February 1, 2010

Is the iPad an eReader?

Interesting post by Andrew, and he's spot on - but with the perspective of an eReader. Which really just raises the question: Is the iPad an eReader?

Personally, I think it's not. It's certainly a better eReader than my laptop - great. Is it better than a typical eInk device? Well, that certainly depends on whether you need WiFi access, color, and quick response, versus daylight reading, easy on the eyes, and a more integrated book experience.

I think the great diversity of choices will help each company to strive for improvement quite quickly, and we're going to see a shakeout of the second tier companies in a year or two. But that's the way this happens, it's a natural part of evolution.

Some of the best writeups I've seen of the iPad in the last few days realize that it's really a new category of device, one which could even replace a computer for a certain class of users. But it's not going to replace a phone or an MP3 player. It's going to cause the makers of netbooks and eReaders to think creatively, though.

January 31, 2010

iPad and eReader?

Spurred on by Carl's contribution I wanted to share my thoughts on the iPad as an eReader.

I'll start by stating some of the non-negotiable things in my own view of what makes a good reading device (of which the perfect incarnation doesn't exist yet...)

My current eReading device which I use quite a lot is the Sony PRS 505, so I'll use that as one reference (although many of the comments will also apply to Kindle and other similar devices) and as the iPad is "a computer" I'll use a Laptop as the other reference (which juding by the "why do you need yet another device to read on" comments on blogs - is a relevant reference for many people).

  • Instant-On: The device must be able to go from a long-battery-life-stand-by state to actively reading in less than a second. I frequently read in short spells while travelling on public transport, waiting for people, even during TV adverts at home. 
    • Sony and other eReaders do this just fine.
    • Laptops (and Tablet PC's) fail miserably.
  • Battery-life, measured both by how long I can read without a charge, and how long it can be left around unused (but ready to be Instant-On!) without needing a charge.
    • Sony eReader and others nail this. I go weeks without charging it. It is the only device I would (and have) taken on a week-long business trip without taking the charger. Also, will charge from USB.
    • Tablets and Laptops: Fail. 
  • Weight and Form Factor: Must fit in my jacket pocket and my jeans back pocket, to be whipped out for a quick read at a moments notice, and not cause tears in your coat, or you to drag it on the ground! :-)
    • Sony and some other eReaders do this. Kindle is slightly too big for my tastes but close.
    • Laptops (with the exception of my Sony Vaio P !) and Tablet PC's fail miserably.
  • Comfortable hand-held reading design: Can read it holding it in one hand, while riding the Metro and holding on with the other...
    • eReaders work.
    • Tablet PC's could, but tend to be bigger and heavier.
    • Laptops don`t
  • Easy / Touch controls and navigation
    • Sony and others could do better. That's why I'm looking at the Sony PRS 600 Touch Edition.
    • Tablet PC's could, some Laptops have touch.
  • Content focused "the whole screen is content" UI designed for touch, without all the Window management clutter to handle and interact with.
    • eReaders generally do, with limitations mentioned above.
    • Windows based Tablets and Laptops fail.
  • Readability: In normal indoor conditions, in bright indoor conditions (I live in sunny Spain!) and outdoors (including the beach!). Low glare off the screen, good brightness, contrast and resolution
    • E-Ink eReaders do OK, improvements in contrast and even more resolution would be nice.
    • Color LCD's of Laptops/Tablets fail outdoors and even in brightly lit indoor situation. I HATE glossy LCD's (I have one, and will try hard to avoid buying another)
    • Hope short-term comes from PixelQi and OLEDs
Nice to haves
There are a few other nice to have features that are not in my current eReader (but I still use it), but would be great to have:
  • Color screen (roll on Mirasol / LiquaVista please...)
    • Only Fujitsu FLEPia so far, but I still need to see it to assess, and until now it has only been available in Japan.
  • Fast screen update with little energy consumer per update (roll on Mirasol / LiquaVista please...)
    • There are some low-power monochrome reflective LCD devices out there, but not many and battery life is still not up to scratch
  • Connected, without being at the mercy of Operators and contracts with fixed minimum monthly charges and minimum durations of 18months or more. 
    • Only the Kindle has really nailed this one so far...
    • I don't miss it too much at the moment in my PRS 505, but it depends on what your reading...and if priced reasonably I would like to have it as an option.
  • Digitizer: I'd like my eReader to be an eReader-Writer suitable for production not just consumption, ranging from short notes and annotations to complete notetaking.
    • iRex devices do well in this area, although constrained somewhat by the slow screen update.
    • Touch eReaders such as Sony 600 use a plastic stylus on resisitive touch screen and so is not so good (although I need to test it....)
    • Tablet PCs with Wacom digitizer (I have one) do quite well, but issues remain about paralax (due to glass thickness) and the feel of the surface for writing.
Wow! That was quite a list! A bit of an outpouring in fact of eReader desires. 
How does the iPad shape up?

