Is the iPad a Kindle Killer?

There were 15 new eBook reading devices on display at CES in January. This is beyond the popular Amazon Kindle and Sony Reader. Do you remember any of them? I consider them the last hurrah of the Naughties (2000-2009) Era. Apple did not disclose anything new at CES. They held their own event to announce the Apple iPad and now everyone is talking about it.

And yet… the Apple iPad is not an eBook reader. Or, I should say, not just an eBook reader. Would it be enough for it to be just an eBook reader to be a best seller? After all, at $499 for the cheapest model it’s the same size screen and only $10 more than the Amazon Kindle DX. But, hey, this is Apple. They’re the company that sets the standard, so there has to be more to it than just eBook reading.  

Whatever else the iPad is, it’s certainly already a major player in the eReader market so let’s look at the eBook reading features of the iPad as currently understood.  Apple raises the bar whenever they announce a new product.  What does the iPad bring to the market that is different?

Five major book publishers have already announced deals to place their products in the Apple iBookstore: HarperCollins, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Macmillan, and Hachette Book Group. McGraw-Hill had been expected to be part of the announcement but there is speculation that they were left out because CEO Terry McGraw spilled the beans they day before Apple’s event, confirming details of the iPad. It should be noted for our international audience that these agreements are currently only with the U.S.-based branches of these publishers.

What format will these books take? That’s not entirely clear other than that the iPad will support ePub format. ePub can be extremely simple, text only, or very complex, including embedded audio and video. Flash won’t be coming to the iPad, though there will be some other video formats. Can we live without Flash on the iPad? This is a controversial topic with no clear resolution.  eBook readers based on e-ink technology do not support Flash, audio or video, not even color, so even though the iPad isn’t Flash-compatible it still definitely has a leg up in this area.

What e-ink has that the iPad doesn’t is long battery life. The Kindle supposedly can last for two weeks between recharges if you turn off wireless connectivity. Apple promises 10 hours for the iPad. Is that enough? It’s longer than the iPhone and millions of users have learned to live with that.

I came across a comparison of current eBook technology with the development of scientific calculators. Before calculators, science students had to use slide rules for their tests. Those who could afford calculators had a huge advantage in speed and accuracy when taking tests. Imagine the differences between print books and fully multimedia eBooks when using search and taking notes directly within your eBook.

Reading devices should attempt to mimic a print book – big enough to replicate the same size type and page of a print book page.  They should also give readers access to features not available in print such as audio, video, and note taking, and enable the reader to adjust the type size to what is comfortable. Imagine vision-impaired people able to read a book in large print without requiring the publisher to produce a special edition. In some cases (depending on the publisher) it should also be possible to have a digital book read out the text.

I don’t think of digital books as a replacement for print books. They can be that but also much more. I’m looking forward to the enhancements that are becoming possible.

This is only to focus on how the iPad compares with existing eBook reading devices. Apple has introduced a device that is much more than just a new reader. Is that enough? What are you looking for on the iPad?

James Link

Business Technology Strategist, MPS North America

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