Dispatches from the Digital Revolution
By LANA POPOVIC
In the midst of all this tablet sturm and drang (oh come on, I can totally say that. It’s been undeniably sturmy these past few months, not to mention drangy), it’s easy to lose sight of the third member of our digital trinity—the “oogle” in Appazoogle. While the new Barnes & Noble Nook tablet and the Kindle Fire challenge Apple’s heretofore uncontested possession of dominance in the tablet market, Google’s only device contribution has been the iriver Story HD, a modest and not particularly elegant e-reader which retails at $139.99 and is available through Target. Even its name sounds like an afterthought, as if the marketing team remembered at the very last minute that they needed something shorter than “Squarish White Kindle-looking Thingie That Reads Google Books or Whatever” to slap on the crates before they left the warehouse.
So, what’s up with that? While the tablet arms race grows increasingly heated, Google continues to exude nothing but a cool disregard towards e-reading devices in general. If Google were a person, she’d be doing a sort of benevolent gangsta lean right now whenever the subject of tablets came up. “What, tablets? NBD, son. Ain’t no thang.” Is this because Google is truly a gentle giant, dedicated to doing no evil as it scans all the world’s books in the enlightened pursuit of knowledge for all? Or is it because tablets in fact aren’t that big of a deal, when you happen to be more into world domination?
Much as I find some of Google’s ventures ethically questionable (“With your permission you give us more information about you, about your friends, and we can improve the quality of our searches. We don’t need you to type at all. We know where you are. We know where you’ve been. We can more or less know what you’re thinking about.” So when you pee yourself upon receiving confirmation that all your paranoid delusions have become reality, not to worry—Google already knows you’re thinking about new pants and the cost of therapy), I also think they’re keeping an admirably wider perspective. Google Books just announced that they’ve made the Google Bookstore available in Australia, where they’ll be working with local booksellers like Booktopia and Dymocks to provide Aussie readers with access to great local writers, as well as over two million free ebooks and “hundreds of thousands” of other titles to choose from. This expansion arrives on the heels of Google’s entry into Canada last week.
In the land of consumerism so rampant it sometimes overshadows the fact that several billion other people on the planet buy things too, it’s easy to become exclusively Americentric in our thinking. But it’s a big, tricksy world out there, and different rules might well apply in different foreign markets. WHSmith has already made a foray into ereaders by partnering with Canadian tech firm Kobo, in a deal that will give users access to the largest UK catalogue of ebooks. As such, stockpiling largely device-agnostic content as Google is doing, rather than relying on churning out better, cooler, or cheaper devices like Apple and Amazon, might be the wiser long-term choice.
Or maybe Google just does the gangsta lean because it looks so cool. There’s always that.