(A little change of pace for Monday, tech rather than politics.)
Anyone observing my tech purchasing patterns over the last six years (since I got my first Apple laptop, a 12″ PowerBook G4, which I still keep around for sentimental reasons) would probably have been surprised that I didn’t run out and buy the iPad as soon as it was released. I’ll admit it, I’m a huge Apple fanboy, though I like to think of it like MG Siegler at TechCrunch does: I like quality products, and Apple makes quality products. But my general preference for Apple products notwithstanding, I would choose a Kindle over an iPad any day. I love my Kindle 2, to an almost absurd extent, because it is perfectly suited to its purpose: it makes reading much easier.
(Now I have to be honest, I got a Kindle before the iPad was available, so I never had to make the choice between the two. But looking back, I think I made the right decision, and would make the same decision again if it came down to it.)
The primary advantage that the Kindle has over the iPad, in my eyes, is the size. I can read my Kindle anywhere, in pretty much any situation. While cooking? Check. On the bus, where I need one hand to steady myself (Muni drivers are not the smoothest…)? Check. Lying in bed? Check. The Kindle is designed to be held one-handed, with either hand, as it has “Next Page” buttons on both sides of the device. Advancing to the next page doesn’t even require a shift in hand position. Not only is it well designed for holding, it’s extremely easy to carry around with me wherever I go. It fits in the back pocket of a pair of jeans if I just need to free up a hand for a second around the house, or in my coat pocket if I’m going out for the night. I’ve taken to (NERD ALERT) bringing it out to bars sometimes, because you never know when you’re going to need to kill some time. The iPad, in contrast, sacrifices this portability for a bigger screen. Maybe it would work for someone with Shaq-sized, but for my smedium hands, the iPad just feels too big.
The second big advantage that the Kindle has over the iPad is battery life. I’ve heard that the iPad has excellent battery life (I haven’t had the chance to use one to battery exhaustion) but it just can’t compare to the Kindle. I don’t worry about charging my Kindle. I can’t draw the charge all the way down in one sitting, or even over the course of a few days of pretty serious reading, so I always have plenty of chances to plug it in before the battery runs down. And because it’s only an e-reader, and not a multimedia entertainment device like the iPad, I don’t waste the battery doing all of the other things that the iPad allows.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that they like the feel of a book, that there’s something soulless about reading on a Kindle. There’s no real response I can offer to that, as it’s a matter of personal preference (though one that I find ridiculous). Personally, my Kindle makes me miss books about as much as mp3s make me miss CDs. For me, reading is about the words, not the physical object.
There are certainly things that Amazon could do to improve the Kindle, but they’re all software rather than hardware issues. Progress through a book is marked in percentages rather than page numbers, so it becomes much harder to discuss a book with someone reading a paper copy. I would like to see them convert that percent reading into a “closest page” or something similar, which would simply be a matter of conversion. The recent software update changed it so that the page changes when you press down on the “Next Page” button, not when you release. I liked it better the old way. There are other things, but all minor complaints, and I would think they would be easily solved should Amazon decide to do so.
So until Apple comes out with a dedicated e-reader (I don’t think they will, but applying the Apple design rigor to an e-reader would certainly give me pause), I’ll stick with my Kindle. Sure, I can’t stream Netflix on the go (except I can, on my iPhone, which I always have with me anyways), or easily surf the web (iPhone again), or play music (…), but I can take 1000’s of books in my pocket with me wherever I go, and buy new ones with ease. And for me, that’s more important, and the Kindle does it better.