Rumored Apple Tablet May Be Digital Comics' Future

Comics Sleeping Giant? Apple?

As rumors about a new Apple touch-screen tablet heat up, it's looking more and more likely that Spider-Man and Superman may soon be read by using fingers to zoom and scroll through a digital comic book.

"It’s starting to look more and more firm that we’ll see something in early 2010, but details are still absolutely mysterious," said Andy Ihnatko, technical writer and contributor to the Chicago Sun-Times, MacWorld, and the CBS Early Show. "I guess this is like an early warning system of something really happening, where little crumbs of information start building up."

With recent black and white comics already doing well on Amazon's Kindle, the potential of comics being available on a larger-screen color device from Apple looks promising.

"I really believe the tablet is absolutely necessary to move comics into the digital realm," said Ihnatko, who thinks the tablet will probably be somewhere around 3" x 5" or 5" x 7", offering a more preferable size for comic reading. "Publishers trying to go digital, in most cases, have missed the point up until now. They just don’t know how to deal with taking a story designed to fill up an entire page and trying to make it work on a smaller iPhone screen or smaller handheld screen. What they do is they tend to force the path that the reader takes throughout the comic book.

"We’re going to need to see the full page," said Ihnatko, a comic book reader himself. "We’ll need to look wherever we want to look. Artists will have to have the freedom to design the page however they want it to go for it to really work. That’s why we want a nice, big color screen that can at least give you the top half or bottom half of the page and scroll very neatly and very cleanly."

Ihnatko said that people who haven't enjoyed the ability to read comic books on their computers or their iPhones aren't only rejecting those delivery method because they're digital. "I think that what they’re attached to is not necessarily the paper comic. I think what they’re attached is something that they recognize as a comic book," he said. "Once you give them something they don’t recognize as a comic, they disconnect from it. But with a tablet-sized reader, it can be scrolled through like a comic."

Although the announcement of an Apple Tablet is not likely to be the subject of the company's launch event on Sept. 9th, the approaching event has everyone looking for clues about what Apple is developing behind the scenes. Tech news sites and magazines have been filled with possible "evidence" of the Apple Tablet, from manufacturing orders to software developments.

The latest so-called evidence was the fact that Apple's newest operating system, Snow Leopard, includes an easily accessible screen-based keyboard that can be enlarged to a size that offers finger-sized keys.

"We’re seeing parts manufacturers start to gear up to produce odd-looking components and alleged orders being placed for things. It’s really hard to describe something this vague," Ihnatko said. "It’s sort of like that scene in "Jurassic Park". They realize the T-rex is testing the fences. They don’t know that something big is happening on a certain date, but they know that something now is definitely up. As usual, Apple will release only when they’re ready to do it. Even if they have something that’s working that’s sellable, if at the end they decide, 'This isn’t quite what we want it to be,' then they’ll just scratch it and wait another few months. You can never tell."

But Apple may not be the first to offer an electronic reading device that could be utilized by the comic book industry to display color comic books. Just last week, Stephen Christy, director of development at Archaia, said all the comic books his company is coding for Amazon's Kindle are being coded in color as the company anticipates future colors versions of the device.

"Whenever that future version comes out in color, all the files will be forward compatible. So if you download "The Killer", it will be in color," he said.

And just Thursday, Toshiba announced that it would release a touch-screen tablet, called the JournE Touch. The device, which would retail for around $360, has a seven-inch screen and is a half-inch thick weighing under a pound. With integrated Wi-Fi and Windows CE, the Toshiba tablet is intended as a home device that allows users to quickly access the internet on a bigger screen without having to go to a larger home computer.

When Newsarama talked to Ihnatko in February, he further fueled tablet rumors by sharing stories about Apple coding books for sale on iTunes. But the tech expert said he no longer thinks that's Apple's priority.

"Having an iTunes bookstore would have been a really important thing for them to do last year before anybody really had a big foothold in this market. Right now, they might be in the position of coming out with an iTunes bookstore that would simply exist alongside all these other digital bookstores," Ihnatko said. "It would be hard for them to produce a library of copyrighted digital content that would exceed what’s already out there. Again, I think it’s very possible for them to do that within the iTunes store, but it’s no longer quite so necessary. The Kindle app for the iPhone kind of demonstrated that it’s possible to have a very good, viable e-book feature for an iPhone without having to own the book market."

And while Ihnatko acknowledged that electronic readers like the Kindle are not necessarily a booming market, they are successful enough now to imply that a multi-media device from Apple could succeed in areas others can't touch.

"Any time Apple does something, it makes it cool for everybody," he said. "They’re the ones who do it – they don’t necessarily do it first, but they do it absolutely right. Again, look at the music player. They redefined music players. Look what they did with phones. They redefined phones. Not because they were the first people to have a phone that was actually a computer, but they’re the first ones to do it in a new, compelling way that turns it into just another really cool device. If they were to come out with a table device that has a really good color screen on it, it would be a successful product almost by definition. People would go out and buy it because it’s Apple and because it works."

And for the comic book industry, that new marketplace, on a device that would display comics in the way they were intended, would open a whole new door for digital comics, he said.

"It would be the first table type device that would be really suitable towards displaying comics," Ihnatko said. "So it would make the market for comic books that much broader and that much more relevant. Even if they didn’t own the comic book market, the next company that is thinking about doing the color book reader would be that much more encouraged to go ahead and do it because Apple has demonstrated that there are people out there who want to buy it."


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