The Third Device

A blog about the iPad.

Kindle vs iPad

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Most of the initial buzz about the iPad revolved around its being a “Kindle killer”. Even Steve Jobs made uncharacteristic reference to it at the Apple launch, saying that the iPad would “stand on the shoulders of the Kindle” and continue Amazon’s efforts to promote the ebook format. Given his competitive nature, I think he actually meant “stand on the Kindle’s neck and grind it into the dirt” but I digress.

A magazine asked to me write a short piece about Kindle vs iPad a few months ago. I speculated on things from my point of view as an avid Kindle user, and it was mostly theoretical. It’s only now that I can make conclusive statements, some of which contradict what I wrote in that article.

The “e-ink versus bright screen” debate is now a non-issue for me. Kindle’s E-ink is gorgeous in bright sunlight. At any other time, the iPad’s illuminated screen is made of win.

The bigger issue for me is weight – the Kindle is the right size and heft for long form reading, and will “disappear” into the background longer. The longer you read on an iPad, however, the more your wrists will start to feel it. I also have a habit of reading in bed and falling asleep while doing so. Letting a Kindle fall onto your chest is no big deal, but letting your grip go slack with an iPad could conceivably give you a concussion.

As for the software aspect:

First off – forget iBooks. It’s much more pleasing, visually, and the slick page turn animation never fails to wow first time readers. But once you actually look past the bells and whistles and start browsing the built in digital bookstore for something to read, you might realize that there’s not all that much out there for you. I was more than willing to plop down a couple of bucks on a few books, but disturbingly, after several minutes of browsing, there was literally nothing that I felt like buying from the limited selection.

Amazon, on the other hand, has hundreds of thousands of books already in its catalog, and all of that is available to you via the Kindle for iPad app. Moreover, all your books constantly stay in sync across any devices that support Kindle software, so if you’re the kind of reader who starts a book on an iPad at home, then moves to an iPhone or Blackberry over lunch, and sneaks in a couple of more chapters on your Mac at work, you never have to find your page.

Also, notice in that previous example, I never even mentioned the actual Kindle hardware. No need to own one. Am I giving away the end of this article?

If you’re more of a magazine kind of guy or girl, there’s Zinio, which I’d been using for quite some time even before the iPad. On this platform, however, it finally realizes its potential. Because now you can finally read your digital magazines in the bathroom, the way magazines were meant to be read. Too much information.

There’s also GoodReader and Instapaper, two of the highest rated downloads on the App Store. GoodReader allows you to read PDFs and most other formats without a second thought. Although the Kindle purportedly supports PDFs, I’ve tried doing it and frankly, it sucks. The Kindle doesn’t allow you to resize fonts when reading PDFs, and of course any photos or images come across in boring monochrome.

Instapaper allows you to save web pages and articles for future offline reading, in a beautiful stripped down format. There’s a lot of stuff out there on the net that tends to pass me by, but Instapaper really has changed my browsing habits. I now just surf quickly through my daily rotation of websites (news, sports, tech, feature writing) clicking on a bookmarklet in Safari as I go to file the good stuff away for later perusal. It’s amazing how much more stuff you wind up reading this way.

Kindle also supports Instapaper, but through an awkward workaround that involves transferring the content files either over Whispernet or a USB cable – it’s not a smooth process.

There’s a variety of other news and magazine apps on the App Store – New York Times, USA Today, GQ, Popular Mechanics, Time, etc. In a nutshell, I think all of them are ripoffs for what they charge and you’re better off just launching Safari and going to their (free) websites. It’s still early days so I wouldn’t be surprised if these companies drastically rethink their pricing models in the near future.

Right now I think the biggest problem with the iPad as a reading device is that it’s just SO TEMPTING to do something else the moment your attention starts to wane. Twitter, email, Words With Friends, We Rule – there’s hundreds of other things you could launch at the push of a button if your book starts to get a little boring. With the Kindle, not so much you can do – you just flip a few more pages and hope the pace picks up.

In conclusion, I think it’s hard to declare a winner in the iPad vs Kindle debate simply because the Apple device is a better Kindle than the Kindle itself. Chew on that for a bit.

It will be interesting to see how Amazon responds – I’m sure they’re working overtime on this. Who knows, they could conceivably abandon the hardware altogether and just push Kindle as a brand name.

In the meantime, I’ve already taken sides – I sold my Kindle last week and you know what, I don’t miss it at all.

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May 1, 2010 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. your kindle has a happy new home! Glad you’re totally stanning for your iPad!

    Comment by tiff | May 1, 2010 | Reply


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