Kindle 3: I am not an iPad

Dean Johnson, Creative Director, Brandwidth

I’ve just ordered my Kindle 3 – not in itself an extraordinary statement. But coming from me, a voracious advocate of all things Apple (the iPad in particular), this must surely indicate a change of heart…

Let’s ignore all the technical specification for now. On paper the Kindle is a clear loser in terms of overall capability, it’s when we separate real-world usage that the meaningful fight begins. If we take a look at why the iPad, Kindle and the original favourite, the paper-based novel, exist then we are able to make better comparisons.

I spend a lot of my time defending the mere existence of the iPad. The oft-repeated ‘it’s just a big iPhone’ is regularly thrown at me but I’m always happy to agree as the screen size is what makes this Apple device such an engaging platform. I’m running the risk of sounding like a commercial for Apple by stating that the iPad is fast, colourful, compatible, and flexible (not literally). The apps make the device come to life but Apple’s user interface joins all the disparate parts together – from email to music to film to game-playing to internet browsing – it all works seamlessly and intuitively, with the multi-touch interaction second-nature to users.

That’s enough about iPads; I’m here to comment on Amazon’s next big thing. Actually, big is exactly what the new Kindle isn’t. The last generation eBook reader had a larger plastic border surrounding the 6 inch E-ink screen, this new compact model provides a more functional solution. For those who already own a previous generation Kindle, the new model is lighter, thinner, smaller and cheaper.

So why conquer the Amazon rather than take a bite of the Apple? What the Kindle does very effectively is provide a genuine alternative to reading a paper-based novel. To comment on its ability to read PDFs and newspapers and attempt to browse the web is a waste of pixels and is certainly not a productive use of our time. Black and white are not the colours of the future and this is not a Tablet PC, so it shouldn’t try to emulate one. I rest my case.

Colour is not what the Kindle is about and that is why Amazon should forget about adding any features that Apple is currently offering. The iPad is heavy (it’s not a one-handed reading option), it’s shiny (the reflective backlit screen isn’t as easy on the eye as the Kindle or a book) and it’s now considerably more expensive – the WiFi Kindle 3 is a ‘mere’ £109, compared to the cheapest 16GB WiFi iPad at £429.

This brings us to the third option in our list of reading devices – a book. I still love books. Bookshelves are fabulous things that provide a glimpse into a collector’s soul in a way that a scrollable list or a beautifully rendered virtual shelf just can’t achieve. A bookshelf is a public display of the most intimate literature to have passed before our eyes and provides rich decoration wherever it hangs.

I want my novels to be portable, robust, lightweight and simple to purchase. If I can pick up a novel for 50p in a charity shop or save money on an author series, I demand the same for its digital equivalent. I’m willing to pay a premium for a hardback but there is no double-hit with a digital book. I expect all the same discounts to be applied, no matter which platform I choose.

I am not willing to pay more for the ‘convenience’ of being able to carry my entire book collection around with me as I don’t currently feel inconvenienced by my physical book collection (OK, ask me that again next time I move house). Reference material is another matter but more than likely to require colour or enhanced content, thus rendering the Kindle the second choice.

Until I feel comfortable leaving my e-book reader on a sun lounger around a hotel swimming pool or reading in the bath, there will still be a place for a paper novel. Suggestions on a postcard, or email, or Tweet…

Currently, Apple is offering us everything conveniently in one package and Amazon are promising to deliver the best monochrome reading experience. I admire Amazon for providing valuable competition but they must keep focus as it is inevitable that the next generation of iPads will be thinner, lighter and cheaper. This will leave the Kindle’s sole USP – its paper-like E-ink screen. Amazons need to shift a lot of stock before Apple offers this too.

Until then, My laptop bag will continue to bulge as I add more devices and my bookshelves aren’t in danger of being taken down, however they’re not filling up at quite the same rate.

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