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.
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.
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 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.
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.)
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.
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.
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:
- The iPad: A Hella Long Journal and Review Incredibly detailed analysis from SB Sarah, including the official quote of the week. Trust me. You’ll know it when you read it.
- 10 Hours with the iPad: Why the iPad Is Not a Kindle Killer Jane Litte digs into her iPad, including highlighting some pesky metadata problems.
- The ePub eBooks Metadata Mess While I’d say it was not the fault of EPUB (the standard), I cannot disagree with metadata on ebooks is a mess and all publishers need to pay more attention to what they’re serving readers.
- iBooks and ePub A slightly more technical look from Liza Daly
- The iPad Cometh. Kneel Before Zod. Oh yes, Pablo Defendi did get an iPad.