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Apple Just Sold 1.7 Million E-Readers in Four Days… And Nobody is Paying Attention

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According to Apple, 1.7 million iPhone 4s have been sold since last week’s much anticipated launch. The latest iteration of Apple’s device boasts several new hardware features (front-facing camera, LED flash, HD video recording, a noise-canceling microphone) and host of changes to the operating system, iOS4.

One thing that’s perhaps been lost amidst the hubbub is that not only did 1.7 million people get a new smartphone, but they now have, probably unknowingly, a slick and versatile e-reader. Several key elements have converged, somewhat serendipitously, to make the iPhone4 a surprisingly compelling mode of finding, buying, and reading e-books. And I describe this convergence as serendipitous because much of it was either out of Apple’s control (more on this in a minute) or a by-product of other initiatives.

Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle was completely out of Apple’s hands—the public awareness and interest in e-books that Amazon has spent an enormous amount of energy creating. The Kindle and its variants made e-reading not just possible, but popular. Its simple hardware, compelling selection, and relatively modest cost of entry did more than anything Apple has since done to make e-reading possibly the most important publishing development since moveable type.

Following Amazon’s heavy-lifting, Apple swooped in with the iPad, a jack of all trades device whose principle innovation was making computing more like reading a magazine—simple, intuitive, and, well, pretty. For Apple’s e-reading narrative though, the major development with the iPad wasn’t hardware, though it’s large, bright screen is alluring, but software. iBooks became really the first serious retail competitor to Amazon’s e-book dominance and has in its few short months of existence altered e-book pricing, quality, and awareness.

Still, as compelling as the iPad is as a personal computing device, it’s a luxury computing item, fitting somewhere between a laptop and a smartphone, and so iBooks was also a niche platform. Through iPhone 4 and iOS4, though, almost every iPhone carrier into an e-reader owner, since iBooks is now available as a free download. This point has been surprisingly soft-pedaled in the swirl of media coverage around iPhone 4, though it has the potential to be the most innovative feature of it. Because Apple has done something that Amazon really couldn’t do: it folded e-reading technology into a device millions and millions of people carry with them every day.

These two foundational elements, Amazon’s bleeding-edge marketing and Apple’s software accessibility, are irrelevant, though, if the actual experience of reading the iPhone4 isn’t compelling. So how is the experience? In short, mostly excellent.

Serious book readers generally don't like reading on a 3.5 inch screen for long periods of time, but the iPhone 4’s new display, which boasts a resolution in excess of 300 dpi, makes reading on the device shockingly comfortable. Text is rendered almost unbelievably well; the serifs on even the smallest text appear as sharp and fluid as a printed book. Add to that a number of customization options, including text size, font, brightness, and background color, and the iPhone has all the necessary features to provide a solid, entry-level e-reading experience—all with a bare minimum of investment on the users’ part.

Text selection in iBooks is somewhat limited, but Amazon, quite shrewdly, has made an application for iPhone that enables readers to browse, buy, and read its catalog directly on the iPhone, though the reading experience through this Kindle application is a little more basic than Apple’s own software. Still, at this point, Amazon seems willing to cede hardware sales to Apple to retain its e-book market share.

Will iPhone owners be willing to give e-reading a shot? It’s probably too soon to tell and Apple doesn’t seem terribly interested in promoting the phone’s e-text capabilities at this point, since initial advertising for the device seems focused on video calling and digital imaging. Still, this might very well be a seminal moment for the spread of e-reading as a non-enthusiast activity—and no one seems to know it.

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About Jeff O'Neal

  • http://www.jonmichela.com/blog JMichela

    3.5 inches really isn’t much to read from, it is about the size of a business card. I don’t know how much reading I want to be doing from a business card size area.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    I thought,by the title,that maybe this was satirical piece about the over-priced iPad.

    But, I do have to agree with JMichela that the new iPhone doesn’t have a large enough screen for reading.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    the overpriced ipad that they can’t make enough of to keep up with demand? right, that one!

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Yup for a customized laptop price you can get the same functionality as an iPhone. YES, the same hugely popular,hugely selling iPhone 4 that loses cellular reception when you hold it in your right hand or by the base… Hmm, I think I’m seeing a trend.

  • Skip

    The new screen makes the small size quite a bit more readable. The text looks amazing. The iPad’s screen now looks outdated and makes you wonder how long before it gets update with the new tech.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    except that people don’t want a customized laptop. they want a tablet that’s easy to use. why is this so hard to understand?

