Where to start—in this first look at the iPad and some major e-reading apps for it? How about the new ones like iBooks and oldies like Stanza?
A 32G WiFi-only iPad, almost fresh off the jet from China, is resting on my lap as I type. And even as a fan of public domain e-books and author of a novel from a clueful, DRM-hating small publisher, I’m delighted.
No jokes about “hands-on” and the iPad name, please, and don’t be a jerk on the openness issue, either.The iPad is about much more than Apple’s control-freakish App Store and other failings. We’re talking grays, not absolute blacks and whites. Apple’s ePub-capable iBooks is just a one-minute download away on the iPad, for example.Since when has Amazon made the Kindle’s built-in software able to read the ePub standard without conversion software?
But what about the iPad’s ergonomics and other first-look basics? Believe me, the iPad 9.7-inch high res screen will help even though I’ll keep my iPod Touch for MP3-playing and reads in the supermarket line. And the new apps tailored to the iPad will make it more than just overgrown iPod. With a gem of an app from National Public Radio, for example, you can more easily browse through the segment choices and view accompanying photos. Similarly on a 9.7-inch screen you may see more hits at once when you search within e-books. Difficult upgrade? No. In less than 45 minutes or so, I picked up 5Gs of apps, books and music from my Touch via iTunes although the Stanza titles unfortunately didn’t transfer this way.
Lurking somewhere out there, even on an Easter weekend, are a few other TeleRead readers with iPads on Day One. Go to our comments area below the continuation of this review, then pitch in with your own set of pros and cons. Whether you already own an iPad or not—let us know—do you think it will change the e-book scene? For better or worse?
Based on just a few hours with the iPad, here are my preliminary impressions.
As the owner of an Acer Aspire One netbook, I find that the text is sharper on the iPad. Besides, I’d rather use a tablet for e-reading—I don’t want the keyboard to get between me and The Education of Henry Adams (Google Books ePub shown earlier, via an iPad screenshot with the dictionary in use). If I were making plenty of annotations, I could plug the iPad into Apple’s keyboard-dock, which I’ll receive later this month. Furthermore, Apple has given the screen enough sensors so that the touch feature is a pleasure.
Text-to-background contrast vs. E Ink’s? No comparison. The iPad shreds the Kindle and the others. And in standard room light, I do not feel any eyestrain so far and don’t expect to, even if I’m at the iPad hour after hour. That’s me. I know others would feel otherwise about.
Apple’s closed approach—its oft-shabby treatment of third-party apps, even those meeting technical standards—is the biggest drawback so far beyond the weight (1.5 pounds) and fragility of the iPad. I want the best apps up there regardless of whether Apple thinks they might compete with the sacred Jobs-blessed apps such as iTunes. But meanwhile, no, you won’t go to hell if you overspend and buy the iPad despite the outrageous prices of $499 and up. You’re simply paying an oversized early-adopter’s-tax. Meanwhile, you’ll be getting an idea of the possibilities for Android machines. And more immediately, you’ll be able to import your existing ePub books, as long as they are not DRM-infested (although it would help if the iPad worked with memory cards and weren’t so iTunes-centric). Even Apple isn’t Satan in full.
Devil-gizmo or not, the iPad will in fact be a scene-changer, at least as the prices drop from the current $499+ (16G WiFi-only model), and if you want to understand where e-books are going, the tax is worth it. Be glad this machine is around to spur innovation elsewhere. Cory Doctorow is usually right, but oh how wrong he was in his anti-iPad rant, even on details such as the ultimate longevity of the 10-hour battery (will the iPad really be “e-waste in a year or two”?)!
Most people will not buy the iPad for reading e-books; but what a way to entice them! In a minute, for example, after I fired up the NetFlix app and logged on to my account, I was watching a movie I’d started on my HDTV. Add NetFlix to the zillion of other apps such games or reading or listening programs for news junkies, and you can literally see and hear the possibilities here. Dedicated readers like the Kindle are not going away, but multiuse devices will probably be the big show, as Amazon itself may have recognized in porting its Kindle app over to a variety of devices.
Books will become increasingly multimedia and cloud-based—stored on remote computers rather than just locally—and the iPad’s hardware is already powerful enough.
If nothing else, it’s even more capable overall than the TeleReader I envisioned in the early 1990s. I hope that public libraries will come out with their own apps—or work with vendors such as OverDrive, which, as I recall, is gearing up for the iPad—and use the existence of e-book-capable tablets as an argument for well-stocked national digital libraries. Early adopters’ taxes could help pave the way for lots and lots of iPad-style gizmos selling for a fraction of the price.
