An iPad contrarian ramble

You may know that Amazon released an updated Kindle DX recently. I was pretty excited when the original Kindle DX launched just over a year ago. It was the first real device that took what the smaller Kindle offered and made it more useful for students and, arguably, professionals. What I like about the form factor is that it is perhaps better suited for textbooks and documents which are formatted for A4 and similar pages.

Of course the iPad was released earlier this year and has proven itself to be a remarkably flexible device and a pretty good platform for the Kindle service itself. I was initially a little unsure about the iPad’s value but, as Steve Jobs predicted, when I actually had a chance to hold one and play around with it a little (thanks to Toby Shapshak) I could appreciate just how useful it could be to be as an “on the go” device. With its 10+ hours battery life and rich application ecosystem available on demand, the iPad could be a perfect business trip and meetings companion. It won’t replace your laptop or desktop just yet but it would certainly replace most of the other items in your bag. There is really very little doubt that the iPad is the first in what will be a line of similar tablet-style devices that could eventually become the dominant type of computing device we use. Its probably comparable from the shift from the electric typewriter to the desktop computer relative to today’s laptops and desktops. That said, the iPad isn’t quite that device. Its more like its ancestor.

When the new graphite Kindle DX was announced I swung back around towards a Kindle DX from my previous iPad preference. The colour does work for me. I much prefer the graphite colour to the original white (although I believe you can still get the white version). What I started thinking about again was how handy it would be to have a lightweight ebook reader that I could read all my PDFs, ebooks and documents as well as magazines I subscribe to in print and which I could buy from Amazon instead. The one big benefit the Kindle DX has over the iPad is weight. This becomes a factor when you want to read something in bed or some other position not seated and either at a table or resting the device on your lap. Of course there are other reasons to consider a Kindle in the iPad Age. I read a terrific post by Richard Mulholland last week titled ‘10 (and a half) reasons that the iPad is not the “Kindle Killer!”‘ which I agree with and I think presents a number of arguments for why people who want to be able to read a book in digital format without distractions should go for something like the Kindle or the Kindle DX.

Before the iPad fanboys and fangirls go bananas, this is not a “Kindle DX is better than the iPad – na na na na!” post. The iPad is a better multi-purpose device by far. I just really like the Kindle DX because I really want a great way to read ebooks on the go and in different contexts. I know that the normal Kindle can handle pdfs quite well and I am going to test it with some of my pdfs and see just how well it presents them. It if does a good job, a smaller Kindle might be a better option after all. If not, I am going to look back at the Kindle DX for that purpose.

As for urgings that I rather get an iPad, I have a couple thoughts about that. The Kindle DX, as expensive as it is to have it delivered to South Africa, is still going to be cheaper than a decent capacity iPad. I know I would be able to do more with the iPad but this is where my “couple thoughts” come in. The iPad represents a perspective that prefers reducing the number of devices you carry around with you. The iPad can do so much that it obviates a laptop in many contexts. A similar argument applies to the iPhone. The iPhone means you don’t need to carry a separate phone, iPod, games console and GPS device. You can buy a 32GB iPhone and pretty much do it all. This is one reason the iPhone 4 appeals to me despite my growing appreciation for Android. Similarly, the iPad can do many of the things the iPhone can do except for making calls. It is sort of like an iPod Touch+ although that is a bit of an understatement. With the advances made on the iPhone (Retina display and other advancements), I do wonder whether it is a good idea to buy the 1st generation iPad or wait a year or so for the 2nd generation iPad which will probably have a Retina display of its own, a front facing camera for wifi video calling and more.

There is another device paradigm which I have been thinking about. It doesn’t prefer consolidation and accepts that there will be more than one device, each specialising in different tasks. This “Batman utility belt” paradigm would encompass a Kindle DX/Kindle as a lightweight ereader; a phone for, well, calls and general Internet connectivity; perhaps an iPod Touch for media and the iTunes app ecosystem and a MacBook/MacBook Pro for day to day work. Your bag would certainly be a little heavier but this could work well. Part of my thinking here is that while an iPad would be great for tasks which could be done with its apps, a MacBook/MacBook Pro isn’t confined by the iOS4 framework and the apps that are available in the App Store. The current generation of 13″ MacBook Pro has a roughly 10 hour battery life and you can run all the applications you use each day on it as you please. Its basic form factor is not as convenient as an iPad but I have a full keyboard, a great looking screen, an iSight camera for a range of video conferencing applications and way, way more.

The Kindle/Kindle DX gives me the option of just reading without the temptation to check Twitter, just look something up online quickly and generally not read my book. This is a factor for me, I am a little attention poor when presented with too many options. I can also read my book on my phone using the excellent Kindle application (same thing applies to the iPad, Macs and PCs) and if I just want to listen to some music, I can take just my iPod Touch. This second paradigm is somewhat more cluttered but it also lets me do what I want to do at a given point in time using the best tool available for that task. The iPad sort of sits at a crossroads of various types of devices: laptop/desktop, media player and Internet tablet. It handles some tasks better than others and arguably doesn’t do any one task or set of tasks as well as a more dedicated device, whether it be a laptop, Kindle, phone or iPod Touch. These devices, in contrast, are well suited for their relevant tasks but not as good as the iPad as general purpose devices.

There is still merit in considering the Kindle in this iPad Age, despite its narrow focus and comparable limitations. When it comes to some tasks, it is even better than the iPad and other general purpose tablets.

Update: Take a look at the Kindle DX review below if you would like to get a better s
ense of what the device actually looks like and how it works.



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