I'd summarize first by saying in my opinion (without having been able to use one, but extrapolating from the iPhone experiences):
  • The iPad should be a much better eReading device than a Laptop (running Mac OS or Windows or Linux)
  • The iPad should be a better eReading device than a tablet running the Windows (or Mac or Linux) window-based user interface - HP Tablet, I'm looking at you.
On that last one: I do buy into the Apple-speak about a company developing the software, the hardware and the services being able to integrate them much better and produce a much better user experience. If that company has a strong focus and skills on user experience and design - then even better!

That does not happen in the MicroSoft - OEM devices, and MicroSoft does not yet have a User Interface that makes the grade for this type of interaction using touch.

Here's my point-by-point assessment on the list above:
  • Instant-On: 
    • YES! Just like an iPhone. 
  • Battery Life: 
    • I think I read a month of stand-by time. That's fine. 
    • 10 hours of battery life running. That's a great acheivement for that device and it's other capabilities, but doesn't cut it for a portable ereading device for me. Got to take that charger with you.
  • Weight and Form Factor: 
    • Haven't held it yet, but for sure it fails my "jeans and jacket pocket" test. Good for a bag though.
  • Comfortable hand-held reading design: 
    • Yes, I think it would fit that. Might be a touch on the heavy side for one-handed reading during any length of time.
  • Easy / Touch controls and navigation
    • YES! Better than anyone else, I have no doubt.
  • Content focused "the whole screen is content" UI designed for touch, without all the Window management clutter to handle and interact with.
    • YES. As above.
  • Readability: In normal indoor conditions, in bright indoor conditions (I live in sunny Spain!) and outdoors (including the beach!). Low glare off screen, good brightness, contrast and resolution
    • NO. Glossy screen is a pain in the ass, and it won't be too readable in bright indoor or outdoor conditions I suspect. Resolution could be higher for reading monochrome text.
  • Color screen
    • YES. At the cost of other things though, due to being a power-sucking active, backlit, emissive display.
  • Fast screen update with little energy consumer per update (roll on Mirasol / LiquaVista please...)
    • Fast, video capable, but at the cost of power consumption.
  • Connected, without being at the mercy of Operators and contracts with fixed minimum monthly charges and minimum durations of 18months or more.
    • Connected yes, but with the usual qualms about operators. If sold OPEN then I least I can put my own SIM in it...and pay for what I use, without minimum charges and fixed contracts.
  • Digitizer:
    • NO... :-(  I was actually praying for this to be the surprise "you'll be surprised how you interact with it" (Steve Jobs) feature....would be great to hold and manipulate pages with capacitive multi-touch and to be able to annotate, highlght, write, paint, sketch accurately on them with the other hand......
    • Come on Apple, you've always had the best products for "Producers" (or Pro-sumers)...this would be great for artists, designers, engineers, cartoonists.....etc.
Well that's it. So, better than Laptop and Windows Tablets, great device overall but not yet meeting my criteria for it to become my eReading device.

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