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Why I haven't caught ereader fever

Platform lock-in and questionable longevity make the iPad a better investment than an ereader.

iPad 2 illustrationO’Reilly GM and publisher Joe Wikert (@jwikert) wrote recently about how he can’t shake his ereader. I read his story with interest, as I can’t seem to justify buying one. I was gifted a second-generation Kindle a while back, and it lived down to all my low expectations. The limitations were primarily the clumsy navigation and single-purpose functionality. I loaned it to a friend; she fell in love, so my Kindle found a new home.

At this point, I do all my ereading on my iPad 2: books, textbooks, magazines, news, short form, long form … all of it. I will admit, I found the new Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight that Wikert acquired somewhat tempting. The technology is much improved over the second generation Kindle, and though I haven’t yet played with one in the store, I bet the execution is much more enjoyable. Still, my original hang-ups prevail.

First, I don’t want to be locked in to one retailer. On my iPad, I have apps that allow me to read books bought from anywhere I choose. I can buy books from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple and other smaller retailers, and they will all work on my iPad. True, this spreads my library around in a less-than-ideal organization, but the ability to buy books from anywhere is more important to me.

Also, I’m not so sure ebooks and ereaders will have a place down the road, making the value proposition of the investment that much less appealing. Much like the music journey from records to MP3s, digital reading technology is advancing, and perhaps at a much faster pace than its music counterpart. Jani Patokallio, publishing platform architect at Lonely Planet, recently predicted the obsolescence of ebooks and ereaders within five years, suggesting the web and HTML5 will become the global format for content delivery and consumption. And publications such as the Financial Times and MIT’s Technology Review already are dropping their iOS and Android apps in favor of the web and HTML5.

I doubt my iPad will become obsolete any time soon. I look forward to the day books are URLs (or something similar) and we can read them anywhere on any device — and that day may not be too far off. I think I’m so attached to the iPad experience because it simulates this freedom to the best of its ability.

Ereader shortcomings also are likely to present a rich content hindrance, even before a shift to a web/HTML5 format gets underway. In a separate blog post, Wikert talked about a baseball book that missed its opportunity by not curating video links. He wrote: “The video links I’m talking about would have been useless on either device [his Kindle or Nook], but if they were integrated with the ebook I would have gladly read it with the Kindle app on my tablet.” As publishers start realizing content opportunities afforded by digital, I think my iPad will serve me better than a single-purpose ereader.

Another hang-up I have, and this is likely to do with my general aversion to change, is the form factor. Most ereaders are somewhere around mass-market-paperback size, and the Nook Simple Touch and Simple Touch with GlowLight are nearly square. I prefer hardcover or trade paperback size — about the size and shape of my iPad. I might be able to get past this particular issue, but given the others I’ve mentioned, I just can’t justify trying.

I will have to surrender to Wikert on the battery life and weight points — the one thing I really liked about the Kindle was its feather-light weight and the fact that during its short stay with me, I never had to charge the battery. I expect the surrender to be temporary, however. I have faith in our engineering friends — two years ago, a research team at MIT was using carbon nanotubes to improve the battery-power-to-weight ratio … I can’t imagine it will be too much longer before life catches up to research. In the meantime, I expect to remain happily connected at the hip to my iPad.

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  • ranti

    I had the same opinion about my tablet as well. I installed apps from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google ereader on my tablet and been enjoying my readings there.

    One day, out of nowhere, I decided to fork $99 for a Nook Touch. I was pleasantly surprised that I actually read more books on my Nook Touch because, guess what, there was no distraction at all. No icons telling me I have new emails or somebody mentioned me on twitter, which means I don’t impulsively stop my reading and check the emails or the tweets. :-D

    To each its own, I guess. ;-)

  • http://rhysbrettbowen.com rhys

    An ebook reader is $100 and may be obsolete in 5 years? How is that a bad point? An IPAD is much more and you need a new one in 2. Plus ebook prices are cheaper. You can also use calibre to convert ebooks sf you’re not locked in. Even if you are, so what? Both give you cheaper ebooks than paper back so you could buy both and probably still make your money back.

    You know what has a bad navigation interface? A paperback book which is hard to hold and turn pages with one hand, something almost a pleasure to do with a kindle lying in bed. I’ve got something like 50 our so computer books on my kindle from o’Reilly, amazon, pragmatic bookshelf, etc… I couldn’t take all that on a plane and I didn’t get them all from the vendor either.

    EHow long can you read an iPad in bed before your eyes hurt, you get tired from holding it or you annoy your partner? Now that’s an investment.

  • http://colinscroggins.com Colin Scroggins

    My experience has been polar opposite. I have found the ubiquity of the Kindle app across devices and OSs helpful, since I am not locked to one device ecosystem. The e-ink Kindles have been much more conducive to long-form reading, replacing 90% of my printed book reading, while even the new high resolution iPad begins to hurt my eyes after 15 minutes of concentrated reading.

    I would like to see more DRM free books, but both Amazon and Apple are guilty in this regard.

  • Da

    I prefer reading on my Verizon Nexus. Its large screen is comfortably readable, while still fits in my pocket. Tablets larger than around 5 inch are cumbersome to hold, not mobile at all.

  • owenb

    I used to feel like the writer of this article – why have a Kindle if you have an iPad?

    And then I went on holiday to Florida (Im a Brit) and could barely read a single page of my current book on my ipad while sitting out by the beach unless I put a large towel over my head while reading – even in the shade and on highest brightness the iPad was impossible to comfortably read.

    Got a Kindle Touch for this years trip and it is absolutely superb for reading. Perfect legibility, no reflections, lighter, and zero temptation to fire up any other app mid-read.

    All the other reasons for not getting an ereader (html5, URL books, etc) are not remotely worth worrying about at this stage. When it happens, if it obsoletes my Kindle, I’ll just sell it to someone who cares less about being on the cutting edge (because ebooks won’t just die overnight even if web books start getting popular).

    Also, what happens if you want to read a web based book in a region you have no web connectivity?

  • Rami Rida

    I guess your negative feedback about the Kindle ereaders are far away from reality. i have an ipad , iphone , mini ipad and on all of them i have the kindle app. yet when i got the Kindle paper white 6 months ago, not a single day passes with out reading … the simple elegant device , feather like , kindle paper white that glows at night and at the beach and during the day is the best e reader i have ever had. it is just made for reading… not for browsing or for emails or anything else.. only reading.. and if you cant acknowlege the fact that its for people who love reading then u will not spend 120 usd for getting it.. the fact that that i can read in any position… if in bed. on my back holding it in my hands. keeeping it away from me etc..is soo magnificent , u just love reading a book.. ….