January 31, 2010

Apple's iPad as an electronic reader

This post was contributed by Carl Dierchow

Apple's iPad as an electronic reader

Andrew asked if I might want to offer my thoughts on Apple's announcement this week of their new iPad.  It would appear that people are still struggling to figure out what this device is.  A huge iPod Touch?  The next Kindle?  A netbook replacement?

For this blog, the most important question is:  What does this mean to the future of electronic reading?

I would point out that Apple's list of features starts out with:

  • Web browsing
  • E-mail
  • Photos
  • Video and YouTube

E-books, by the way, don't show up until number 9 on the list.

It seems clear to me that the main focus of the iPad is interacting with the Internet (web, e-mail, YouTube) and viewing content.  But the content which is most important in this environment is live, color, and interactive – photos, games, movies.  Books are on the list, along with newspapers and magazines, but don't make for such great marketing hype.

Will this change the future of e-reading?  I suspect it will, in that it is attractive to users who want most of their content online, and interactive.  For users who love books for what they are, this is a pretty face on a large slate with a bunch of distractions.  It's just not as good at being a book as, well, a book.

For me, one of the interesting wildcards in this is the ability for the iPad to run applications.  Apple-approved apps, of course, but it opens a big door for reading all kinds of formats, RSS readers, and other neat reading environments.   I see an RSS reader already available for the iPhone, so that should be a slam dunk.

In the end, though, it's the users who get to decide what this product is.  I happen to think that a number of book enthusiasts will be drawn to it because it does a better job at web browsing, newspapers, and magazines.  But on the negative side, the glossy screen and short battery life can make it less attractive than the eInk devices.

... Which I've never purchased.  It just seemed that monochrome, with slow page turns, clunky interface and limited content never compelled me to spend my money on an e-reader.  Will the iPad fix the content problem for me?  Not soon, I suspect.  I just don't have much attraction to reading the most popular books, it seems I'm always picking up things which are further down the Long Tail.

But I sure love my iPod – couldn't live without it – and am seriously looking at the iPad for all the other neat things it can do.

Carl Dierschow

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