The one topic I can’t resist writing about is the iPad as an eReader. My interest in such a device would be largely as an eReader as well as a general tablet Internet device. eReaders seem to be pretty special beasts. The biggest issue seems to be the screen which needs to be as close to paper while remaining versatile enough to handle a variety of publications. We have all had eReaders in front of us for years now, we call them laptops and desktops, but they haven’t been convenient eReaders for a variety of reasons including size, portability, orientation and, well, the screens themselves. I haven’t done a lot of ebook reading on my MacBook but the little reading I have done isn’t really as comfortable as a paper book.
One of the apps on the iPad is the iBooks application which is only available in the United States. Apple has signed up a couple publishers and the iBooks demo showed me a beautiful user interface, typical of just about anything Apple does. Steve showed us how turning the page is an experience in itself and the swish looking bookshelf. I don’t think I was the only person who cringed a little when I saw the Kindle on that big screen behind Steve right before it transitioned to the gorgeous looking iPad. There was obviously some clever psychology behind that Kindle portrayal and, having spent a good portion of the Stevenote looking at this gorgeous new device, listening to Steve’s superlatives, the Kindle does look a little dated and clunky.
Having said that, I wonder just how effective the iPad would be as an eReader. I haven’t heard anyone say that an LCD screen is as good as or better than the e-ink displays you find on modern eReaders when it comes to visibility in varying lighting conditions, general comfort or even power consumption (10 hours is still pretty respectable on the iPad and you can recharge the device). I came across a conversation thread on gdgt about LCDs compared to e-ink displays as an illustration of the general consensus. So the iPad may present a better looking interface for ebooks but will it be a good experience if you are going to use the device as your primary paper book replacement? The Kindle, for example, is often touted as pretty close to paper and so readable in every lighting condition a paper book works in, you probably won’t look back at your paper library again. That sort of thing makes a difference. On the topic of paper books, also remember that they tend to be pretty simple in terms of visual aesthetics and our reading experience need not be all that different. Of course our expectations will change when publications become more dynamic and start incorporating multimedia elements which e-ink devices currently don’t support all that much.
One big factor pretty much takes the iPad out of the equation as an eReader for anyone outside the United States. The iBooks application looks like it will only be available in the USA and, as yet, unspecified countries. If the iBooks’ availability is limited to those countries that support the iTunes Store then those people with illicit US iTunes Store accounts will probably be able to benefit from the application nonetheless. That still leaves those people with the question whether the iPad gives bibliophiles the sort of experience they would have on a Kindle?
Just to add to the debate, also consider Amazon’s Whispernet (free data wherever the Kindle is supported which is almost everywhere there is a GSM connection) and its catalogue (I am sure Apple will also boast a substantial catalogue soon enough).
I have had my eyes on a Kindle DX since they were first announced and I’ve been that much more excited about it since the global wireless version was announced last month. It is pretty big compared to the Kindle 2 (based on size comparisons) but my line of work makes it more useful to me. I really haven’t made my mind up about the iPad and probably won’t till I get to play with one. At the same time I am still pretty keen on the Kindle DX, even with its monochromatic screen and clunky form factor.
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