces. If you're face-to-face with a friend, and you want to show him a photo, just flip the iPad upside down so it's facing your friend; the display flips automatically and the desired photo fills the screen.

Scrapbooking companies are going to be threatened by the iPad, unless they're smart enough to start selling the tactile experience of physical scrapbooks.

The other entertainment apps are mostly as you expect. The demo video says videos viewed on the iPad are crisp, clear, blah blah blah. The voice-over says, "It feels like your own personal big screen." That's presumably because the display is fantastic (or so Apple says) and, though small, you're holding it up close. Will the iPad replace full-size televisions for people who live alone, or who have their own TVs in their own, private bedrooms? We'll see .

The iPod app suggest we may see a revival of album art as an art form. MP3s have album art now, but the primary display is the tiny iPod display. The bigger iPad display will permit artists a bigger canvas. Will the iPad also lead to the resurgence of albums as an art form? We'll see about that too.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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