24 October 2012

The next iPad mini (or the one after that)

by Matt Rubinstein at 8:07 pm


The original iPad hadn’t been out for a week before we started hearing rumours of a smaller version. I was interested right away: like many people I bought the iPad without knowing all the things I’d end up using it for, but I knew I’d be reading some sort of text on it most of the time (and this turned out to be true, apart from a brief thing with Real Racing 2 HD). And at 13 mm thick and up to 730 grams, the iPad was just big and heavy enough to be a distraction from reading. It felt like quite a sturdy hardback: fine for sitting and reading in a chair or a sofa, but a bit unwieldy when you took it to bed. The big screen was terrific for web browsing and word-processing, but for reading it felt a bit extravagant, just slightly too big for its own good.

The iPad 2 brought small but necessary improvements to size and weight, but there was still this niggling feeling that it could have been thinner, lighter and even smaller. And now it is: the iPad mini is basically an iPad 2 shrunk in every dimension, with most of the same silicon under the hood, and a screen with the same number of pixels only smaller. This means that the text is slightly sharper than the iPad 2, while weight is down to 312 grams at most, it’s only 7.2 mm thick and you can reportedly hold it very easily with one hand. If it had come out at the same time as the iPad 2, I probably would have bought one.

But before that could happen, the (briefly) “new” iPad arrived with its high-resolution display. Reading on a Retina iPad is a whole different thing: a beautiful screen, bright colours, decent contrast, good uniformity, and you almost can’t see the pixels. It looks more like print and paper than any other screen I’ve seen. By comparison, old-style screens look pretty shabby, and again become distracting. The original iPad had a pixel density of 132 pixels per inch; the iPad mini is slightly better at 163 ppi but much worse than the Retina iPads’ 264 ppi. I can’t imagine going back to it, not for reading: I’d rather put up with the weight of a full-sized iPad. For now.

As John Gruber and others predicted, the iPad mini screen has the exact pixel density as the old iPhones, which is no coincidence because of the way liquid crystal displays are produced: you don’t make them individually at their finished sizes; you grow them in great sheets that are later cut into whatever size you want. Apple no longer makes any non-Retina iPhones, so they’ve turned over their 163-ppi capacity to the iPad mini. It’s only a matter of time before Apple stops using 163-ppi screens altogether, and very likely that a future iPad mini will use the remarkable 326-ppi crystal of the current iPhones. 

That will be a tablet to behold. It might not be possible for the next generation, but I wouldn’t think it would come much later than that. The only thing I can imagine holding it back is the question of what to do with the full-size iPads, which may start to look a bit clunky and pointless next to their smaller, sharper siblings. Presumably the bigger models will always be at least a generation ahead in processing power, and their screens may well be of higher quality at the same resolution—pixels aren’t everything. But they may also need to increase their resolution over the current 2048 x 1536—perhaps to 3072 x 2304 to make things easier for the developers. It’s pretty incredible even to be thinking about 489 ppi, but the coming 5-inch 1080p screens aren’t far off at 440 ppi. At some point it really will be impossible to see any benefit from the increased resolution, but the Retina iPad screens still have a way to go. Or maybe they’ll be, like, holograms or something.

In the meantime I think the iPad mini will be a decent general-purpose tablet and a natural choice for anyone who is already in the Apple ecosystem. I’m sure it will do very well, even though it’s a lot more expensive than Android tablets with comparable specifications (specifications aren’t everything either). For reading, though, I’ll probably stick with my old “new” iPad, and perhaps a Kindle Paperwhite, until the next iPad mini (or the one after that) comes around. Or at least until Real Racing 3 HD.

4 October 2012

Death of the Book? Death of the Author!

by Matt Rubinstein at 6:21 am

Death of the Author Dark x2500I’ve been talking rather a lot lately about e-books and alternative publishing models, but I haven’t really put my money where my mouth is: apart from occasional stunts like Equinox, all of my books have been published on paper by traditional publishers. There have been obvious advantages to going this way: very handy advances, excellent editorial guidance, professional design and layout, publicity and marketing. I’m very lucky to have been published traditionally and I still think it, or something very like it, is the best way to go if you have the option, particularly when you’re starting out.

But sometimes you don’t have the option. To take a random example: my third novel turned out to be A Little Rain on Thursday (also called Vellum), but for quite a while it was going to be a postmodern serial killer thriller called Death of the Author, a playful and gruesome pastiche about a psychopath called The Reader who preys on the writers attending a Festival of Multiple Homicide Fiction in Adelaide, famously one of the world’s creepiest cities. It quotes Roland Barthes and its form is partly inspired by Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, interleaving the hunt for the killer with extracts from each of the murdered authors’ books and yielding many serial killers for one low price. It pokes loving fun at writers’ festivals and Adelaide, and features a high-speed chase on a guided busway—to my knowledge unique in all of fiction. 

This was the manuscript that got me my first agent, and it was quickly accepted by a very good publisher with a tentative release date set. Unfortunately, the publisher restructured, the fiction editor left, and the book found itself in limbo. By the time everything shook out, it was like the moment had been lost: postmodernism had plateaued, Andrew Masterson’s book had come out with the same title, my agent had retired and I’d moved on to my next project. But now I look back on the book with some nostalgia, almost as a period piece: a tribute to the late 1990s, a fin de siècle, I suppose; a simpler and yet much more unnecessarily complicated time. 

So I’ve decided that for all kinds of reasons this should be my first adventure in independent electronic publishing. It’s as much to get a feel for how the whole thing works from the inside as anything, and I’ve enjoyed tinkering with e-book formats and experimenting with cover designs. I’ve settled on this one, based on macro photographs of printer’s type, reversed of course for the purposes of legibility: it’s simple but I think quite distinctive, and easily adaptable to other titles. 

Death of the Author is now available worldwide from your favourite Kindle Store (US, UK, DE, FR, ES, IT), priced competitively at $US2.99, £1.99 or €2.79 including any VAT. Other outlets will come in the near future, but you can read Kindle books on just about anything these days, and Death of the Author is naturally DRM-free so you can convert it to any other format if you need to. 

As always, you can download a generous sample to your favourite device for free. And let me know if you or anyone you know would like to review the book for a print or online publication, and I’ll send a review copy in your preferred electronic format.