My mother recently purchased an iPhone. Interestingly I had a HTC Magic for about 10 months before she got the iPhone and she never once wanted to test it out. In fact she often enquired as to why I didn’t get an iPhone, instead settling on “that touch phone”. I’m no fanatic and I agree that in some circles the iPhone’s allure is apparent, especially over the HTC Magic. After purchasing the iPhone 3G and loving it my dear mother then set her sights on an iPad.
With the tech press foaming at the mouth over Apple’s latest creation, my curiosity was certainly piqued. I went to the closest Apple store (there are at least four I know of within 15 minutes) and tried it out. The engineering is truly amazing – it “just works”. However, for the cheapest model retailing at S$728 I expected it to fulfil not only every need I had but those that I hadn’t yet considered! The question I asked myself is what I would do with it.
Everyone owns some sort of networked device. I bought a new desktop a few months back and since then I purchased a low-end netbook for the sake of mobility. At home I would use the desktop for whatever work I had, and on the move I had my netbook. Obviously I also had a phone (a “touch phone” at that).
It is true that the iPad has been seen as a killer of many devices and top of that list would be the much maligned netbook. The netbook is not sexy, it does not perform any task particularly well, it’s only selling point is that it is cheap and has reasonably good battery life. I bought it because it came with Windows 7 and I could install OneNote on it. Most commentators agree that the iPad is for consumption and not creation. Hence, for my purposes the netbook was the most suitable tool.
Still the allure of the iPad (despite its price) did not fade and I thought that I would at least list out what I may want to do on an iPad. High on that list was reading books. Buying, selling and trading paperbacks and hard backs has been a pain and there is no space left at home. So, reading digitally was certainly something I had considered. Listening to music was not really important as I already had my trusted iPod Classic. Viewing videos was an appealing feature, but I realised that I was unlikely to ever be in a situation where I would be sitting down and wanting to watch a video, i.e. there would always be somewhere better I could watch videos (e.g. my desktop). Browsing the web seemed useful, but I had my phone for that and I had the same excuse for playing games.
The iPad’s most lauded feature is the fact that it is a multi-purpose device, it is, essentially, a “dumb terminal”. The apps in Apple’s vast app store are what really define the iPad and there is virtually an app for anything and everything you would want to do. Again this was interesting but my biggest concern was that the iPad was simply too big for it to be a device that I could always have with me. If I go out my phone is sufficient and if I am at home I have my desktop. The netbook fills the gap in between quite effectively.
So, the only reason I would want an iPad is for reading. There were two problems to getting an iPad for reading. Although, the iPad has a fairly long battery life (at about 10 – 12 hours) it is insufficient for reading. I don’t imply that I read in stints longer than 10 – 12 hours, rather that I would be hunting for power even if I went for a few days somewhere. The second problem is that the iPad uses a LCD screen which is quite bright and cannot be read in direct sunlight. Staring at the screen is like staring at your computer’s screen for a long time – it hurts and it is uncomfortable. It is certainly not suitable for engrossing yourself in a long novel.
After looking at the pros and cons I settled on the Kindle. It arrived yesterday. The battery life on the Kindle 3 (Wi-Fi version) is up to one month. So, if I ever go on holiday I can take my Kindle, read for as long as I like and not have to worry about when I can refill its battery. The Kindle uses an e-ink display which looks remarkably like printed text on a book. This combined with the lack of a brightly lit screen means that it is as close to reading an “analogue” novel as we are likely to get. Finally, the Kindle (at S$250) is a fraction of the price of the iPad.
Clearly for simply reading books the Kindle is a marvel, I loaded it up with hundreds of books from Project Gutenberg and have been reading non-stop. There are a lot of problems with the Kindle, however I use the word “problems” liberally. The device appears to come with a number of functions, but it’s main aim is to get you into a book as soon as possible. Once you are reading the book everything else disappears and only the words of the author can be read. This is great. As flashy as the page-turn effects of the iPad are, they are useless and merely serve as a distraction.
Anyway, all you have to do is copy over files in the Kindle format and you are set.
In my next article I’ll post some tips on how to use the Kindle effectively.