(Updated content post-unveil, at bottom)

Just a few hours before the Big Unveil, and I wonder whether Steve Jobs may not be revealing 2 big deals: The iSlate (as I think it should be called) is certainly newsworthy, although I don’t think (or – at least – I don’t hope) it will be the Kindle-killer so many are predicting. It’s probably going to be as different from the Kindle as a Victorinox SwissChamp is from a finely crafted Henckel. It’ll do a lot more, but what the Kindle does, it does so well…That said, I think that the probability of an iTunes store for e-books and e-Mags, with a plethora of already forged publishing house and media organization deals struck, would be a massive piece of news indeed!

As far as the tablet itself, I think the folks at Doghouse Diaries have a pretty good handle on things:

UPDATE (11:00am, Wednesday, January 27):

OK, so I was right, and I was wrong. He’s calling it the iPad (which sounds like a women’s personal health product to me). No big surprises as of yet, but the anticipatory coverage of this product was so intense that it was nigh impossible to present a piece of information that had not been discussed exhaustively by one camp or another. This is certainly an impressive product, however.

I suggest that, instead of being an e-reader killer, it is a Netbook killer. Netbooks have always been essentially little more than shrunken laptops, with reduced functionality to boot! Here’s something that does all that and more. The battery life is impressive (10 hours), but nowhere near the weeks of battery life offered by the Kindle. The functionality blows the Kindle out of the water, but then why buy the Henckel knife in the first place, when you are looking for a multifunction Victorinox?

As I predicted, the introduction of the iBooks store is compelling, and THAT’S where the fire is being lit under the Kindle a***. Bookshelves, categories, ePub, oh my!

I don’t think the “page turning” experience was terribly innovative. I agree with Bezos’ assertion that it is a cop-out to try and replicate the “real book” experience on an e-reader. It is simply a different way of navigating the content, but the essential immersive reading experience is the same (if not better) on a successful e-reading device.

the iWork demo confirms that this device may truly replace laptops for some people, but I don’t think it will be a “laptop killer”. Apple has positioned it well in the “larger than we might have imagined” gap between the mobile phone and laptop.

For $700-900 (including tax and 3G coverage), this is going to appeal to a diversified cross-section of consumers, but none of them are going to be schoolkids and college students in lower income households (a $300 Kindle DX, with ebooks at less than half the price of “real” books, is a much more viable financial proposition, but still a challenge. Will Amazon move on this, or will they fumble?). This is not the device for people who are looking for an alternative to books. This is the device for people who are looking to own and experience the evolution of the mobile technological consumer gaming/communication/application device, to hold and cherish the love child of the laptop and smart mobile device (although, with no telephonic capability of note, it’s not truly the confluence point between laptops and smartphones, and that may be a good thing).

The Apple iPad is an impressive (though not as miraculous or magical as some might have wished) advance in computing and mobile technology. It is a thrilling “next step”, but not quite a “leap”. Unless Amazon mishandles this stage of their Kindle development and market penetration, this should certainly not pose a substantial threat to their goals.

That said, Amazon has goofed up a few times already: first with the “1984” mess, then with the “let’s insult existing Kindle customers by offering them for free to people who have expressed zero interest in them” fiasco, and of course we must not forget all the complaints about the Amazon cover and customer service failures. Amazon has an opening to become the next “Apple”, oddly enough. They have a devoted (but recently abused) fan base. They introduced a new concept in content experience. The Kindle has been birthed at a moment in history when social media and crowdsourcing are growing exponentially. With strong marketing leadership ( I do NOT mean conventional product marketing, but rather cross-functional product/strategic/brand marketing that SHOULD be the purview of all senior marketing leaders), Amazon could retain and enhance its innovator position, all the while recognizing and addressing the fact that it’s no longer enough to appeal to a small tribe of early adopters…

I believe that Amazon and Apple are both sitting in their own respective sweet spots of opportunity, and it remains to be seen which, if either, will successfully manipulate and manage the next few months…

Following on from my assertion earlier this month that e-reading will become ubiquitous, and for the better, I offer this video excerpt as clear supporting evidence of the attractive potential that is currently crossing the threshold of traditional print publication houses (fiction, news, or otherwise).

In 4 days, it is rumored that Apple will reveal their hand in this market sector – a move which would do much to erase, once and for all, any doubt that eBooks are to print media what mobile devices have been to the landline. How swiftly and enthusiastically publishers and, perhaps more crucially, readers react to these still emerging opportunities will determine more than just the rate of development of the hardware and software surrounding these devices and platforms. It will heavily influence a diverse array of communities: from the literary to the artistic; from advertisers to consumer product marketing agencies; from students and teachers to parents and pundits.

Presently, the cost of an e-book device is still too high for the average citizen, until you calculate the ROI. Consumers were willing to pay $600 for the iPhone, when it was released. The current iteration – considerably improved from the iPhone model of less than 2 years ago – is only $99. Meanwhile, over 3 BILLION iPhone apps have been downloaded, and the device has revolutionized the mobile device industry, as well as consumer behavior habits. Apple has recouped its investment handsomely, and the smartphone (in its many incarnations) is now almost a necessity to a whole generation of users across the world (indeed, in the developing nations it has transformed lives).

