Over on Empire Avenue I got involved in a discussion thread in the Gadgets & Technology community.
The OP asked if stuff like iPads and Kindles had made any of us paperless. Some people said yes, they got their news, magazines, books and bills all digitally now. Others said no, not at all, they still bought newspapers and magazines and still others said they were part way there with some things remaining in print and others going digital.
I was part of the latter. I very rarely buy a newspaper now, most of my bills are viewed and paid online and if I did own an iPad I would quite happily switch my Wired subscription to their iPad version. Where I’m strictly a print kinda guy, though, is with books.
I like holding a book, and turning the pages and the weight of it in my hands. I like going to Waterstones and, in years gone by, Borders, and spending an hour or so browsing and reading samples before deciding on my purchase. It’s part of the experience.
Another commenter in the Empire Avenue thread used the example of cookery magazines. She likes to rip out pages of the magazines with her favourite recipes on them and keep them for future reference before, presumably, discarding the rest of the magazine (I’m sure she recycles).
I asked her “can’t you just bookmark the pages electronically?” and she replied that she can, but that just doesn’t “scratch the itch.” And that phrase got me thinking.
The key to taking an activity to the digital space, and getting participants to make the switch, is scratching the itch.
If I buy an iPad or Kindle tomorrow, what will Apple and Amazon add to the reading and shopping experience to make it as satisfying as going to the shop, browsing a while, and feeling the book in my hand as I read?
Apple iPad is part-way there, I think. It has the bookcase with the covers and spines displayed, giving the feeling of having a collection. It has the page turning animations during reading – I wouldn’t be surprised if there was even a page turn sound – that helps to simulate the experience of reading a real book. All of this helps take you part of the way there, but I still feel like there’s something missing from the experience.
I don’t know enough about Kindle to comment, but I imagine it’s very much the same. It’s this lack of tactility that makes me think that electronic books will never replace printed ones.
Can the same be said for my fellow commenter with the cooking magazines? Possibly. That’s a little different though.
The tactility of ripping out a magazine page could be replaced with some other experience. I’ve seen the BBC use QR codes in their cookery shows, where they show you a fully prepared meal and you scan the code to get the recipie and cooking directions. That has potential.
Imagine the iPad edition of your favourite cookery magazine has a video of the chef preparing the meal. You watch it at your own pace, following along and you prepare the meal. You decide you want to do it again but would rather have a static reference. Advances in Near Field Communications mean that interfacing these devices with televisions, printers and other devices is becoming easier, so:
At the end of the video why not put a QR code on there that you scan with your smartphone? It gives a little beep and a little buzz as it vibrates and it downloads a printer friendly, nicely formatted PDF to your phone and sends it to your printer using NFC.
Of course, you could just have a link that downloads directly to the iPad, but it’s not always about ease and convenience. Doing it with the smartphone and the printer, having the beep and the vibration, adds feeling to the process as you switch devices for a moment, fire up your QR scanner, feel the buzz in your hand and retrieve the print out.
Too much emphasis is placed on achieving the end result as effortlessly as possible. Sometimes it’s about the experience, and the feeling of satisfaction at having actually done something that you leave with the user.
Leave her feeling like she’s scratched the itch and not just like she’s pushed a couple of buttons.