The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 23.0435  Saturday, 27 October 2012

From:        Gabriel Egan <This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.>

Date:         October 27, 2012 8:07:10 AM EDT

Subject:     Re: iPad Apps


Hardy wrote about the Cambridge University Press Shakespeare history plays app:


> I welcome reactions, reviews, and so on about this

> increasingly numerous group of iPad apps.


Here’s a reaction: for the most part, the growth of apps is a backward step for the users of computers. The Shakespeare content that readers want—texts, sounds, pictures (still and moving)—can be delivered perfectly satisfactorily via websites.  There are internationally agreed open standards for website authoring so that websites are platform-independent. Before the rise of apps, if there was something that REALLY needed programming that couldn’t be delivered by website scripting, then a programmer could reach over 90% of all users by compiling the software to run under Microsoft Windows and could reach the final 10% by recompiling it to run under Mac OS and Linux.


With the rise of apps, the market for software has fragmented so that a programmer has to write for Windows, Mac OS, Mac iOS and Google Android to reach all users. In almost all cases, this extra effort produces no extra value for the user but makes software expensive to write.


There are exceptions, of course. Smartphones/tablets are mobile general-purpose computers fitted with two accessories not normally included in computers: a compass and GPS. If software takes advantage of the compass and the GPS, then a case can be made for the software being customized just for smartphones/tablets (so, for making an app), but only until conventions for using compass and GPS data are internationally agreed upon and built into existing open standards. If any of the Shakespeare apps being launched at the moment uses the compass and the GPS services in the smartphone/tablet, I’d be very grateful to hear about this. (In the next 6 months a project I lead will release a Shakespearian theatre history app that does use the compass and GPS data, and I’d very much like to know what others are doing in this area.)


Publishers are very excited about smartphone/tablet apps. The reason is that they see them as a new way to resell old content, and this opportunity has arrived in the nick of time. Governments have realized that the results of publicly funded research (books and articles) are usually given for free by universities to publishers, who repackage them and sell them back to the same publicly funded universities. When the only means of knowledge dissemination was on paper, this seemed reasonable since the publishers had invested in the necessary infrastructure of presses, warehouses, and distribution chains. With electronic distribution, the publishers’ raison d’etre disappears. Apps throw them a temporary lifeline.


There’s an ongoing struggle between those promoting the free (in both senses) dissemination of knowledge about Shakespeare and those trying to commercialize that knowledge. For the most part, smartphone/tablet apps help the latter group.


Gabriel Egan

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