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In Praise of the Unitasker

Later today Apple is expected to announce a tablet computer that will CHANGE THE WORLD! It’ll play videos, it’ll play music, you’ll be able to read magazines on it. Plus it is going to save the publishing industry, the TV business, and maybe… just maybe… the human race.

I have no idea what Apple will or won’t announce today, but a lot of smart people who I respect are predicting an Apple tablet. And some of them think that tablet spells doom for Amazon’s Kindle
(and one supposes Barnes and Noble’s nook, the Sony line of Readers, and the host of off brand eReaders announced at CES this year). Why? Because the Kindle, and its ilk, are examples of what geeky types call unitaskers.

What the heck is a unitasker? A device, or object, that is designed primarily to do one thing, and one thing alone, is a unitasker. Examples of common unitaskers include:

Those are just a few I thought of off the top of my head. The tablet, and computers in general, are not unitaskers… they are Swiss Army Knives; one device that can do lots of stuff pretty well.

I say the Kindle’s death knell isn’t upon us. Sure, the tablet (or whatever the heck it will be) is going to be able to do more than a Kindle (despite Amazon’s slightly odd SDK announcement). Keep in mind that I really like the Kindle. I wrote a book about them, I own three of them, and over the last year I’ve probably done about 85% of my book reading on an eReading device of one sort or another. I am not the typical user.

I am a typical reader (ok, that’s not true since I am pretty sure I read more than most folks… but I am a typical book lover. Read ‘em. Buy ‘em. Love ‘em.). I’m a voracious reader, and I am crazy about books. I’ve been reading for a long time (my mother tells me she taught me to read when I was around 4 years olds by reading the street signs to me as we drove around, and I haven’t stopped reading since) and what I really love about a good book (or even a bad book, frankly) is getting lost in the prose. The only thing I want to concentrate on when reading a book are the words on the page or, in this case, on the screen. I don’t want to know that I have a new email waiting, I don’t need a popup to tell me that my newsreader has been updated… I just want to READ.

When I’m reading on my Kindle the Kindle just sort of disappears. It fades into the background and allows the book to be the star.

An Apple tablet will offer me up infinite distractions from reading, and if you ask me that’s a bug, not a feature.

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