The Apple iPad will not kill the Kindle. In this installment of my Kindle shakedown series, I contend that the ideal ereader should not become a multipurpose device like the forthcoming iPad, or the HP Slate, or whatever comes next. It should instead become a fully dual-purpose device, with two screens dedicated for the two purposes of reading and writing.
Some say the multipurpose iPad will kill the single-purpose Kindle. I disagree. This year I have discovered the joy of single-purpose devices. Most computers are multipurpose devices, designed to do everything but not always in the best way. I easily prefer the single-purpose GPS mounted in my car over the equivalent function on my smart phone. The single purpose GPS has a larger screen that is easier to follow when driving. I recently obtained a tabletop internet radio. I can listen to the same stations on my computer, but the dedicated radio has better speakers and does not compete for my processor. The Kindle wins for the same reason. I can read ebooks on my laptop, but the laptop is too bulky and has many distractions. So too the iPad, on which users can surf the web, send email, take photos, watch videos, listen to music, and so on. One can browse the web on a Kindle, but the web experience is streamlined to reading-related activities, such as looking up related concepts in Wikipedia.
A single-purpose device is better for reading than a multipurpose device, but a dual-purpose device is even better for the kinds of reading I do on the Kindle. After three months of shaking down the Kindle, I still think print books are the superior technology for reading lengthy, complex and rich writing. At the same time, the Kindle is unnecessary for reading the snippets and other short content found on the web; laptops and smart phones are quite sufficient for that. However, there is a middle ground of reading. The best word for this kind of reading is ‘research’. Like long-form reading, it involves investigative reading beneath the surface, and it also necessitates note-taking and other information processing practices best streamlined by digital technology. As a hybrid of traditional books and digital technology, the ereader is ideally suited for the dual purposes of reading and writing.
For research, I want to be able to see my highlights and notes, juxtaposed with the original text, and be able to transfer selections to a new file. I also want to coordinate with my Delicious bookmarks, and post thoughts to Twitter. I cannot yet do these tasks on my Kindle, but I am not sure the iPad will be much better. Steve Job’s presentation did not make clear that the iPad take notes at all, but I assume it will. The iPad will also have DRM and this means it will limit the users ability to copy the original text. My advice for the designers of the next generation of ereaders is to fully embrace dual-purpose design. I am inspired by two screen designs like the concept piece about the Microsoft Courier. Imagine being able to read on both left and right screens, then changing one screen to note-taking functions. Streamline the functions for reading and writing and it could be the ideal ereader.
Editor’s Note: This article, the seventh in a series, is reprinted, with permission, from John Miedema’s blog. John is a graduate of the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Western Ontario. In October, he presented at the Library of Congress on his recently published book, Slow Reading. He also developed open source software which links bibliographic data from Open Library to web pages and library catalogues. Articles on the software were published in Information Standards Quarterly and the Code4Lib journal. PB