Comparing Apples and Kindles

Introduction

With the recent launch of the iPad, there’s been a lot of comparisons[1] between them and Amazon’s Kindle.  In this article, I’ll talk about why they really aren’t competitors and why it would be a mistake for Amazon to try to compete with the iPad.

Comparison

The Kindle can’t do color or fancy graphics.  What it does provide is, for the first time, a technology for reading books that’s actually comfortable and easy to use for the general population.  The technology lends itself to extremely long usage between charges (1-2 weeks) as well as a display that finally has the same properties of paper: You can read it in direct sunlight.  However, because of the cost (just dropped to $189 from $259), it’s really only worth it for serious book readers.  For people who read a lot, physical books can be unwieldy largely because of the amount of space they take up.  Casual readers, however don’t have those problems.  So I would argue that the Kindle has never (yet) aimed itself towards casual readers.

The iPad, however, is a different beast entirely.  It’s more of a general purpose tool.  Apple may have been touting it’s benefits as a eReader… It’s high resolution color display, for example, can be quite attractive.  But the iPad’s main draw is it’s general purpose-ness.  Most people wouldn’t purchase it specifically to be an eReader.  But they might consider it as a “getting that too” feature.  However, the iPad has some significant disadvantages for heavy readers:

  • Battery Life
  • Cost
  • Weight
  • Daylight Viewing

The biggest issue is arguably the battery life.  At 10 hours[2], you might get a weekend’s worth of reading.  But you do have to make it a habit to charge it every day.  For some people this may not be a problem.  But if you’re treating it like a book, you’ll probably just put it in your bag and forget about it until you’re looking to read again.

That leads us to cost.  While even after the recent price reduction, the Kindle is by no means “cheap,” it is still a fair bit cheaper than the iPad.  Which means users will likely be much more cautious about using it and where they take it.

At 1.5 pounds, the iPad may not seem that heavy at first.  But keep in mind that’s over twice as much as the Kindle’s 10 ounce weight.  After an hour of usage, that difference will be noticeable to even the athletes among us.

My point here is not to point here is not to say that the iPad is a bad eReader.  Indeed, the interactivity, color, and multimedia aspects to the iPad can greatly contribute to it’s use.  The thing to realize is that the tradeoffs between the two as eReaders are aimed at different markets.  The iPad is an ideal platform for causal readers, whereas the Kindle is ideal for serious readers.

The Next Chapter

Once your realize this distinction, you realize what Amazon’s next moves must be.  It would be a mistake for them to compete as a general purpose device like the iPad.  But they do have to be worried that the number of casual readers out there may overtake the market eventually.  Price will eventually be a driving factor there.  But hopefully the eInk technology will become much more affordable.

One of the issues that’s plagued eReaders for years is their inability to capture the ease of use and utility of a paper book.  The Kindle, given it’s success rate, is clearly one of the best implementations so far.  But clearly, that’s the Kindle’s biggest advantage over the iPad, it’s specialized function as an eReader. Amazon should focus heavily on the “use it like a book” metaphor.  They need to continue to identify areas and usage scenarios where the Kindle fails or is unusable compared to a paper book.

There are several important areas to consider:

  • Can I use it in all the same ways/places I can use paper books?
  • Are there restrictions that prevent/hinder its ability to act like a paper book?
  • Are there enhancements that make it better than a paper book?

Using it the same way you can use a book is probably the most important factor for most people.  I would argue this is the primary reason why the Kindle succeeded where others failed: the eInk technology allows the display to act just like paper.  Here’s some additional ways it could and should act like a book:

  • Can I continue to read my books 10, 20, or 50 years from now?
  • Can I load books to friends?
  • Can I make copies of pages from the book?
  • Can I read while on a floater in a pool?

Here’s some issues that hinder it’s ability to act like a paper book:

  • Do I need to worry about books being recalled or Amazon removing books I’ve purchased?[3]
  • Can I resell or donate them?[4]
  • Can I loan books to friends?
  • Can I make copies of pages of the book?
  • Can I check them out from a public library?

Enhancements are where the fun come in.  Digital books bring capabilities that paper books just can’t support, like search and bookmarks.  Here’s some additional areas where they may (potentially) benefit:

  • Audio playback, automatically in all books[5]
  • Zoom, for the vision impaired
  • No longer have to worry about wind when reading outside
  • Enhanced bookmarking
  • A way to tag references to easily build a bibliography when working on research or a book
  • Backups.  Never lose your books again.

It’s clear digital books offer much more power to not only the reader but the publishers and distributors.  Unfortunately, this same power may be what keeps the dead trees alive.

References

[1] – http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-10443186-1.html

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/business/silverman/6956033.html

http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2010/apr/04/ipad-vs-kindle/

http://www.google.com/search?q=ipad+vs+kindle

[2] – http://gizmodo.com/5510095/ipad-test-notes-battery-life

[3] – http://www.pcworld.com/article/168654/amazon_removes_ebooks_from_kindle_store_revokes_ownership.html

http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/17/some-e-books-are-more-equal-than-others/

[4] – http://www.slate.com/id/2212320

[5] – New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir – WSJ.com

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