iPad: Kindle Killer?

I have an iPad. I have a Kindle. Although it seems to be common consensus that the iPad will kill the Kindle, the larger question is, does Amazon care? The even larger question is, should you worry for the future of reading itself?

OK, people seem to feel that the iPad’s screen is superior to the Kindle’s. Hogwash, I say. Yes, the iPad has a gorgeous super-sharp screen and HD video is simply amazing. And yes, the Kindle’s screen is smaller and shows only 16 shades of gray.

Yet for reading a book, the Kindle is superior. It is lighter, the screen has less glare and the “e-ink” feature is much easier on the eyes. The form factor is more suited to reading as well. For real reading (as opposed to browsing, the iPad’s strength), there is simply no contest.

The two devices are fundamentally different. The iPad is a multi-function tablet computer that happens to have the ability to function as an “e-reader”. The Kindle is a conduit for buying Amazon content — primarily books — easily and constantly.

If you get a Kindle2, it’ll cost you about half of what an iPad does (unless you pony up for more storage or the upcoming 3G models of the iPad, which cost even more). When it comes to selection, Amazon claims to offer nearly a half a million titles compared to iBook’s measly 60,000, roughly half of which are public domain (read: older) books from Project Gutenberg.

So I reiterate: right now, the Kindle is a superior platform for serious readers.

But let’s face it, a lot of people won’t see it that way, especially if Amazon doesn’t lower prices for the Kindle. Put yourself in the place of someone considering a purchase. The iPad shows movies, complete web pages, has apps for just about anything you could imagine — and displays books too.

The Kindle lets you read books. Well, it lets you do more as I mentioned back in January, but you see what I mean. The Kindle isn’t just competing with other e-readers anymore. It is competing with the Internet and movies and lots of games (reportedly the highest-selling category in the App Store) and other forms of light entertainment.

But as things stand now, the folks at Amazon probably aren’t too worried about the possible demise of the Kindle. Let me put it another way. The Kindle exists because Amazon is in the business of selling content, primarily books. The Kindle is a loss leader for them.

Apple, on the other hand, is in the hardware business. They created iTunes just so you’ll have something to do on your iPod/Phone/Touch and now iPad and buy more of them. If Apple were worried about Amazon, they would never have allowed Kindle for iPad to be made available. Apple is happy as long as people are buying hardware.

Now if Apple turns its steely gaze on the book publishing market (99 cent books?) I’ll be singing a different tune. But that’s a topic for another day.

Reading for Pleasure: R.I.P.

But anyway, back to what I was saying before, the iPad is a lousy way to read a book. The look and feel, while super-slick, does not make you want to curl up and read a novel-length work. It makes you want to scan a book like you would a web page and then jump off and play with an app or watch a movie. And that, my dear readers, is what’s at the heart of the matter. It is not the Kindle you should be worried about but the pastime of reading itself.

Even I, a pretty voracious reader, found myself fighting the urge while reading on the iPad to check my email or my feeds or any of the other million distractions that I read books to get away from in the first place. So will the iPad kill the Kindle? Probably, but few will mourn its passing. What is in greater danger is as people tote their iPads instead of their Kindles/e-readers, they won’t read at all as they answer the clarion call of the web or apps or whatever.

I love my iPad, I really do. But I hope I’m wrong about what it is going to do because I love books more.

4 Replies to “iPad: Kindle Killer?”

  1. I've stopped buying tech books in paper. It kills me to toss any book into the recycling bin but 'Beginning iPhone 3 Development' <http://www.apress.com/book/view/9781430224594> doesn't have much shelf life left.

    For the tech book collection (which is mostly either PDF or ePub) wouldn't I be better off with an iPad, if only for the color display and ePub support?

  2. My concern is more around reading for pleasure, as in novels. Strictly text.

    Still, you raise an interesting point. I had not considered technical publications, where the color display would certainly be an enormous advantage. I still wouldn't want to read on it, though.

    As for the format issue, this certainly puts even more pressure on Amazon to make the Kindle more open. In the meantime, I just use Savory: http://blog.fsck.com/2009/04/savory.html

  3. I live in Japan, where space is at a real premium. That means that having too many books forces me to recycle/toss even the books I expect I'd like to read again someday. So e-readers make a lot of sense to me.

    As has been said, nobody generates a crowd of gawkers with a Kindle (iPad is a different story), but the reading experience is very close to paper. That's Amazon's stated purpose. As a result, Apple's foray into Amazon's territory will only help to gain acceptance for ebooks. If Amazon loses 20% market share, but the market itself expands exponentially, this is only good for Amazon. I doubt that even they expect to keep the (by some accounts) 80% market share they currently enjoy. And since the _reading_ experience for the Kindle is so much better (not the multi-media consumption experience of the iPad, of course) then more readers will choose Kindle over other alternatives.

    Long story short, the iPad is good for Amazon.

  4. I have a Kindle now and am considering an iPad. I have tried an iPad in the store and it was nice. I look at it as a giant iPod touch (and I like my iPod touch). The one area that the iPad is better for reading is magazines and comics; I read both. So, I see the iPad as an additional device. I just don't know how it would be to do long term reading on that bright screen. I try to use the Kindle App on my iPod but it is not the same “feel” as the e-ink.

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