Saturday, June 12, 2010

Getting a Read on the iPad

There are many people in publishing who are bewildered by the rapid technological advances that are having an impact on their troubled industry. Despite being a “techno” guy, I have been equally resistant to the lure of digital e-books. I simply love the feel of paper on my fingers and the excitement of turning the pages of a wonderful work of fiction. However, I finally determined I was being too much like King Canute, resisting the electronic tide. So I decided to check out what it’s like to read on a tablet computer.

While there’s certainly a plethora of reading devices available--including Amazon’s Kindle, the Sony e-Reader, and Barnes & Noble’s Nook--I chose to go with Apple’s iPad. That decision was based in large part on a Facebook entry by author David Morrell, who said he loves the iPad’s quick Internet access and multimedia features, as well as the freedom it gives him to read lots of books while traveling, without having to worry about packing their extra weight.

The iPad was released at the end of May--with much hullabaloo--in the UK and elsewhere around the world, about two months after its U.S. launch. For myself, I chose the 32-gigabyte (GB) version with wireless Internet access, which set me back £499. The cheapest model in Great Britain is the 16 GB wireless version at £429, with the top-range 64 GB versions (with 3G network access) going for £699, which is significantly more expensive than Apple’s U.S. pricing.

So now that I’ve had the device for a couple of weeks, what do I think?

Well, I must admit that the iPad is a remarkable device. And it does a great deal more than the pure e-book readers. But it also has some noticeable drawbacks.

The iPad is remarkably easy to use. No instructions come with the tablet; it is intuitive, and within minutes I was operating the thing without a hitch. My children assured me, “Dad, it’s basically a big iPhone or iPod Touch for older people, but no camera.” That’s true, but the differences are significant. Having the larger screen on the iPad makes reading on it so much more pleasurable that squinting at text on a telephone screen. My version of the iPad connects effortlessly to wireless networks, which saved me having to spring for the more costly 3G model. Its battery life is quite impressive, but you ought to note one thing: It is best to charge via the “plug adapter.” When using the USB to charge, you have to switch off the iPad; otherwise you’ll get a “Not Charging” screen.

I’ve found the picture quality to be excellent, though trying to read off the screen in bright sunlight is definitely not ideal. And if there’s too much light behind your head, you’ll have to contend with your own reflection on the screen. Using the BBC’s iPlayer feature, I enjoyed sitting with my iPad to watch Wallander, the TV adaptation of Swedish author Henning Mankell’s novels. The only drawback is that the picture stalls occasionally, which may have to do with the fact that the data required for the BBC iPlayer hogs the bandwidth.

There is a staggering number of applications (“apps”) available for the iPad, many of them free or available at a nominal charge, such as a Kindle App that allows iPad users to download Kindle-ized books.

Buying and downloading books (both in text and audio form), films, and music is simple using the Apple iTunes store. In fact, it’s almost too simple--and damnably tempting (a real threat to those of us trying to restrain our credit-card expenditures). It took me a while to reorganize my purchases from iPad for synchronizing with my laptop computer, but once I’d mastered this procedure, I could easily back up my newly acquired material.

The iPad e-mail facility is, in my opinion, a genuine time-saver. Its “hot key” allows you to check your e-mail messages in seconds, and it’s extremely easy to set up.

I even came to enjoy reading books and newspapers on the iPad. You can use your finger on the touch-screen to “flick” the pages and change or resize type fonts. I can imagine this device will be very useful when dealing with multimedia works, or those that incorporate graphics. I am especially pleased, though, with listening to audiobooks on the iPad (with headphones option), as the sound quality is outstanding. By the way, the first novel I downloaded to this device was Steve Hamilton’s excellent new standalone, The Lock Artist.

Although still costly, the iPad seems to be a wonderful gadget. And it’s apparently having a favorable affect on the publishing industry. As TeleRead explains:
Total first-week e-book sales for Stieg Larsson’s instant bestseller The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest amounted to nearly 30% of all units sold, according to a report today from Publisher’s Marketplace.

The popular subscription-based book industry Web site’s mid-day newsletter is reporting that “Knopf Doubleday spokesman Paul Bogaards says their internal figures show an approximate first week sell-through of 425,000 units--which includes 125,000 e-book editions.”

If we do the math for ourselves, this translates into a 29.4 percent e-book share of the title’s total sell-through, which would be by far the largest percentage yet reported for e-book sales of a major trade bestseller.
Despite my enthusiasm for the iPad, I have to say that it’s not going to replace my fondness for books on paper. As Morrell observed, though, it will be useful when I’m traveling. I can finally go away from home without lugging a special hold-all crammed with reading material. Both my family and the airlines should be happy with this change in my behavior.


Joe Barone said...

I read on a Kindle. One of the advantages of an e-reader which I've not seen much about is that you can vary the size of the type. For those who now need large print books to be able to still read a book, the machine has that function built in. Because of e-readers,such people should have many more books available to them, and the books should be more readily available.

I think that is a terrific advantage most commentators on this technology overlook.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

No one loves real books more than me - I've been a bookworm since I was a kid. But I'd never part with my eReader either.

rskrlac said...

I have heard that the iPad is also excellent for children's picture books. Does anyone have feedback on this?

Thanks for this article. I'm wrestling with getting an iPad. Your article tips my decision in iPad's favour.

kathy page said...

I tired the ipad in the store recently and all the above is true.. but it did seem awfully heavy - dense, somehow. I couldn't imagine reading it in bed... (let alone in the bath)...

Unknown said...

Call me crazy, but I love carrying around books! Ever since I was a little girl I have always toted books. These days when a line is long, I pull out a book and forget about the headache.

But, I do agree that I was totally impressed with Winnie the Pooh and the color illustrations on iPad. Very impressive!

My only other point is that the iPad is heavy-heavier than most paperback books. So...I'm still toting my favorite book around!