So, it arrived. Pretty packaging (what else would you expect from Apple?) surrounded the much-anticipated gadget. Opening the box, it does look a lot like a giant iPod Touch; the back of the device is made of the same sort of brushed aluminum that houses my MacBook Pro. But this is neither of these; this is the iPad. And here are my initial thoughts.
Full Discolsure: I am not a techie. I’m not an engineer, a designer, a computer person. I am a consumer; I love my toys, but I’m not easily wowed. I have an iPod Touch which has been sitting on my dresser lonely and unused since I acquired my DROID phone because the devices seemed redundant. I also confess that I’m a Kindle fan. I got one of the first Kindles produced back in 2007, and I’m on my second right now. I’ve tried what Sony has to offer, and other devices as well, but nothing has parted me thus far from my Kindle.
The iPad is a bit hefty. It’s larger and weighs a bit more than my Kindle (although I’ve not held one of the larger eReaders in my hands, and I suspect it’s not much heavier than one of those). The screen size more resembles the large format Kindle than the standard version I own.
Although I was curious about everything iPad has to offer, I was most curious about the reading experience on the iPad, since it’s been touted as the potential Kindle Killer in the media by some. So after familiarizing myself with the iPad, syncing my iPod apps and iTunes library, I downloaded the iBook app, Apple’s iPad reader application. The interface is gorgeous as you gaze upon the wood-like (albeit empty) bookshelves of your personal library. Well, almost empty, anyway. There is a lone copy of Winnie the Pooh, standard equipment on the iPad, if that’s your pleasure.
I have to say, reading on the iBook app is a great experience. There are two things you notice right away using the iBook application. First, the books are in color, something technologically impossible on the Kindle and other similar eReaders. The second thing you notice is the navigation. On the Kindle (and most standalone eReaders) you turn pages by pressing a button. Depending on the eReader, the page turns either slowly—or extremely slowly. There is a significant lag time between the button-push and the actual turn of page.
Reading in iBook is a completely different experience. The page turns as you turn the page; there is no lag. Sweeping my finger (actually very much like “paging” through a real book) at the page edge causes the page to turn. Really. (At least that’s the effect.) The faster you sweep, the quicker you leaf through the pages. Cool. As on my Kindle, I can manipulate the font size so that my presbyopic, middle-aged eyes can read without benefit of the reading glasses I’m always misplacing.
One of the big selling points of standalone eReaders is that they’re reproduced using something called e-Ink. E-Ink provides the reader with a book-like feel and no backlighting (which is theoretically easier on the eyes because it’s not so bright). The absence of backlighting and relative simplicity of the device also means that there is virtually no battery drain while reading. My Kindle’s battery lasts for weeks when I’ve got its onboard wireless signal disabled.
But that also means that when I’m reading in bed I need a light source (much to the chagrin of my husband who has to get up at the crack of dawn to make his commuter train into the city). This perpetually leads to his “can’t you please turn off your reading lamp?” at 2 a.m. right as I’m at a particularly intense moment in the story. It’s a small point, but significant in light of the iPad’s birth. The other disadvantage to the e-Ink format is that it’s not in color. Books with photographs don’t render well, nor do books with any other sort of graphic element. It’s another minor gripe, but I’ve avoided buying graphic-intense books in digital form.
One of the best things about the Kindle, and what puts it at the top of the eReader market, is the ease of purchasing books (and the sheer number of available books). You can buy a book online at the Amazon.com Kindle bookstore or access the Kindle store directly from the Kindle wirelessly and at no charge via built-in wireless capability. Download a sample to “try before you buy” or the buy the book and within a couple minutes it’s in your library and ready for reading. And the $9.99 price tag for most books (including new releases) is very attractive.
Seeing the coming iPad shockwave, Amazon was very, very savvy. The company wants to sell books, and developing a killer app for the Kindle Killer was a brilliant move. Could Kindle develop an app to compete with Apple’s iBook? The answer is YES! Amazon has done a spectacular job in creating Kindle for iPad.
Although the Apple iBook app is excellent, Kindle has done just as well, and in some respects, better. Launching the free Kindle app and signing in to my account, the software recognized me and asked if I’d like to download anything from my archive of books. Over two and half years, I’d downloaded more than 100 books! And there they were: not in a cumbersome list that I had to slowly navigate one page at a time (lots of pages) as they appear in my standalone Kindle, but organized by full-color book cover, quickly and easily navigable by simply sliding my finger through the collection’s bookshelves.
Every book was there: those I’d finished and deleted (putting them into the Amazon.com archive space) and my latest purchases. It was a pleasure to browse through all those books (some of which I’d forgotten I’d ever purchased). I selected several to download into my iPad Kindle, including the book I’m currently reading, Wolf Hall (a novel about Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s advisor).
Opening the settings, I was given the choice of reading backgrounds: white, sepia or black. I thought white was a bit too bright for me, and went with sepia, which more resembled a physical printed page. I couldn’t figure out why anyone would pick black background with white letters (but I’m sure someone will enlighten me). I adjusted the brightness down a bit, and the font size up a bit for a comfortable and easy-on-the-eyes reading experience. Page turning is effortless and instantaneous, much more satisfying than page turning with my Kindle standalone.
The iPad’s touch screen allows you to touch any word, phrase, or entire section for easy note-taking on the generous pop-up virtual keyboard. (Note to self: get one of these for my college student next year.) In the iBook app, when you highlight a word, you also have the option of looking it up in the dictionary—or searching the term on Google or in Wikipedia. Fantastic. (And score one for the iBook app.)
Searching within a book is simple, fast, and seamless in either application (just like using a word search function in Word or in an Internet browser). Some books have hyperlinks, which come in very handy when using a cookbook or reference book. Buying books is easy, as the app directs you to the Amazon.com Kindle store in a browser, enabling you to search and buy to your heart’s content.
Although the iBook and Kindle for iPad are both excellent reading interfaces, there are a few more nuances in appearance in the Kindle app than in the iBook app, which made me happy, since I hoping Amazon would give me a reason to stay with Kindle. The iBook app’s powerful search function is impressive and not available on the Kindle app. (Although, the cool thing is, you really don’t have to make a choice at all—why not have both?)
The Kindle app is fantastic, and using it on the very cool iPad really seems to leave the Kindle standalone a bit in the dust. I still think the Kindle is the best of the conventional eReaders out there. But the powerful combination of Apple technology with the iPad and Kindle’s bookstore and reading app make Kindle for iPad the most true-to-life reading experience I’ve had in any digital format. With the iPad priced at $499, only $10 more than the large-scale Kindle DX, the iPad may well be the Kindle Killer.