Why I Traded In The Kindle For The iPad

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After much thought, my Kindle DX went on eBay and an iPad was reserved at the Apple Store for this Saturday, April 3rd.  Many are understandably skeptical about the iPad and the Kindle still enjoys rave reviews, but for me the decision ended up being a no-brainer.  Let’s start out by listing all of the features that the Kindle can boast over the iPad:

  • eInk display gives you the feel that you are reading regular paper, reducing eye strain and allowing you to read in direct sunlight without glare.  It also allows for incredible battery life because power is only used when rendering a page; it can be displayed forever.
  • The Kindle comes with WhisperSync, a fancy marketing word which means “free 3G wifi through Sprint”

funny-apple-ipad1-227x300Realizing that these two points were near worthless for me was when my decision was made, for all intents and purposes.  As someone who used his  Kindle for several months, I have to say that the eInk technology looks really nice.  When I first received my device, I couldn’t believe for a minute or two that I was looking at dynamic pixels and not something static.  However, in practice there are some serious shortcomings in the technology.  For as pleasing to the eye as it is in pretending to be regular paper, it renders incredibly slowly.  If you’re going to the next page of all text, you’re looking at a noticeable-but-usable delay of maybe one-half to one second.  If your next page is a big graphic, then you could be looking at several seconds while it loads up.  But, the biggest exposure of this shortcoming comes when you want to navigate inside the page for some reason.  See, with the Kindle your form of page navigation comes in the form of a 5-way directional button.  The two big reasons for navigating are either to move your cursor to a word in order to see its definition, or to a linked footnote.  Moving your cursor around the words in the page was a painful process.  If you’ve ever had to type on a terminal over the Internet with bad lag (perhaps through a modem), the lagging frustration you feel as you have to keep telling your brain to slow down is a similar experience.

The Kindle’s WhisperSync feature single handedly makes the device near idiot-proof.  “Idiot” is probably a misleading word, a better description might be technologically-challenged-proof.  See, because of WhisperSync, there is absolutely no need for a regular user to ever connect their Kindle to their computer.  In fact, it would be perfectly fine if they had no computer or internet connection at all!  Amazon’s book store system is incredibly simple, intuitive, and it retrieves books very quickly.  My mother is a great usability litmus test as to how truly easy a piece of technology is to use.  Incidentally, several commercial software companies would probably do themselves many favors by hiring people just like my mother to perform usability testing.  As an engineer, I can do my best to try to predict what would be easiest for the user to do, but what I cannot do is truly simulate just how terrifying it is for some to use any piece of electronics that come with more than two buttons.  Working as a teacher’s assistant for an adult night class beginner’s course at Saint Louis University and spending over five minutes showing someone how to double click a mouse can give an incredibly broad perspective on the true breadth of the usability spectrum as far as technology is concerned.

But, I digress.  In short, WhisperSync’s advantages are that you remove the external computer aspect, and you can download books from anywhere.  Again as great as it sounds in theory, it was not of much practical use.  The dreams of downloading a book while out at the beach go away when you realize you only read it in your house.  And if you do travel with it, books are not something that cause you to use WhisperSync hardly any, if at all.  I’d be among the last to win any speed-reading contests, so it takes me more than a short time to read a book.  All of this time is spent off of WhisperSync.  In fact, I left WhisperSync off all of the time anyway just to save on battery.

Now that the two aforementioned exclusive selling points were largely neutralized, look at the selling points that the iPad has over the Kindle:

  • 16GB of memory compared to 4GB for the Kindle DX
  • Full color LED display, compared to 16 shades of grey for Kindle’s eInk
  • Supports the open EPUB e-book format, Kindle does not
  • Much more than an eReader, it has full support for iPhone/iTouch applications including web browsing, watching videos and email

alg_pee_wee_ipadFor almost the same price as a Kindle DX, I feel like I get the Kindle’s features (the ones that have at least a small importance to me, that is) and far more.  When Steve Jobs announced the iPad he sat in his fake living room chair with his device in his lap, presumably in the same pose that every too-cool-for-school Mac guy sits when they use their Macbooks.  It was marketed to fill the gap on technical tasks that were too big for a pocket-sized cellphone, but too small for a big clunky laptop. 

It just so happens that my life has such a gap.  With the birth of our daughter, my days of squirreling away exclusively in my office are pretty well over (at least for the next several years).  Our living room has become our ground-zero of sorts; it's where half of the inventory of Toys R Us resides, and she is far happier when playing while both of us are in the same room.  Often times I will sit on the floor and play with my Android phone while my daughter plays, as she doesn’t require you to be paying close attention to her, she just likes having you around.  Doing certain tasks on the fly is great for a smart phone such as an Android or iPhone, but when you’re down there for hours you wouldn’t mind having something bigger.  A laptop would be fine, but I’d have to make sure my power cord wasn’t too far away after a while, and apparently my daughter is attracted to laptop keyboards much in the same way that moths are attracted to flames.  So when she takes interest in that keyboard, hit Win-L to lock your keyboard and let her slap away at it until her arms get tired.  With an iPad, it would be much easier to just set it away out of arm’s reach.

Shortly the iPad will be in my hands, and I’ll post a full review.

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