The iPad: Obligatory Post on Impressions, Reading, and Wrist Strength

April 6th, 2010 · 21 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

The Unicorn has landed, and like all mythical beasts, it has some magic powers. And like all mythical beasts, the legend may be greater than the reality. Of course, this depends on what you were expecting versus what you got. I expected that the iPad, at least initially, would be a larger, faster, more feature rich version of the iPhone/Touch, and, so far, that’s what I’ve gotten.

As app developers get their hands on the device and explore potential, I fully expect applications that rethink “computing” — we’ve seen hints of this already. It’s really hard to develop without a working device, so even those apps that were ready from Day One will be updated and reworked based on actual usage.

Overall

As I mentioned, I was expecting a pumped-up version of the iPhone, and that’s where we are right now, especially application-wise. A few apps, however, show how new thinking is being applied. The first is Omnigraffle. This diagraming tool is extremely flexible, and the iPad version shows how a company can port the desktop application into a new medium, changing how it works to support the technology. Omnigraffle is pricey: $49.99. Totally worth it for designers, developers, and people who like to sketch ideas and share thoughts in meetings. It’s the first app I’ve seen that shows how the iPad can be used as a business tool.

The Elements is a terrific example of how “enhancements” to books can work. Priced at a mere $13.99 — truly, this is a bargain! — it offers text, animation, encyclopedic information, 3D (you can order glasses from the app!), and humor. Seriously, I’ve had The Element Song as an earworm for days.

Finally, while news apps are still a work in progress, the NPR app stands out for its creative use of technology to provide information. Sound, images, text, information sharing via Facebook or Twitter (or, heck, email). You can access stories from various points in the app — via the “Topics” menu, by scrolling horizontally through stories, tapping the “More” button for synopses of top stories. Programs and stations are accessible, and, yep, you can build you own NPR playlist. There is subtle advertising included, with Bose being a sponsor. I can appreciate that.

(Note: honorable mentions go the Marvel and GoodReader [PDF] apps. I’ve only dabbled with them so far, but they work as advertised! I am looking forward to reading manga, traditional style, as well.)

These apps — and others I’m sure I’m not aware of — point to a future of creativity that will change how we work. This does not mean the iPad is a laptop/desktop killer. It’s not a Kindle killer. It’s not a [fill-in-your-favorite-technology-on-target-to-be-killed] killer. It’s a device that rethinks how we do some work, and, if anything, is a glimpse at the future.

The Good: It’s fast. Love that speed. Love the display, love the crisp elements. Love the possibility. I did get a little dizzy viewing the ABC app — definitely high definition. Typing is easy (see below). The iPad doesn’t conduct the same level of heat as a laptop, so it can be rested on bare knees or thighs. The battery life is impressive, longer than advertised.

I’m also foreseeing serious movement into man purses (or, as O’Reilly Media’s Mac Slocum put it, unicorn scabbards). Wives everywhere will rejoice as their husbands have a place to put wallets and sunglasses. Oops, did I say that?

The Bad: It’s heavy. I expect future devices will be lighter as technology improves, but it’s heavy. This means I have to consider where I’m going and what I’m doing before I choose the device I’ll carry. To say it shows every fingerprint is an understatement. It’s a touch device; the surface is one big fingerprint, meaning there will be lots of cleaning of screens in your future. It’s not optimal in bright sunlight, and not particularly conducive to touch typing due to lack of tactile clues, so no long-form typing.

On the bad list — and this applies to those who are using the iPad as a family device — is the lack of user switching. When I wanted to test my own Kobo books, I had to log my husband out, receiving a warning that he would lose his place in the cloud. I think he’ll be okay, but separating information may be an issue for some users.

Reading

These are my overall impresssions of the iPad as a reader. For me, it will be, at best, an ancillary device. It’s too heavy for one-handed reading, and the touch screen means you need to swipe to change pages, not easy with just one hand (imagine, if you will, a mother holding a baby and reading at the same time). I could do more weight-lifting, but doubt that will solve the bigger problem.

Given the choice between tucking a Kindle or an iPad in my purse, I’d go Kindle. My tendons approve this message. If I’m going minimalist, I’ll still have my iPhone with me — meaning I’ll have my Kindle, Kobo, Ibis, Stanza, and other libraries with me. I love that I have so many choices when it comes to reading.

What I am most looking forward to are magazines (the Zinio app looks promising!), books that rely upon a heavy mix of graphics and text, and books that include video/audio information. I cannot wait for cookbook publishers to rock my world (and they should hurry before the Food Network owns this space). For narrative fiction or non-fiction, the iPad isn’t likely to be my primary choice.

