It hadn't been a pleasant millennium so far for books. Novels and their nonfiction brethren had grown accustomed to desertion in damp, clammy basements, while their rivals, such as YouTube, Blu-Ray, Wii, and Facebook, soaked up every last bit of living-room glory. But then, lo this past month, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled his company's new iPad, and there was much rejoicing.
Now the future of reading has, as a topic of interest, been resurrected. Apparently, even gadget-happy fools who barely read are fascinated by e-book technology — it is widely predicted that, this year, 12 million people will purchase e-reader devices (more than doubling last year's sales).
Still, as razor's-edge brands like Apple, Amazon, and Sony wrestle over how to squeeze the most coin from the digital page (see: "The (Abridged) E-book Genesis"), they've found themselves entrenched in legal and technological battles so preoccupying that the companies have all but fumbled the innovative ball. Google, for one, has yet to fully reconcile five-years-running litigation over their massive book-scanning project.
Stepping into the breach have been smaller, less-monolithic niche developers, whose products offer dazzling word experiences that you won't find on Google or your nifty Kindle tablet. If you want to see what a 21st century reading experience should look like — one that enables you to bookmark, notate, listen to, and share passages instantly on Facebook and Twitter — the marketplace you're looking for is e-Bibles.
At the time of this writing, six of the top 20 most popular paid e-books in the Apple App Store are Bibles. Likewise, the Washington State–based company Olive Tree's Bible Reader is consistently one of the most downloaded free books. Users have left thousands of comments praising e-Bible serviceability; one version with a social-networking component even allows believers to search for other folks who want to chat about specific chapters. More so, it can tap a smart phone's GPS to locate local prayer groups with similar affinities.
And it is e-Bibles that have helped push technology forward, by allowing users to seamlessly flip between scanning on an iPhone and reading on a laptop (without losing their page). Ditto the ability to switch, mid-stream, between Standard English and dozens of translations, or jump to an audio-book version, while keeping place to the sentence. Learned readers can even teleport from one particular chapter/verse in the King James Version to the same place in the New International Version. The future is now.
It is somewhat ironic that religious Christians, whose most politically aggressive, evangelical factions are vociferously anti-science, are spurring this evolution. Equally humorous is that the industry that has traditionally driven technological advancements — from luring consumers away from Betamax to VHS, to developing interactive DVDs that utilize the full-functionality of digital home cinema — has been pornography. This time around, though, Christians are the torchbearers, and so it is thus: when it comes to e-Books and the digital revolution, they shall be led by holy warriors.