And now some random observations on the apps:
–Apple’s new iBooks program whips the just-released Kindle iPad app, if you forget that Amazon’s bookstore currently dwarfs Apple’s in size and that the K app can sync with the same Kindle-hardware software. I can change the font style with iBooks and even read in a dual-page mode; and the iPad app lets me blow up type larger—the Amazon rival . Exactly as billed, iBooks instantly downloaded Project Gutenberg books.
I’m just sorry that the read-aloud feature is apparently just for one given page, based on what I know. No wonder publishers didn’t object to the iPad’s TTS. Pathetic, Steve J!
Apple and Amazon should pool their legal resources, anti-trust laws permitting, to launch a major assault on the legal obstacles blocking read-outs of books from Random House and the like.
Meanwhile the right apps on the iPad, if I had my druthers, would let the device read public domain books aloud in their entirety—even now. Here’s hoping that the forthcoming BlioReader, designed with the disabled in mind, not the general population, will indeed be able to read books aloud in one swoop.
—Stanza works great while filling up just part of the screen, and, yes, you can still download nonDRMed books from Feedbooks and a variety of other public domain and commercial sources. But full-sized, the characters are a bit blurry. However quixotic this may sound, I’m dearly wishing that Amazon will upgrade Stanza since it is so much more flexible—in ways meaningful to me, anyway—than the Kindle app for the iPad. I’m using Stanza’s Aerial Rounded MT Bold just as I do on my iPod. In the 2X mode, enlarging the characters, it fares better than most other fonts. Less of a blur.
–The old eReader app for the iPhone and Touch will also look fuzzy but, like others, seems snappier with the iPad’s faster processor than with my Touch’s. B&N’s reader probably should be the same.
–Judging by the interface, Kobo’s new iPad app seems off to a promising start. What’s up with the Kobo reader and public domain books? Not sure. If nothing else, I want to see if the Kobo can import books easily from other sources. Maybe commenters can tell me—I’ve focused on other issues.
–The bundled Safari Web browser is much more fun with a larger screen. I have mixed feelings about the lack of Flash; this could get in the way, but then Apple has done a public service in smoothing the way for HTML 5.
—USA Today’s iPad app (no charge for now) has set the bar high for the others. The New York Times’ free rival contains just a limited number of stories and doesn’t exploit the iPad’s color screen as well as MacPaper does.
—NPR for the iPad definitely deserves the five stars that downloaders have given it so far. Too bad Apple currently won’t allow multitasking of third-party apps like this one. I’d love to read e-books or cruise the Web with my Pad while listening to All Things Considered or On the Media. The iPad’s audio isn’t perfect but still is better than I expected.
Finally, how about the WiFi models vs. the more expensive one with 3G wireless? Depends. If you move around a lot, away from WiFi and can afford the 3G, go for it. But I’ve spent enough and decided that the additional storage was worth more to me. What’s more, given my iPad’s price, I’d rather not take it out in public, and risk a good mugging, more than I have to. My little iPod Touch will do fine for trips around town. Meanwhile the iPad’s lack of 3G will encourage me to keep it safely at home.
To sum up, I’m put off by Apple’s closed approach and the iPad’s price and fragility but am in love with the interface, faster execution of apps, overall convenience and the iPad’s possibilities in general, for both me and society in general (not to exclude the forthcoming rivals!).
I strongly recommend that you consider the iPad if you can easily afford tech toys or if you want to understand better where e-books are headed—both the conventional variety and the multimedia and in-the-cloud varieties. Sorry about that early adopters’ tax, of course. I don’t like it either and might not have plunked down $600+ for my iPad if I lacked professional reasons to buy it, as both a book-crazed writer and follower of the technical side of the e-book scene. But oh how glad I am to own one.Yep, I’d even recommend a look at the iPad if you’re a hardcore techie—writing code for the real world, not just your buddies. If you want to sell your products or services to a market beyond the uber-Net-hip, and if your budget allows, the iPad may well be worth your attention. If nothing else, using one may give you a head start in coming up with more open Android approach that I hope will ultimately prevail.
Once again: Whether you own an iPad or not, use our comments area to share your thoughts with TeleRead Editor Paul Biba and me! If you’re using an iPad already, what are your observations and insights on the iPad’s treatment of your pet apps and the news ones?
Now—ouch!—back to taxes.
And a reminder: I’m the former editor-publisher of TeleRead and speak only for myself.