Currently, e-book devices cost far less than the early iPhone, and there is no doubt that the price will drop further. Add to this the dramatically lower cost to publish digitally, as well as the positive Green considerations (no ink, no paper, no hard distribution costs, etc), and the value proposition to the purveyor (technology hardware provider, service provider, publisher, writer, et al) is clear. Meanwhile, assuming (perhaps somewhat naively?) that publishers will soon lower the price for eBooks and eMags, in order to make them more digestible to mass market consumers, the value to the reader will be explosive.

As readership grows, so new demographics evolve. As eyeballs become identified, qualified, and quantified, so advertisers begin to salivate. From a commercial perspective, the bonus of e-readership is that metrics are more controllable, and thus businesses are able to connect with and – more importantly – STAY CONNECTED TO the interested consumer. This is where the fun starts:

Today’s magazine advertiser has no way of accurately qualifying the value of their placement, and magazines have to publish thick volumes (see Vanity Fair) just to stay afloat. These tomes are 70% advertising, and 30% editorial, at best. Readers have become inured to this dynamic, and breeze past the mag ads in much the same way as they zip past TV commercials, thanks to the DVR. Now, imagine if – thanks to the eMag – an ad was clickable, promising instant conversion. Imagine if, thanks to the eMag, a product offering could be placed strategically in relation to an article, enhancing the value of that product offering in the mind of the reader, by association (a new type of product placement). The discreet advertising opportunities are vast, and promise untold opportunities to magazine publishers and product manufacturers, and the agencies that creatively connect the two worlds. Then again, if the reader prefers an ad-free experience, why not grant it to them, at a premium? Those publications with higher ad-free readerships can offer lower ad rates, and vice versa. All very measurable, to everyone’s satisfaction.

In the e-Lit universe (the environment wherein electronic literature is ubiquitous), publishers can release a new book and have it in the hands of pre-identified “interested” readers within seconds. The temporal investment required, from a marketing perspective, is greatly reduced; freeing publishers to take more creative risks which will inevitably produce surprisingly powerful “accidents” of literary genius. The greatest works of historical fiction were rarely foreseen as commercially viable products. This emerging dynamic will allow a lot of literature to become a user-driven proposition, virally marketed by the readers themselves. It won’t exclude traditionally vetted works of literature, which can continue to receive the type of robust “upfront” marketing support that publishing houses often manifest. Nor will it erode the support for “hidden gems” of challenging yet worthy literature, which might otherwise not be deemed viable by the publishers, nor initially digestible by the public. Statistics are showing that the field of literary criticism is already evolving to function less as a pre-release prognosticator, but as a post-release adjudicator, still very capable of identifying and championing tomorrow’s Ezra Pound or Thomas Pynchon. e-Literature widens the field of offerings. It does not pretend to, nor can it, expand the readership, in and of itself. It does, however, create a new landscape onto which a wider and more diverse readership now has the opportunity to travel. To those who claim this might dilute the quality of literature, I counter that dilution is only experienced and identified upon imbibing. Consider the following scenario:

10 bottles of wine are put on a table. 2 bottles are of the highest quality ($10 per glass), 2 are of strong  but slightly lesser quality ($6), 2 are of middling quality but eminently drinkable ($5), 2 are of poor quality ($2), and 2 are of varied quality but watered down ($3).

A group of wine aficionados is invited into the room, and each given a $10 bill. They are given a quick taste of each wine, and then asked to “spend the money”. How they choose to “invest” their funds, and subsequently advance their experience of wine, is – in my opinion – a worthwhile allegory for the opportunity facing the reading public. The e-Lit universe will expand the selection of available content, and the quality spectrum will widen and deepen, by extension. The more extensive and more diversified availability of phraseological grapes promises a richer and more rewarding vendange.

I could write a book on the multifarious revenue generation opportunities available via e-publication, but this article must remain within the 1,000-word realm. I look forward eagerly to the imminent delivery of my Kindle DX (delayed due to demand, apparently), fully accepting the likelihood that upon delivery I will be in possession of an already usurped iteration. But if I were to think that way, how sorrowful would be my lot. Imagine living in the latter 16th century and, purely based upon your suspicion that “better plays may come out soon”, you turned down tickets to Titus Andronicus (which, by all accounts, received “mixed reviews” back in the early 1590s). Sure, you might be around when Winter’s Tale came out, and you might get tickets, and from the selective logic point of view, you will have arguably made a better investment. However, what if the tickets you were first offered were to Thomas Kyd’s first play, “The Spanish Tragedy”, and you declined on the same principle. What was then seen, and is argued by many today, as “arguably the most popular play of the “Age of Shakespeare” and set new standards in effective plot construction and character development”*, was Kyd’s greatest work. It was all downhill from there.

I intend to enjoy my Kindle, and upon it I shall read with pleasure many plays, books, articles, magazines, newspapers, and more. When something indubitably superior comes out (and when I have a salary that will permit me the indulgence!), I will replace my lovingly used Kindle with whatever relatively new-fangled gewgaw convinces me of its unquestionable worth.