After several weeks with the iPad, I’ve come to the conclusion that while the iPad certainly provides the perception of a better user experience for sustained reading, it is in fact much less useful for this purpose than the Kindle.
The iPad is by design an enormously distracting device. Its extreme responsiveness leads me to constantly switch context between any of a dozen different compelling sources of content and interaction. It exacerbates my latent ADD and drives me to a manner of consumption that is at cross purposes to sustained, continuous reading. This is very similar to the experience Terje Hillesund reports for his subject “Adam” in his First Monday article on expert reading.
In contrast, the Kindle makes doing anything other than turning pages one after the other difficult, eliminating the distractions that exist on the IPad. On the Kindle, I find myself blowing through books that I want to read all of the way through very quickly as a result, with the Kindle seeming to fade from consciousness in the manner reported by many, including Nicholson Baker in his review of the Kindle in the New Yorker.
It’s not a completely black-and-white story. The Alice on the iPad app has received a lot of attention for hinting at a degree of interactivity for a certain class of children’s books that cardboard pop-up books can only dream of. The discontinuous reading described by Hillesund as performed by expert readers when engaged in learning or research is not well supported on the Kindle due to its ponderousness, yet could be on the iPad. However, I have yet to see such an app; the iPad version of the Kindle software simply reproduces the continuous reading experience of the Kindle device.
So to my mind, for the type of reading involved in consuming novels or authoritative non-fiction that should be read in whole, the Kindle is a better device. In fact, the less effort Amazon puts into emulating Apple’s apps and the more it focuses on providing the best possible sustained reading experience, the better off the Kindle and its users will be.
As it is a stunning day here in Southern California, I hasten to add that the combination of a superior sustained reading experience, the e-ink display’s ability to be easily read in direct sunlight, and the loss of perceived value of the Kindle compared to its shinier, glitzier competitor make it the device of choice for reading summer potboilers at the beach, an environment to which I would usually be loath to expose pricey computing devices.