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    I’m not paying attention because I like books

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    re: #7 – yeah, me too.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    it does sound like a good feature for those into that kind of thing though

  • Tom Johnson

    Guppus: My Iphone 4 is a huge improvement over the previous model. The antenna issue has, as usual, been blown WAY out of proportion, and, again as usual, the media overlooks the fact that the new antenna system is much stronger than anything the Iphone has had before. My own personal test is our local grocery store, which has been a dead zone for my Iphone 3G, but I found the Iphone 4 found and held a very sharp, clear signal the entire time. As for the “death grip” problem, it doesn’t affect me – I don’t and never have held my Iphones that way. It seems extremely awkward to do that. Regardless, Iphone 4 is a better performer than the previous Iphone generation, hands down, in every way.

    As for the Ipad, it’s not a laptop, and I don’t understand why people are using this as an argument against it. That’s a huge plus in my world. I wouldn’t have bought mine if it was merely a laptop. I have one of those – a Macbook. It’s nice, but I want something I ENJOY and look forward to using, and that is the Ipad. The Macbook is where I do the things I HAVE to do, the Ipad is where I do the things I WANT to do, and my Iphone is a beautiful pocketable device that does most of what I do on the Ipad in a smaller way when I’m out and about.

    If someone used this argument, you’d say they were ridiculous: ‘Why are you buying a 47″ HD TV? You already have a 22″ HD TV. They both do the same things!’ Get it? That doesn’t even cover it, however – it’s not like I’m using straight Iphone apps on the Ipad. Ipad apps are made for the Ipad’s screen size, taking advantage of the real estate available there and generally providing much more usability than their Iphone counterparts. Given the choice I almost always choose the Ipad, even just days after getting my Iphone 4, and despite that beautiful “retina display” the Iphone 4 has. It’s that enjoyable to use. It is pretty much what I use most of the time I’m at home and online.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @ Mark & Tom:

    The price my friends. I don’t see how dropping $800 on over-sized iPod couldn’t be hard to understand. My qualm has nothing to do with an easy-to-use tablet but with functionality (or lack thereof). It doesn’t display HD properly, it doesn’t have any USB ports, no SD card ports and the 64Gbs of storage space is ridiculous for the cost of a device that has the same processing power as a hand-held. If you decide to use it at home, you’re still stuck on a wireless connection which raises all sorts of security issues(for me)

    Tom, your analogy using TVs does not only NOT cover it but doesn’t make much sense either. Unless, the 47″ TV didn’t offer Audio & Video connections and you had to use that 1080p screen to watch all 460p videos off of Netflix.

  • http://thereadingape.blogspot.com Jeff O’Neal

    The iPad’s viability as a consumer computing device is still to be decided in the marketplace. It’s not perfect for everyone, but there are certain things that it does better than a laptop or a desktop, including reading digital content.

    E-reading at this stage reminds me of cell phone adoption in the early to mid 1990s. The potential was there, but the delivery systems, cost, and hardware hadn’t quite converged enough for it to take off. What I’m suggesting is that we might be close to the end of the beginning of e-reading’s evolution.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    the problem brian is that you keep comparing this thing to a “regular” computer, which it is not…not does it even want to be.

    lack of functionality? it can run every iphone app plus all of the ipad-specific apps.

    as jeff said in #12, thinking of it as a device for consumption of digital content is heading in the right direction.

    clearly, people seem to love this thing, despite its supposed flaws.

  • Tom Johnson

    I didn’t drop $800, I dropped $500 on the 16gb model, of which I’ve used 2gb of space. You are seriously misguided about what this device is – you are trying to force it into being a laptop, as I said in my earlier comment, and that is exactly what it is NOT meant to be. Hell, if you absolutely have to have access to SD and USB, buy the camera connection kit for $25, which gives you two dongles that offer each of those. The Ipad will import images from your camera from either and it will connect to keyboards on the USB kit, if you insist. I’ve even gotten my Flip camera to import video, which it’s not supposed to be able to do, on the USB connector. Here’s the thing: I don’t want those connectors on the Ipad. It makes it larger. The very few times I would ever use them make it totally pointless to make them built-in. As an optional add-on, they’re perfect. I chose to buy them. Many will not.

