The iPad vs. the Kindle
When Amazon.com shipped its first Kindle in 2007, the innovative e-reader seemed to be the future of books. Side-by-side with the iPad, however, the Kindle now looks a tad retro. Apple drives the point home when you download its iBooks app by tossing in a free e-book with a feature that the Kindle can't match: color pictures of Winnie the Pooh and pals.
True, the iPad doesn't render the Kindle irrelevant. Amazon's $259 gadget costs only slightly more than half as much as a base-model iPad--and that price includes wireless broadband that allows you to download books without paying a monthly service fee. And, at least at the moment, some Kindle books are a few bucks cheaper than their iBooks equivalents.
Thanks in part to its 6-inch screen, the Kindle is far smaller and lighter (at 10.2 ounces) than the 18-ounce iPad. The Kindle's use of E-Ink technology lets it run for two weeks on a charge and keeps it readable in direct sunlight; in contrast, the same sunlight will wash out the iPad's LCD screen. And some e-reader users find E-Ink to be easier on the eyes.
But the E-Ink screen is also the Kindle's most striking liability. It's monochromatic--dark gray text on a light gray background--and the lack of backlighting makes it hard to read in murky lighting. Photos and other images tend to look as if they were drawn on an Etch-a-Sketch, and screen updating is inherently sluggish.
The iPad? It sports one of the nicest color displays of any portable device; it has crisp black text on a white background; and you can flip through e-book pages as fast as your fingertip allows. In short, it's more like a real book.
Apple's iBooks Store launched with 60,000 titles, just one-sixth of the selection that Amazon provides for the Kindle. But on the same day that Apple started selling iPads, Amazon released an app that lets Apple's tablet become a Kindle, giving users access to all 480,000 digital tomes that are offered in the Kindle store.
In addition, the iPad allows access to thousands of free books in ePub format, a format you can't read on the Kindle.
Did we mention that third-party apps let the iPad do thousands of things besides reading books? Or that it may be the best device ever made for kicking back and reading the Web? (The Kindle's browser is so rudimentary that Amazon still calls it "experimental," two-and-a-half years after its debut.)
Ultimately, both the Kindle and the iPad are nifty gadgets, but only the nerdiest, most well-heeled tech freaks would consider buying and using both. And ounce for ounce and dollar for dollar, the iPad provides you a better return.
VERDICT: For an e-reader and more, it's advantage iPad--unless you're on a tight budget or are an E-Ink devotee.
The iPad vs. Magazines and Newspapers
Amazon's Kindle lets you subscribe to 58 magazines and 120 newspapers, with free wireless delivery. But the drab, plain-text presentation isn't much different from CompuServe circa 1990. In theory, the iPad should change everything. Publishing executives--who started giving their content away for free on the Web 15 years ago and have regretted that blunder ever since--are giddy over the new possibilities that this tablet format offers.
Apple's iBooks application and Amazon's Kindle app for the iPad don't do magazines or newspapers, so every publisher of periodicals has to figure out the iPad for itself. Time's app fills the screen with photos, makes you scroll down to see text, and puts selected online (Time.com) items in a separate section. GQ turns pictures into slideshows, and turns captions off by default. Other magazines--including PCWorld--are available on the iPad via the Zinio app, which downsizes print layouts to fit onto the iPad's smaller-than-a-magazine screen.
None of these approaches, however, decisively improves on good old ink-on-dead-trees, a technology that still works beautifully for both skimming and deep reading. Moreover, some computer-based features that print just can't match--such as full-text search--generally aren't available in iPad e-publications.
Three national papers--the New York Times, USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal--are all on the iPad, and all three do among the best jobs of translating paper into digital form in the iPad's dimensions. They reformat themselves on the fly for portrait or landscape reading, artfully weave words and photos, and don't try to become too clever. (If you can figure out Popular Science's interface, drop us a line.)
iPad periodical pricing models, like user interfaces, are still works in progress. And some publishers tend to charge quite a bit. Time wants $4.99 an issue, and every copy is a separate app. Full access to the WSJ is $3.99 a week, even if you already pay for the print and/or online versions. The New York Times' Editors' Choice app is free, but includes only a smattering of stories--call it Some of the News That's Fit to Print.
Of course, with certain exceptions such as the bulk of the WSJ, most of the content in iPad apps is also available for free via the iPad's Safari browser--usually updated more frequently and with extra features such as the ability to leave comments. If publishers are going to convince users to pony up for iPad periodicals, they must produce ones that are clear improvements not only over paper but also over the Web.
VERDICT: The iPad does have the potential to do for magazines and newspapers what the iPod did for music. But first, publishers will have to create products that take full advantage of the iPad's display and interface. We're not there yet.