14 April 2010

The ebook reading experience, Apple, Kindle et al

I must say I'm enjoying reading all the reviews of the iPad since its U.S. debut on April 3rd. One of the reviews I liked the most was from the LA Times where they spoke about differences between the Kindle (being the market leader) and the Apple ipad (the choice of the next generation) in terms of the book reading experience.

While it might not be on the top of the lists for some people, personally I was really glad to hear about the traditional page designation, that you could view two pages across the screen (if it was your preference), and that Apple has a grasp on what it's like to turn a page. The process of selecting a book, reading it and turning to the next page is part of the established reading experience. At least those of us of a certain age! As those of you who have followed this blog since the early days - particularly my friends and industry colleagues on Facebook (where I have it linked) - you may remember I wasn't a fan of the delay between pages on e-readers, the screen going black or the words fading out and then replaced by new ones. You were conscious you were reading something electronic, something that was processing data, something different…

E-readers also display the number of pages left – which of course vary depending on what font size you were reading with in the first place! The Sony PRS 700 displays the data as your current page number of the total page count. Amazon's Kindle does a percentage bar. To the reviewer in the LA Times, this was “data” but I don’t necessarily agree. You want to know how you are going whether it’s number of pages or percentage read.

Yes it can sometimes be discouraging when reading books like “Pillars of the Earth” – some 1,000 pages in its printed form and much more in its electronic! Luckily I was caught up in Ken Follett’s story otherwise I would have groaned at the thought of another 1,000 pages to go. However I must admit there has been the odd book where I’ve noted what page I’m up to, the number of pages in the ebook, and thought “how am I going to make it!?”. Then again that’s no different to the physical book. But I’m more prone to flip the pages of the printed book and glance across the text to see if I want to continue with it. I’m not particularly good at doing that on the e-reader because I have such concerns about losing my page. I’ve done it countless times. While it remembers where you end off each time – starting up exactly on that page when you switch the device back on - when you start going backwards and forwards through the text it starts to get really annoying if you didn't note where you started. I’ve had to search for text to find my original location - otherwise it could be hundreds of page turns to get back to where I was.

Anyway, I’m rambling.Back to the subject at hand.

Another item that is consistently mentioned with e-readers is the glare. Apparently one of the strengths of the Kindle is its non reflective screen. I don't have a Kindle (never liked the look of it myself) and I don't like the "clunkiness" of some e-readers like the ECO/Hanlin. The touch screen of my Sony is fine (was relatively unique at the time of purchase) but the glare from lights is dreadful.

In comparison to the multi-functional iPad, regardless of glare, touch-screen, weight etc all e-readers on the market have now paled in comparison. They are the beta model. They look boring, dull, and grey. I looked at the e-reader yesterday and the shine had gone. It looked like something that was going to end up in the rubbish heap.

Interesting to read Mike Shatzkin's comments on the iPad, particularly the weight of the device and the whole process of search & discoverability within the various ebook portals. iBook has a long way to go with content and with their data management. Finding what you want to read is half the battle and I can perfectly understand where Laura Dawson comes from every time she mentions metadata. Ebook vendors neeed to understand the reading experience and what a reader is looking for. Help us find what we like! I beg you. In the meantime, Mike doesn't believe the iPad won't put all other e-readers out of business. He believes it will help grow the market but "the makers of lighter and cheaper e-ink devices don’t have to leave the field just yet." Will be interesting to see how it all pans out for those readers of ebooks, their chosen device and the reading experience they prefer.

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