    My TV analogy is perfectly in tune with your “over-sized Ipod” insult. You can do everything you want with a small TV that you can do with a larger TV. So why would you want a larger TV? You’re skirting the issue. Isn’t a desktop just a larger laptop? Why would anyone want or need one of those? Isn’t a large sedan just a big compact? Isn’t a king-size bed just a big cot? This is easily the dumbest argument made against the Ipad.

    I have no idea what you’re talking about “doesn’t display HD properly.” It plays HD just fine, just like any normal TV does. Just because the screen is 4:3 doesn’t mean it doesn’t display it correctly . . . or are you one of those people who “hates the black bars”? You do realize that if they’d built the Ipad around 16:9 it would have been a ridiculously proportioned size, right? The thing is held 18″ from your face. HD looks fantastic, even with the black bars.

    And it has plenty of processor power. You have NO idea what you are talking about. You are stuck on specs instead of actually looking at the performance of the device itself. It is very, very fast. I’ve never seen it lag on anything.

    I can’t argue about wireless security. If you’re this paranoid, well, you’ll never feel secure on anything.

    Add to all of this the fact that most of the apps that are being developed and/or adapted for the Ipad do more than their Iphone counterparts and it pretty much destroys any argument you could offer.

    Like anything, you don’t have to like the Ipad. But the level of disrespect you display is beyond simply disliking the product and extends to the people who buy it. We have our reasons, and from those who I know who’ve bought them, they all seem very happy with their decision. For me, it got me away from a very boring, bland machine (and the Macbook was a huge step up from the excruciatingly awful world of Windows) as well as liberated me from feeling tied to constant recharges, desks, etc. I can sit out in my living room, with my family, not think even a little bit about my battery for about a week, using it a couple hours a night, and it never gets hot, or uncomfortable. I would rank it as one of the very best computing decisions I have ever made – I would buy one again in a heartbeat if I had to, say if it were stolen, lost, destroyed, etc., given the choice between it and a Macbook. You can argue price, I’ll argue value.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Hey Mark,

    You’re right. For the price, I’m comparing it to the not so much bigger and more powerful x60 from Lenovo which is older than the iPad.

    Hey Tom,

    I made the above comment because again, for the price, it’s not worth it. I don’t care how much of your fanboi-ism clouds your perception of what price vs. functionality really is. You bought an over-priced proprietary device that has limited your choice of what software you can buy & use. Enjoy your “walled garden”:)

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about “doesn’t display HD properly.” “You can do everything you want with a small TV that you can do with a larger TV.”
    “Why would anyone need one of those”

    Are you kidding? It’s obvious you don’t remember why they came out with “Letterbox” movies, do you? Because a 22″ screen couldn’t properly display the format that was used to make the film and we used to have to deal with that lovely Pan & Scan(Uggh)

    Or that you actually have to have the right amount of pixels(larger TV) to properly display HD content(especially 1080p)? I mean, that’s if you really care about experiencing actual HD.

    That would be like asking, “Why bother with Blu-Ray? Its only a bigger form of storage than DVD, right?”

    Yes, they do make bigger speakers for a reason,Tom. It’s called frequency range, you should look it up. But, you can’t hear that on your iPod buds with mp3s, can you?

    With your mentality, we should just all resort back to the proprietary crap that killed IBM’s market share.

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    I made the above comment because again, for the price, it’s not worth it. I don’t care how much of your fanboi-ism clouds your perception of what price vs. functionality really is. You bought an over-priced proprietary device that has limited your choice of what software you can buy & use. Enjoy your “walled garden”:)

    ah, your usual brand of condescending, ill-informed snottiness.

    whatever. you just don’t get it and you never will.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @16,

    “ah, your usual brand of condescending, ill-informed snottiness.”

    This coming from someone who doesn’t analyze music but buys audiophile grade equipment…lmfao!

    Tell me, oh wise one, what does great iPad do that I don’t “get”…

  • Tom Johnson

    Price, functionality, blah blah blah. You never, ever talk about just using things, enjoying things. It’s always specs. What about value? What about what you get out of it? I bought the Ipad because it does what I want, HOW I want. You have no arguments, absolutely none, that can dismiss that. You can list out as many specs, ports, screen sizes, whatever you want, and it won’t mean a thing because I knew the Ipad fit my needs. What argument can you make that refutes that? Anything you say will be a personal insult.

