Thursday, April 29, 2010

The iPad: Is it really all that?

by Michelle Gagnon

ibooks_hero_20100403.jpgI'll start by saying that I don't completely understand the Apple mystique, in fact I'm a little perplexed by their cult following. I appreciate my iPod and iPhone as much as the next person (although AT&T easily takes the prize for the worst network). But in my experience, some of the Apple products leave much to be desired. My husband finally convinced me to switch from a PC to a Mac last year--which has absolutely been a mixed bag. Some of the programs, like iPhoto and Scrivener, I love. Yet I can't fathom why there isn't a blogging program for Macs that holds a candle to Live Writer. On the plus side: fewer viruses and crashes. But I sorely miss Microsoft Outlook.

So with all the hoopla surrounding the release of the iPad, I was skeptical. It looked big, for one thing. What I like about the Kindle and the Sony Reader is that they manage to mimic the experience of reading a book. You open something, hold it in both hands. In comparison the iPad appears unwieldy, roughly the size of a dinner plate. I couldn't imagine holding this big flat thing and reading off it.

But then a friend brought one over for me to test drive. Wow. It has all the features of the Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader. It's light and comfortable to hold. The pages actually appear to turn, which is a neat trick. And that's just the beginning.

There's been a lot of chatter about eBooks and what they mean for the industry. Most of the debate has centered around issues like the recent Amazon/Macmillan pricing standoff, and what kind of ebook rights authors should be getting. There are those who claim that within a decade print books will be a rarity, limited editions published exclusively for collectors. Others say that's an exaggeration, books are here to stay.

What's been lost in the debate (because until now it was largely irrelevant) was how books and the entire reading experience could change. The Kindle and the Sony Reader were great, but they basically just enabled a reader to experience a book the same way they always had. The main benefit was that the font size could be adjusted, and the reader could hold a full library. Neither offered true interactivity, a bridge between books and other media.

That bridge is exactly what the iPad provides.

Check out this video of the iPad version of Alice in Wonderland (but be forewarned, it's a little frenetic. I'd advise against clicking on the link if you're prone to seizures).

Wow. Seeing that, I finally grasped the iPad's potential. For one thing, it could revolutionize children's books (although I'm hard pressed to name a parent who would hand a relatively fragile $500 device over to their child). And for graphic novels, this is a complete game changer. aliceforipad041610b.jpg

On my book tour for THE GATEKEEPER, I assembled a PowerPoint display of real-life settings from the book and other materials to provide a frame of reference for readers. Just imagine if that information could actually be incorporated into the text itself.

It reminded me of reading The Da Vinci Code while vacationing in Costa Rica. I found it maddening that when so much of the plot was focused on specific paintings and statues, there were no images included in the text. With the iPad, a book could include those, plus links to video interviews with the author, related sources- really, the sky is the limit.

I'll save a discussion of other iPad features for another day, including apps (movies look amazing on it, though, in case you're curious). But I have to say, I'm a convert. I'll probably wait for the inevitable price drop. When that comes, (and I suspect we'll be seeing a huge decline in prices for eReaders across the board soon), Apple could corner the publishing market the same way that they basically appropriated the music industry. And along the way, they might end up changing what constitutes a book.


  1. Thanks for the notes, Michelle. From what I've seen and hefted, if someone wants an e-reader primarily, the iPad (with backlit screen and weight) might not be the answer. But if you want all the other stuff (basically, a bigger iPhone w/out the phone) then I can see its utility, esp. if you travel. Of course, you've got to add in the monthly plan, too.

  2. I have to admit I want one and I don't even own an iPohone! (that's how much of a Luddite I am). I do agree with james though that the backlit stuff is a downer as you can't read outside...but on the plus side the reading experience may be enhanced with the features you describe. I'm eager to try!

  3. I have to admit I want one and I don't even own an iPohone! (that's how much of a Luddite I am). I do agree with james though that the backlit stuff is a downer as you can't read outside...but on the plus side the reading experience may be enhanced with the features you describe. I'm eager to try!

  4. Today is my big day to buy an iPad, and I saw your blog post and thought, "Oh, no! She's going to say what a waste of money it is." But boy am I relieved! I can't wait to get mine now. Thanks for the review.

  5. I have a Kindle and love it but I have no desire to buy an ipad. I have no interest in all of the added features for reading that you mention although I can see where it would be nice for kids books. When I read I want to read and I find that since I've had my Kindle(2 years) I read at least 15-20 additional books a year. If there was a video included with the book or pictures to look at it would probably mean less reading on my part

  6. "But I sorely miss Microsoft Outlook."

    Funny you bring that up, because that's one of my biggest beefs about my Macbook. I'm using Entourage (the Mac version) but it's not nearly as good. Some things on the Mac I believe they do just to be different.

    Just think what the iPad could be if they gave it the ability to be a phone. And I'm not saying to put it up to your ear, That would look silly. But with bluetooth, a wireless earpiece, and voice recognition, you could keep the iPad in your purse and you have an all in one, computer (lite - email word processor, spreadsheet, presentations), media player (books, newspapers, magazines, movies, music, photos), games and phone.

