Looking at the iPad from an ebook reader’s perspective
Here’s a quick review of the iPad. I’ve had it for a few days now and, based on what I know so far, it isn’t going to be a very important part of my life. It has great capabilities, but it has real limitations. The capsule summary is “not as good for straight text ereading as a Kindle; fabulous for visual stuff like movies and pictures and games (which I don’t play) but limited there by not supporting Flash.”
So far, I’ve watched a movie (using the Netflix app here might be the biggest payoff here for me with it, but I’m usually not big on movies out of theaters), gotten books from three platforms (Kindle, Kobo, and, of course, the iBook store), grabbed the Elements book-app (cool…). I also got a Vook (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), which was enough for me to see “not my cup of tea.” Maybe others on other subjects will be different…better. This one was both just not appealing (a clip introducing John Barrymore embedded in the first page of the story) and defective (a bunch of links that don’t work.)
The keyboard is miles better than one on a phone, but nowhere near as good as one on a laptop or netbook. So it isn’t a substitute for carrying a full-function computer on a trip, regardless of what software they eventually build for it. And if you’re going to carry another keyboard, what have you gained over carrying a netbook?
I bought it because I needed to see it and, to tell the truth, I thought it would be cool to carry it around the London Book Fair next week and show it to a lot of people in publishing who had not seen it yet. But the damn thing weighs a pound-and-a-half and doesn’t fit in any pockets (the Kindle fits in the hip pocket of most sports jackets which, frankly, I wear regularly for the pockets!) and I’m not slinging a briefcase on my shoulder to have the iPad when the iPhone keeps me adequately connected in a conference or trade show situation. It’s worth putting in my suitcase to show friends in some situations, but it won’t be with me most of the time.
There was some fun I could have on a computer or an iPhone that was definitely better with the iPad: using the YouTube app, punching in the names of old rock stars, and watching clips. (The sound from the iPad speakers is more than passable.) And being able to show photographs on the big iPad screen will be a great benefit for some people.
But as a straight ereading device, it just doesn’t cut it for me. The extra weight (over a Kindle or an iPhone) just isn’t sufficient compensation for the extra screen capability. It isn’t as good as the iPhone for reading in bed in the dark because the much more light it throws off makes it harder to avoid annoying your significant other. It took me a while to find it, but the lock that allows you to lie on your side and have the type lie in its side with you is managed by a button on the device itself, not a setting in the ereader platform, which is how Kindle and Kobo do it on the iPhone.
And Apple has not mastered the shopping experience for books yet. The iBook store shows far too few books per category. You see “new in fiction” and you ask for “all” and you get 23 titles? Give me a break! Or you go to “history” and see “recent releases” and you ask for “all” and see 18 titles? It looks great, but this is not using the unlimited bookshelf of the web to anything near its potential.
When you search for “baseball” in the iBook store, it doesn’t tell you how many results you get, but the answer is 117, strikingly similar to Kobo.
Kobo’s shopping experience is similar. When you search for a topic (I chose “baseball”). you are told how many results are being returned to you (I got 114.) While shopping for Kindle titles requires you to go “out of app” to their store on the web, that’s not really a problem (you can hardly tell the difference.) Of course, Amazon is the champion of choice – their killer app — and there are 946 search results for baseball. That suggests to me that both Kobo and iBooks have a long way to go to catch up to Kindle’s selection of titles. That means the advantage remains with Amazon for the foreseeable future.
I had a chat today with a collaborator who is more tech-savvy than I. He said he’s hearing the “too heavy for an ereader” comment from a lot of people. He theorized that perhaps some people might get an iPad instead of a computer if all they needed a computer for was web-surfing and emailing. But he admitted a netbook might be a smarter purchase in that situation for a lot of people.
Certainly, this device is not going to put the Kindle out of business and I doubt it will be the preferred ereader for any heavy consumer of books, or what books are today.
But the good news for publishers is that Apple will sell a lot of them as “content machines”: to people who aren’t primarily book readers. We might pick up some new ebook readers from the large universe of people who hardly read books now as a result. That would expand the market to our benefit.
On the other hand, anybody interpreting the announced 750,000 ebook “downloads” (not “purchases”) to 600,000 iPad purchasers in the first weekend as promising for publishers would need more data to come to that conclusion. That number by itself isn’t impressive, but we don’t know how many Kindle or Kobo (or other) books were downloaded by new iPad owners. Only Amazon knows for sure, but I’ll bet that 600,000 Kindle owners download three times that many book files in the first 24-48 hours they have their devices and it would be a bit of an upset (to me) if initial iPad activity were heavier with non-iBook content than with books purchased directly from Apple.
So the hunch from here is that the iPad will help us grow the ebook market but the makers of lighter and cheaper e-ink devices don’t have to leave the field just yet.
I thought Kassia’s take on this was useful as well. She explores the Ibis Reader which I didn’t (it sells little or no “branded” content so it is of less interest to me.) We mostly seem to agree about the iPad and ereading except that because she’s a woman, she’s thinking this will encourage men to carry some form of handbag. Good luck with that one…