Monday, September 26, 2011

Week Preview: Talk of a government shutdown increases again; Amazon to unveil its new color tablet Wednesday

I think I am like most people in that talk of a government shutdown hardly fazes me. Again the issue is the budget and you can easily explain the issues anyway you like depending on your political persuasion.

But lost in all the debate is the simple fact that people's jobs are potentially effected, as well as payments to retirees and the disabled. This isn't supposed to be a game (though, obviously, it is).

Complicating the pictures is the fact that the economy continues to sputter generally, while European leaders have done very little to solve the Greek debt crisis. But word leaking out of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings in Washington hint that world leaders may finally be talking seriously about a significant write down of Greece's government debt – up to 50 percent.

You would think the markets might react badly to word that they might have to write down their holdings, but in fact that markets jumped on the news, with the German DAX up over 2 percent. If the IMF meeting results in concrete action in this regard this could be an important first step.

Amazon is set to introduce its first color tablet at a NYC event on Wednesday. Expectations are that the tablet will sport a 7 inch touchscreen display, run Android, and cost $250. But really all everyone can talk about is how this will force Apple to surrender, force the liquidation of the company, and result in the closing of all Apple retail stores. OK, maybe that's absurd, but then again so have all these stories that say Apple is trembling at the prospects of a new Amazon tablet.

First, there have been plenty of new tablets introduced lately so why would this one end the iPad's dominance? The fact is that Apple's 9.7 inch display, with a full, and quickly maturing portfolio of natively designed tablet apps is not going to go away anytime soon.

But Amazon's new tablet, if the rumors on the details are true, could find an important niche in the market and become the preeminent eReader, supplanting the...old Kindle.

The fact is that a 7 inch device is the perfect size for reading books and text versions of magazines and newspapers. A glossy display, though, will turn off fans of the old Kindle, and the smaller screen size will turn off those who want more than an oversized mobile phone.

I recognize why fans of replica editions are excited, though: finally there will be a color device on the Android side that has a chance of having a huge user base.

For me, though, I think about what a new app like Journey to the Exoplanets would look like on a 7 inch display – it would have to be redesigned to make it easier to read and navigate, otherwise the reader would be having to pinch to zoom all the time in order to read anything.

And therein lies my biggest objection to both smaller tablets and replica editions: pinch to zoom.

The fact is that newspapers and magazine publishers do not print their products with fonts so small that one needs a magnifying glass to read them. But advocates of replicas believe that it is natural for a reader to zoom in on every page to read. It is not. That is why I feel native tablet apps are often better than replicas.

But some publishers are making the mistake of making native apps that still replicate the magazine form too much. They design pages where when the page is first displayed the reader must do something – like pinch to zoom – in order to begin reading.

That situation is even worse on a smaller display, so am I down on the idea of a 7 inch tablet gaining traction? Not at all, I just think that the smaller form factor will force publishers to create products that work well on them. The good news is that the text formats that most Kindle Editions already use is a good place to start (not their full sized print editions).