As others have noted, this is not a device suited toward reading in bright sunlight. Since I live in Southern California, this is a serious drawback. The shiny black border tends to reflect overhead lights as well. For example, the pendant lights over my kitchen island bounced off the border in an uncomfortable way. And, no, turning off the lights wasn’t an option as I was, you know, cooking while reading.

A final concern is one I have with the entire App Store/Apple experience. There is an interesting prudishness in the Apple organization. As noted in this Boing Boing story, it extends to the use of the word “sperm” when referencing a specific type of whale (the screenshot shows “s***m”). We’ve heard stories about apps being rejected for content reasons. As a thinking adult, this bothers me.

Now for a brief look at some reading apps. As I noted above, I fully expect the experience to improve now that developers have their hands on devices and can test more thoroughly, so I’m not giving up on any one app yet. Plenty of time, plenty of time.

iBooks

iBooks is okay. Readability is excellent. The bookshelf metaphor is hokey. I prefer the list view, and the ability to sort books in multiple ways is very nice. Adding my own EPUB versions of books is a lovely bonus. The inability to sync books between my MacBook, iPhone, and iPad…not so much.

From the perspective of discovery, the iBookstore is a mess. Presumably this is a work in progress, but, wow. I will note that I’ve never warmed to the discovery process in iTunes. While the navigation includes most major categories of books, the sub-categories are either bizarre or non-existent, depending on your perspective. This is something particularly important for readers for readers of all types. In the romance section, you have a choice of “Contemporary” or “Historical” on the landing page. Yes, you can search beyond that, but that means you have to know what you’re looking for.

Likewise, the primary cookbook categories are “Regional & Ethnic” and “Beverages”, useful categories, to be sure, but not the breadth of the cookbook world. Again, it requires specific knowledge of what you want to find the right book. Lifestyle & Home features pets and crafts & hobbies as default categories.

Title selection is limited, though growing rapidly. As with the iTunes store, the emphasis seems to be on front list, current releases. This may be fine for some readers.

I can’t avoid the issue of price, especially given the cheerful Publishers Lunch story on sales tax (registration required). We’ve been hearing noise about this for a couple of weeks now, and it appears it will impact readers, adding to what are already perceived — and in some cases, not-so-perceived — price increases. Right now, prices in iBooks, and other bookstores, are not very different than what you’d pay for print, particularly if you typically buy your hardcovers at discounted prices.

(Pricing issues are, generally, similar for all retailers, not just iBooks.)

As a consumer, I’m not particularly thrilled about parity with print prices when my overall rights as a reader have been curbed — parity is happening in the mass market area as the iBooks store has specific thresholds based on print price for hardcover. I’m not going to boycott anything, but I will be more selective about my purchases in the future. Pricing also makes iBooks less attractive as a retail option to me. I sincerely hope we see some consideration for readers in pricing in the near future.

I am particularly amused by the pricing displayed in the “Classics” section — if only because it highlights pricing issues across the board. $27.99 for Atlas Shrugged (really? there is no indication why this is the price point, and the reader reviews are filled with shock and awe). For Whom the Bell Tolls checks in at $12.99. Middlemarch (a public domain title) retails for $6.99. Of Human Bondage is a mere $4.99 while Pride & Prejudice is a bargain at $3.99. The free version of P&P drops me right into the story, while the sample of the same novel doesn’t start the story until “page” 39. I’m not opposed to Margaret Drabble’s analysis of the story, but — and I suspect this is true for most readers — it’s not what I’m looking for when I pick up a copy of P&P.

As one reader who is looking to fill her library with digital versions of print favorites, this is the kind of pricing that makes me sad, especially given the quality control issues that abound when scanning and converting these older books.

Kindle

As expected, the Kindle app is excellent, usable, and functional between devices. Reading via the app is as pleasant as reading via iBooks. Given the pricing limitations created by the Agency Model, I am more focused on user experience, and, frankly, when comparing the Kindle ecosystem versus the iPad/iBook ecosystem, the Kindle ecosystem wins. Greater selection, better discovery, portability, lighter weight, more gym friendly (okay, I am basing this on the weird, bright, glaring lighting in my gym, the perceived challenges of swiping the screen while exercising, and my fear of dropping the iPad).

