Editor’s Note: If you’re planning to replace your old iPad with a shiny, new third-generation iPad, you don’t necessarily have to sell your old tablet or give it away. This is the latest in a series of articles in which we look at ways to give your old iPad a new purpose. In this installment, we focus on converting your old iPad into a dedicated e-reader.
Turning an iPad into a one-trick e-reading pony may seem counter-intuitive. After all, your iPad can take on lots of tasks from surfing the Web to marshaling an army of angry birds. Why limit yourself to just one task, even if that task is as pleasurable as sitting down with a good book?
Because, try as you might, you simply can’t ignore the other tantalizing distractions your iPad has to offer, and stripping those out will help you lose yourself in a good read. Because you’ve upgraded to a newer model, and you’re not ready to recycle that old iPad just yet. And—if you happen to use an original iPad—because your device’s future is about to get a lot more limited. iOS 6 will introduce a lot of new features when it arrives this fall—and your original iPad won’t be able to handle any of them, as the forthcoming iOS update won’t run on your first-generation tablet.
Here’s the good news: You don’t have to do anything fancy to convert an old iPad into a dedicated e-reader. But if you take some time to better customize your older iPad, you can take it from a merely capable e-reading device to a top-notch one.
Is it worth it?
You can buy a dedicated e-reader like Amazon’s Kindle for as little as $79. Does it make sense to use your original iPad, for which you paid at least $500 as an e-reader? Obviously, one argument in the old iPad’s favor is the fact that you own it already.
But a Kindle or similar e-Ink reader does sport some advantages of its own: Such a device is considerably lighter—less than half a pound, versus almost a pound and a half—making it easier to hold one-handed. And some users find that the e-Ink screen is easier on the eyes for extended reading jags when compared to the iPad’s LCD screen.
The thriftier among us may balk at plunking down the better part of a Benjamin on a new e-reader when they already have a serviceable tablet from Apple. And while some elements of the reading experience may be superior on a Kindle or Nook, the iPad certainly offers some advantages of its own, like its speed, color display, and support for multitouch.
Configuring the iPad
Any iPad, of course, can function as an e-reader. But if your goal is to make the iPad a dedicated reader, there are some settings you ought to consider tweaking—mostly to minimize distractions. A Kindle won’t pop up alerts or try to capture your attention; with a little effort, your iPad won’t either.
We’ll talk about which apps you will want on your e-reading iPad shortly, but first let’s talk about which apps you probably won’t need: Any others. If this iPad is to function successfully as an e-reader, it can’t hurt to remove Angry Birds, Words With Friends, or Facebook. If you’re hesitant to remove perfectly good apps that you just might want at some unspecified time in the future, at least consider combining all those apps into an iOS folder: That folder icon is far less tempting to tap on than, say, the silhouetted linksman gracing the icon of Super Stickman Golf.
Once you’ve removed or hidden away potential app distractions, make sure that even the apps you’re not ready (or, in the case of iOS’s built-in apps, not able) to part with won’t distract you, either. Head over to the Settings app and tap on Notifications. iOS 5 lacks a global switch for turning off notifications, so it’s a good thing you deleted a bunch of apps one paragraph ago—now you have less work on the Notifications settings screen.
To prevent your iPad’s other apps from interrupting reading time, tap on each in turn, and set the Alert Style to None for every single app. Now, any apps that update in the background won’t splash a banner or alert across the screen when they do so.
Your other option would be to enable Airplane mode whenever you’re reading—also from the Settings app—which would prevent your iPad from accessing the Internet. It’s a fine, battery saving choice, but then you have to remember to turn Airplane mode off again when you want to download more books.
While you’re in Settings, also consider removing any email or calendar accounts still saved in the Mail, Contacts, Calendars section; if this iPad is for reading, there’s no sense letting those apps gobble up extra bandwidth and battery. And if you haven’t already, under General, ensure that the Side Switch is set to Lock Rotation and not Mute; you’ll need the former option far more often if you move around as you read.
Which apps you need
Put bluntly: Get the apps you need to read the content you want. If you’d like your dedicated e-reading iPad for books, grab Amazon’s Kindle app and Apple’s iBooks app. There are plenty of other e-reading apps; unless you already own books for another platform (like Kobo or Nook), there’s no need to pursue those.
Devoted Kindle readers may also want to install the Kindle Cloud Reader Web app; it integrates the Kindle bookstore directly, which the App Store app isn’t allowed to do. Alternatively, you could stick with the iOS app and simply install the iPad Kindle Store Web app instead.
You may want to read content from other sources, for which you should of course download the right app. If you plan to use your e-reading iPad to read long-form content you encounter around the Web, you’ll want an app like Instapaper ( ), Pocket ( ), or Readability. And if you envision using this iPad to discover Web content you’d like to read, consider installing apps like Zite ( ) or Flipboard ( ), apps that assemble content from assorted sources you define into reading-optimized, magazine-style layouts. (If you’re looking for more choices, Macworld looked at the options for personalized news apps a while back.)
Should you wish to use your iPad for true magazine reading, navigate the App Store’s Newsstand section to find your favorite publications. Newsstand-compatible publications will appear in the Newsstand folder on your iPad, and the latest issues download automatically behind-the-scenes on the device. You can also consider subscription to all-you-can read plans like the one offered by newcomer Next Issue, or the Newsstand alternative Zinio.
The iPad’s backlight provides sufficient lighting; as a result, you won’t need to spring for a lamp or book light as you might with another company’s e-reader. If you’re reading in the dark, say before sleep beckons, you can dial down your iPad’s brightness nearly all the way—and potentially choose the nighttime reading mode for the app you’re using—and still see just fine without blinding your retinas.
One accessory that might come in handy is some sort of lap stand, should your arms get tired long before your eyes. We’ve previously recommended the Rain Design iRest Lap Stand ( ); another very good option (and one that can also work as a laptop lap desk) is the Prop ’n Go.
Both stands can prop up your iPad in either orientation, and can angle the tablet so that you needn’t hold it up yourself. They’re great on tabletops, or laps while seated, or on torsos in bed.
[Lex Friedman is a Macworld staff writer.]