The iPad May Kill the Kindle, But Amazon Could Still Come Out Ahead: The Only Comparison You Need to Read

If you’re interested in the electronic book craze, but you don’t yet own an e-book reading device, your options just got a lot more complicated. Not only are there a handful of great devices that use electrophoretic screens from Cambridge, MA-based E Ink, such as the Amazon Kindle, the Barnes & Noble Nook, and the Sony Reader Daily Edition; now there’s also the Apple iPad, for which there are at least 400 book-related apps, notably Apple’s own iBooks and a superb Kindle app from Amazon. What’s a reader to do?

I could go on for screens and screens about the relative merits of the iPad and the E Ink devices—and I will. But let me cut to the chase. It pains me a little to say it—and it will certainly pain Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Sony—but if you haven’t already bought a Kindle-style device, don’t. You’d be far better off saving up your cash and buying an iPad, even though the low-end iPad, at $499, is almost twice as expensive as the Kindle and the Nook, which cost $259.

Why? Because the iPad offers not only the best e-book reading experience available, but can do thousands of other amazing things too. The Kindle, even if it does connect with Facebook and Twitter now, is just a Kindle.

Now, I’m still a devoted Kindle fan. And even though my own Kindle has probably been feeling neglected since I brought home my iPad on April 3, I want to make it clear that I don’t think current Kindle owners should feel remorseful about their purchases. The Kindle has its advantages and may still be the better choice for some people.

But the simple fact is that the iPad really is almost as magical as Steve Jobs promised it would be, at least in my opinion. It accomplishes the main goal of any handheld e-book device—breaking digital text free of its former imprisonment on the screens of desktop and laptop PCs and presenting it in a more portable, book-like form—while performing quite a few other tricks in the bargain. I don’t think the iPad and the other tablet devices coming behind it will completely kill off the E Ink devices, but it will severely limit their market.

I’m going to run through the a list of areas where the iPad clearly outshines the Kindle, and then I’m going to talk about a couple of ways in which the Kindle still beats the iPad. I think that most of what I’m going to say about the Kindle applies to the other E Ink devices too, but I haven’t spent as much time with the Sony or Barnes & Noble e-readers, so I won’t make any strong claims about them. The bottom line is that Amazon should probably concentrate on marketing e-book content, because there’s no way it can compete with Apple’s hardware.

1. The Screen.

No contest here. The iPad’s screen is obviously larger than the Kindle’s—45 square inches for Apple’s gadget, compared to 17 square inches for Amazon’s—but it’s also got a) color b) animation c) multi-touch. When you download Apple’s iBooks app, you get a free copy of A.A. Milne’s 1926 classic Winnie-the-Pooh, including Ernest H. Shepherd’s original color illustrations, which is quite canny of Apple, because the book shows off the brilliant LCD screen (and is also sure to prompt the children of iPad owners to demand more e-books). Placed next to an iPad, the Kindle looks rather sad. It’s just fine for monochrome graphics—in fact, its electronic-ink screen has a higher effective resolution than the iPad’s—but let’s face it, even the New York Times gave up on black-and-white back in the ’90s.

If your platform has a color screen powered by a speedy graphics chip, that means you can enhance your e-books with video and animation (more on that below). And when you combine animation with a touchscreen, the reading interface itself can be brought to life. On a Kindle, you advance through a book by clicking a physical “next page” button. But on the iPad, you sweep your finger across the page, in a motion that’s pretty much the same as … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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8 responses to “The iPad May Kill the Kindle, But Amazon Could Still Come Out Ahead: The Only Comparison You Need to Read”

  1. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    Coincidentally, Steve Haber, the president of Sony’s Digital Reading business, published a piece yesterday at Huffington Post on “Why the iPad Won’t Kill eReaders.” Echoing Scott Jacobson (the ex-Amazon exec), Haber says that the iPad “may be really good for short form reading — newspapers, email even a book here and there, but that’s only in-between using the device for all the other things it can do. eReader owners are a different crowd. They’re book aficionados, just as digital camera owners are photo aficionados.”

    I think Haber and Jacobson are right that there is a segment of the market—the exact segment that was attracted to the Sony and Amazon devices—who are most interested in long-form reading. My point is that if a device came along that was great for long-form reading (which the iPad is, despite dismissals like Haber’s) and could do everything else that these same book aficionados no doubt need to do in the course of their day, there’d be no requirement to own a dedicated e-book device. That’s why I think the iPad will drastically cut into the market for the Daily Edition, the Kindle, and the Nook. I don’t think there are very many readers these days who just need to read books, and don’t need to check their e-mail or the weather or make shopping lists.

    By the way, I published a long interview with Haber back in October 2009.

  2. Scott says:

    Wade, I think you missed the point about screens… its not color or size, it’s back-lit vs reflective. The back-lit screen of the iPad will tire one’s eyes much faster than the Kindle’s reflective E-ink screen.
    Also using a back-lit screen close to bedtime can play games with your sleep cycle:

  3. David L says:

    Scott, I’m with you. Like many other readers I spend much of our workday looking at a computer monitor, and the idea of going home and reading something on a back-lit screen makes me want to just go to sleep instead. The kindle’s electrophoretic screen, on the other hand, is almost indistinguishable from paper and is SO pleasant to read.

  4. Wade RoushWade Roush says:

    @Scott, @David L,

    Thanks for your comments. Personally I don’t buy the notion that backlit LCD screens cause excessive eye strain. If that were true, most knowledge workers—who, if they are anything like me, spend 8-12 hours a day staring at a laptop screen or desktop monitor—would be walking around with constant migraines. And nobody seemed too concerned about this issue with the first-generation e-book devices, the Rocket eBook and Softbook Reader, circa 1998-2002, which had backlit LCD screens.

    The evidence about backlit screens interfering with melatonin levels and sleep patterns seems sketchy at best. There is preliminary evidence that iPad usage actually peaks around 11 p.m., which says to me that people love using their iPads in bed. And if you’re really worried about the screen glow, you can simply turn down the iPad’s brightness, either from the main settings panel or from within the iBooks and Kindle apps.

    It’s certainly true that the e-paper screens are more legible than LCD screens in bright light, especially outdoors. That’s one advantage I didn’t list here.

  5. John says:

    This bit: “The iPad’s screen is obviously larger than the Kindle’s—45 square inches for Apple’s gadget, compared to 17 square inches for Amazon’s”:

    Wouldn’t it be a bit more fair to compare the screen real estate of the iPad with the Kindle DX (9.7″ diagonal — some 44 square inches)?


    The regular Kindle’s form factor is, in fact, so small that the comparison with the iPad is really about devices designed for genuinely different relationships between the reader and the device. You really can hold the small Kindle in one hand. One could easily argue that this size difference is in favor of the Kindle for certain modes of reading.

  6. Susan says:

    As you have seen this did not happen in last few months and its not possible either because both the products belong to different categories. Check this video in which amazon shows the difference between both.