No, you cannot buy Kindle books from within the app. I’ve heard this is a limitation imposed by Apple. I’ve also heard other reasons (don’t know, don’t worry about it), but it’s not a horrible imposition since it’s easy enough to buy using the Amazon app or the web browser. Plus I can purchase from laptop or iPhone. User experience is going to be a key factor all around, and right now, Amazon is leap years ahead of others.

This doesn’t mean they can’t be toppled. It merely points to a key area of focus for those who are competing in the same space.

(Much of what I’m saying here can also be applied to Barnes & Noble; their app has not yet been approved, so I can’t speak to experience.)

Kobo Books

I am a bit of a Kobo Books fangirl, both from the perspective of user experience (they are very responsive to readers!) and attitude. As with the Kindle experience, I can read books purchased from Kobo in a variety of ways. That’s really important. I miss the days when I could plant myself on the couch and read for hours. Now, portability and convenience are my touchstones.

There has been a bit of wonkiness with the Kobo app. This was not unexpected, and the team’s overall responsiveness to questions and issues has been impressive. Kobo’s hook, as it were, is cloud-based reading, and this works great for single-user devices. On shared devices, a way to switch accounts would be lovely.

Ibis Reader

I like the way Ibis Reader looks and feels. Reading is easy. I love that Ibis is portable across devices, meaning I can easily shift between my laptop, my iPhone, and the iPad without worrying about whether I have my Kindle wireless connection turned on (I tend to leave it off to preserve battery life). This focus on user experience — are you sensing a theme? — is important to me.

Since Ibis is a reading system, not a retailer, I am looking forward to the day when it’s seamlessly hooked into my book buying experience. It could offer significant advantage to independent booksellers.

Ibis Reader, interestingly, has the best cover representation of Pride & Prejudice. They’ve pulled the Feedbooks version of the Project Gutenberg edition (same as the free version I downloaded from iBooks). Just in case you were wondering.

What? More?

Yes, there is more to discuss. No, I’m not going to keep rambling. The Unicorn is a great device exhibiting potential to be a serious tool (much as the iPhone has). It’s a good reading device that is on the cusp of its potential. I am looking forward to seeing what creative minds can do with the technology.

Here is additional analysis:

File Under: Square Pegs

21 responses so far ↓

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 6, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    Adding a late thought via comments: usability of the book apps is tough. They don’t come with operating instructions (much like life!), and the differences are enough that muddling through is more offputting than you’d imagine. I imagine that, like the web, we’ll see common usability syntax emerge, but for non-touch savvy, casual readers, the confusion could be an issue.

  • Chris Kubica // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:06 am

    My name is Chris Kubica, and I have a purse. So the iPad would be perfect for me, assuming it is okay with getting crumby, milky, sunscreen-y and whatever else-y I put in there to put on or in my children.

  • Pete Meyers // Apr 7, 2010 at 7:44 am

    Great overview Kassia. One tip, in case it’s not clear: in both the iBooks and the Kindle app swiping’s not necessary to turn the page. A simple right side page tap will do. It’s a small difference but I’ve found it’s a nice way of helping make the device disappear ;)

  • Kassia Krozser // Apr 7, 2010 at 9:00 am

    @pete — thanks for that. As you might have seen in my comment addendum, there has been a lot of muddling through as I switch from reading app to reading app to other apps to other apps. My kingdom for consistent interfaces (and I suspect there will be some consistentcy as developers and users communicate).

    @chris — i think the milk is okay, but the sunscreen?

  • Genene Cote // Apr 7, 2010 at 10:27 am

    The mention of the wrist is what hooked me. The iPhone and my wrist have had a couple of run ins. I read one book on my iPhone and the next day I had pain all the way to my shoulder — moving my index finger caused waves of pain up my entire arm. I waited for a few weeks and repeated the experiment with the same results.

    I concluded that using my finger repeatedly to change pages was not a good thing for me. Now I read books exclusively on the Kindle. It has drawbacks, but for reading text it works well enough. . .

    I have been thinking seriously about an iPad. I love the idea of a multifunction tablet; big enough to see clearly and light enough to take everywhere. After reading your piece, I knowI am going to wait for the 2nd or 3rd generation tablet before making the move.

    Great piece with lots of great info. Thanks!

  • Theresa M. Moore // Apr 7, 2010 at 11:32 am

    As an independent publisher who has already submitted my ebooks to the iPad store, I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out on the “big screen”. But I am surprised about the censorship issue. I’m afraid Apple is going to have to come to terms with all the millions of books containing swear words which will arrive on their doorstep. They should just program in a filter which prevents children from reading the books, just as many cable operators have installed a blocker, and leave the books to dangle according to their true worth. Thanks for the insight. I don’t own a Kindle or an iPad, an iPhone or any other mobile device, because reading PDFs on my computer is good enough for me; and I usually take a good printed book with me wherever I go. I am also not ignorant of the myriad problems associated with internet tech or meda, but only time will tell if any of these devices will prove their worth.