    Maybe your computer needs are extensive, and you want access to everything a computer can do, but for most people, they turn it on, check email, get on Facebook, watch some stuff on YouTube, check their bank account, etc. Most people aren’t coding or building Flash pieces or using Photoshop or any of that stuff on their home computer, and that’s why the Ipad is brilliant – it is pretty much exactly what most people need. Except people like you want it to be everything a full computer is, for some weird reason, or you use that as an excuse to attack it and those who buy it, even though the vast majority of people will never do anything like that on there. The thing you don’t get, or what you conveniently forget, is, people still have their regular computer to do that stuff on! You act like they buy an Ipad and then can never use another computer again. “You’ve bought an Ipad! You signed the pact to never touch another computer! Oh no!” It’s impossible to get you to see that people buy the Ipad because it’s NOT like a regular computer. They’re buying it both because of the things it does that computer don’t and because it gets them away from all the boring things that computers do. Most don’t really care that there are some things that it won’t do that a computer can . . . because they still have that computer to go back to if they need to.

  • Tom Johnson


    This coming from someone who doesn’t analyze music but buys audiophile grade equipment…lmfao!

    You just made my point in a beautifully succinct way. Thank you.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    that all sound fine and dandy but can you play solitaire on it?

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    re: #19

    exactly.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    I also need to know if it will replace my Kin

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Yea,but Tom, I was just expressing my opinion of what that useless POS doesn’t do for me.It was Mark that figured it was okay to blast me for my OPINION.
    Really, I don’t see how someone who doesn’t care to understand the specs / tech stuff could ever say that my argument is stupid…

    Honestly, I could care less what kind of enjoyment anybody gets out of anything. If I cared about what you liked or enjoyed I would’ve stopped creating music a long time ago. If those tech companies only cared about what the consumer enjoyed then you would never have had an iPad to do those mundane things on. Technology revolves around creativity & the power to make it a reality NOT the fact that you can watch cheesy re-runs of House on it. Enjoyment doesn’t foster creativity because it is selfish. Are you saying that you’re selfish?

  • http://marksaleski.com Mark Saleski

    i’m blasting YOU for your opinion? go back and read what you wrote…calling people fanboi and the like….which is how these things usually go when you don’t get your own way in these discussions.

    and i don’t think your argument about tech specs is stupid, it’s just that that’s not what most people care about. they care about usability, not what’s under the hood.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    “they care about usability, not what’s under the hood.”

    That’s why VHS beat Betamax

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Mark, Yea, “blasting” may have been a little bit of a stretch. But, it was you who made the first remark about my comment in which, now,you & Tom are trying to make it seem that I’m just here to insult & knock all the people who love the iPad. That isn’t the case nor have I used any other derogatory words other than “fanboi”. AND, I’m only stating what I think and feel. I’m not trying to “get my way”…lol.

    “it’s just that that’s not what most people care about. they care about usability, not what’s under the hood.”

    I never said they didn’t. I was merely stating my opinion that tech companies and the people who invent these gadgets are more concerned about specs and performance over enjoyment. I mean, ultimately, they have to be concerned if that particular product will fill a need or a use but there are tons of devices and computers that are invented that don’t reach the consumer. The knowledge from those inventions has been responsible for pushing technology forward so that we can have media players and smaller computers.
    Usability & enjoyment don’t fuel that motivation.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    @25,

    That’s incorrect Betamax was any harder to use – It was more expensive. Betamax lost to VHS because the porn industry loved that VHS was cheaper and decided to use it as their format.

  • http://www.maskedmoviesnobs.com El Bicho

    Not harder but VHS gave people the option to record more hours. Maybe “usability” doesn’t mean what I think.

    In college I had heard that the higher-ups at Sony did not want to get involved with professional pornographers so they wouldn’t license the format to them.

  • Brian aka Guppusmaximus

    Nah, I don’t believe that if Sony actually had an issue with pornographers that that was the reason why it lost the format war.

    But, I do know for a fact that they had an issue, actually a lawsuit which was lost, against videotaping. That could have soured the reputation that they had with the consumers who spent the extra cash for Betamax or future prospects.

    But, who really knows?

  • Frank

    On YouTube you can see a video of the new hp blade with windows7. I burst out laughing – the performance and design is so bad it’s ridiculous.
    Make’s the iPad a bargain. So much for overpriced ipads.

  • Scrinson

    I have kindle on my pc, my macbook, my android phone, so I would say that kindle is folded into more areas than Ibook any day of the week and also in many peoples pockets.

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