    It's easier to see the buture of publishing.

  7. An interesting post for a couple reasons. So are the responses. I've heard and read a tremendous amount of criticism of a device that most people have never seen, let alone used.

    Well, I own one. In fact, I bought it the first day it was available and we received it the first day it was available.

    Is it primarily an e-reader? Uh, no. But, you have the option of the iTunes bookstore, the free Kindle app to buy books from Amazon, and I believe even an app for Barnes & Noble.

    Unlike the Kindle (which I have not used and only handled once, the only time I've seen one in public, although I have the Kindle app on my iPhone), books on the iBookstore resemble real books that you flip the pages, and EVEN HAVE PAGE NUMBERS (which is an enormously small but frustrating thing on the Kindle).

    People complain about the weight (who've never handled one). I asked my wife, who is the primary user, if the weight bothers her. Answer: no. (And for the record, I'm re-reading Stephen King's "Bag of Bones" in hardcover, and this 500+ page book probably weighs more than the iPad).

    Does the finger smudges bother her? A little, she says, but not much. I gave her a special cloth for screens and they wipe them right away.

    Besides reading books on the iPad, what has the family used it for? My wife listens to NPR when she misses the programs on the radio, reads, USA Today and the BBC. There's an app for magazines that's really fabulous. I read part of an article on it from Esquire last night about Hilary Clinton and this app is totally, totally awesome, because all the images are high-resolution color!!!

    E-mail. Websurfing. Netflix (yes, you can watch instant movies or movies you rent or buy on it from the iTunes store as well).

    Games. I downloaded a free chess program (Warchess) last night, and the 3D fantasy chess part of it resembles "Wizard's Chess" from the Harry Potter novels. Very cool.

    If you get the 3G version, in case there's no wi-fi anywhere near you (?), you don't have to sign up for a full subscription like you do for a phone, but can buy it by a monthly subscription rate, which at the moment is $14.99 for 250MB/month or $29.99 Unlimited. If you don't need it because you're at home and you have wi-fi, don't pay for it (or don't get the 3G version).

    Is it better than a Kindle? It's almost an apples and oranges comparison. The Kindle is an e-reader. Period. The iPad is a multimedia device that includes an e-reader. One plus for the iPad over the Kindle, in my opinion, is color. I read a fair number of magazines and expect to be primarily reading them on an iPad in the near future.

    Now, if I could just tear the damned thing away from my wife and kids long enough...

  8. One more point, I guess. Does anybody NEED an iPad or a Kindle?

    Get real. I've got enough unread paper books on my shelves to keep me busy for about 2 years, and as far as I can tell as a reader, no e-reader offers an advantage over a book in terms of actually reading.

    Nearly everything the iPad does is done by other things, like my iPhone, my son's iPod Touch, my laptop, or my computer.

    Nope. No NEEDS here. But pretty cool gadgets, nonetheless.

  9. You're right, Wilfred, Entourage has some major gaps that I simply don't understand.
    And lately the iPhone mail account has been driving me nuts because there's no ability to filter spam.
    I have to say, the backlight actually makes it better for me, because the Kindle and Reader can't be used in low light environments. But the glare might get to you after awhile.
    Thanks for covering the other apps, Mark. They are quite cool.

  10. After watching the Alice in Wonderland example, I began to wonder if they shouldn't have done The Emperor Who Wore No Clothes instead. That example is about like a popup book. Yeah, we could use it for other books, but just how many books would it actualy help? I think there is potential, but the Alice in Wonderland thing makes me just ask why?

  11. For writers, Michelle, you raise a fascinating question. How will writing for an audience that will endlessly interrupt themselves be different than the current way we write a novel, essentially trying to create a seamless dream, at least within a chapter or section, much as movies do. What new techniques, styles, and forms will this kind of "ADHD" experience of a "book" create?

    I was going to wait for the price drop, but won a 3G ipad at work (call it a Maxipad and the mystique evaporates!). The 3g plan is smart -- you can pay for just a month, anytime, and cheap limited download vs. more expensive unlimited. No commitment. So when I travel, hello 3G. Otherwise, I'll ruthlessly exploit the wireless. If only they'd hurry up and deliver the thing!

  12. Exactly, Mysti. For better or worse, it has the potential to change things.
    So jealous you won one, btw!

  13. I must admit I get tired of the iPad bashing from people who haven't use one. Once you had it in your hands you realized what a game changer it is.

    I'm finding different uses for it each day (like having tweetdeck open so I don't have to open and close windows on my computer). Yes it's a gadget and not necessary but for those who like such things it's a cool device.

    Being an app designer, I find the whole app platform very exciting especially when it comes to engaging kids. The debate over "is it good for kids" will never be answered, there are to many opinions to get the right answer and in today's world it is all changing so fast. I say enjoy the iPad for what it is and how you can use it. It's a fun world if you choose t play.