  • Roy Young // Apr 7, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Thanks, Kassia, for your expert assessment. Hard to see any “killer app” yet, although the Omnigraffle drawing app you cite is very appealing. As you say, “expectation” is the critical obstacle, as I was expecting a revolutionary reader for books and websites. That may or may not be something a developer of apps can deliver.

  • Ovi Demetrian Jr // Apr 7, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    Atlas Shrugged being priced so high could really just be because of an automated calculation based on the number of pages!

  • Chris Fagg // Apr 8, 2010 at 12:24 am

    Love your site. Always a joy!

  • Jane // Apr 8, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Any writing/notebook apps you would recommend?

  • iPad Links: Thursday, April 8, 2010 « Mike Cane's iPad Test // Apr 8, 2010 at 4:58 pm

    [...] Predictably Irrational: Price Anchoring, Or Why a $499 iPad Seems Inexpensive What the iPad Told Me The iPad: Obligatory Post on Impressions, Reading, and Wrist Strength iPad thoughts after a few days Um, no: Are People Already Missing the Point of the iPad? iPad [...]

  • iPad link roundup | socialibrarian // Apr 8, 2010 at 5:39 pm

    [...] Booksquare: Obligatory post on impressions, reading and wrist strength [...]

  • Lit Links // Apr 9, 2010 at 8:57 am

    [...] Booksquare weighs in on the iPad. [...]

  • iPad offers people a new way to read « Indie Aisle // Apr 9, 2010 at 5:15 pm

    [...] Of course these past couple of weeks people have been talking about the iPad. If you haven’t seen it for yourself I’m sure you’ve read or heard your share of reviews. In relation to the publishing world, a good thorough review was done over at BookSquare. [...]

  • Gazete Oku // Apr 11, 2010 at 8:30 am

    Booksquare weighs in on the iPad

  • Looking at the iPad from an ebook reader’s perspective – The Shatzkin Files // Apr 12, 2010 at 10:29 am

    [...] thought Kassia’s take on this was useful as well. She explores the Ibis Reader which I didn’t (it sells little or no [...]

  • Yeah, I Carry My iPad in a Purse? Wanna Make Something Out of It? | Publishing In the 21st Century // Apr 22, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    [...] Kassia Krozser has a problem with the shmutzik touchscreen: “To say it shows every fingerprint is an understatement. It’s a touch device; the surface is one big fingerprint, meaning there will be lots of cleaning of screens in your future.” Technology writer David Pogue thought it was too heavy (one and a half pounds versus 10 ounces for the Kindle) and the screen hard to read in strong sunlight. (See David Pogue Digs the iPad (with an Asterisk.) Mike Shatzkin found the selection of book titles in the iLibrary skimpy.  He also had this to say: 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. iPad great for reading but potentially injurious to conjugal relations [...]

  • CuriousBookFan // May 18, 2010 at 2:36 pm

    Piece of advice: if there are swear words just tap the right side of the screen on to the hard metal surface and swear words will dissapear (well, together with other words and all apps and your warranty will be worthelss…). I love Apple…

  • okpurse // Jun 30, 2010 at 8:22 pm

    Kassia Krozser has a problem with the shmutzik touchscreen: “To say it shows every fingerprint is an understatement. It’s a touch device; the surface is one big fingerprint, meaning there will be lots of cleaning of screens in your future.” Technology writer David Pogue thought it was too heavy (one and a half pounds versus 10 ounces for the Kindle) and the screen hard to read in strong sunlight. (See David Pogue Digs the iPad (with an Asterisk.) Mike Shatzkin found the selection of book titles in the iLibrary skimpy. He also had this to say: 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. iPad great for reading but potentially injurious to conjugal relations

  • Michael LaRocca // Jun 30, 2010 at 8:40 pm

    Obligatory? Really? Why is that?

    I’m not doubting you. I’m just wondering why following every move of certain companies, such as Apple, has become so mandatory that they don’t even need to buy advertising unless they feel like it.

    I also freely admit jealousy. When will it become mandatory to review the new short story collection I released last week?

  • Lida // Jun 23, 2012 at 3:17 am

    I read on my Kindle all day yesterday and last night had such bad wrist pain that it woke me up. Could it be related? It’s still a… killer…pain.