Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Apple’s iPad Is for Stories, Not for Books (iBooks: 2.0/10.0)

We’re stepping a bit out of the box here at The Literate Man today to bring you a review of book-related technology. Now, before my office is raided by a team of Apple goons, let me be clear that I love the Apple iPad. For those of us that enjoy stories as related by the more visual media—including the Internet, videos, television shows, and movies—it is nothing short of revolutionary. However, recognizing that The Literate Man is a blog for and about literature, the iPad’s performance as an e-reader leaves much to be desired. In fact, in terms of technology designed to present words on a page, it is not even in the same class as a Kindle or Sony eReader, leaving me to wonder how Apple can even market the e-reader potential of the device with a straight face. In short, the iPad is not the right choice for anyone that is serious about reading content (other than Internet content) on an electronic device.

A little bit of background: I am a traditionalist. As you will note from several of the posts here, I like nothing better than the smell and feel of an old, worn (preferably first run) copy of a work of classic literature. Nevertheless, I recognize convenience and have been reading books on electronic devices for more than ten years. I am dead serious when I tell you that I read not only War and Peace, but also Moby Dick and Anna Karenina, on an early version of the Palm Pilot. Fortunately for all of us, the technology has improved greatly. I have been using a Sony Pocket eReader for approximately six months now. And I do have problems with the Sony. It is simply maddening to attempt to read any type of work with footnotes—David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest just about drove me to the mental state of Hal Incandenza. But the Sony device is lightweight, the type is crisp and clear, and there is absolutely no problem reading in full sunlight. As such, I have continued to use the Sony with pleasure and, in fact, just finished Joyce’s The Dubliners, for which a review will be forthcoming.

As for the iPad, I picked it up about two weeks ago, more for the media-related functions than the iBooks application, which has been widely criticized. Still, I thought that I would probably use the iPad as an e-reader on occasion, and I looked forward to enjoying its innovations. But—and here’s the point—there are none, at least none that I find useful or even noteworthy. It is quite simply a portable computer screen with a white background upon which blurry black type is placed – it is, in short, a Word document. But that’s not all. I have used it to read in a variety of contexts now, and I have found every one difficult and troublesome. To begin with, the weight of the device prohibits you from holding it aloft like a book for any period of time. And, as previously mentioned, the text is anything but crisp, making the reader’s eyes tire after only a few minutes of reading and resulting in a pounding headache if one reads for any extended period of time. And, did you say that you like to read at the beach? Forget it. The device is a better mirror than an e-reader in direct sunlight.

There’s more, but I think the point is made. For me, the iPad is a wonderful media device (and I plan to use it heavily for such), but a complete failure as an e-reader.


  1. Fortunately, I doubt I will ever be able to afford an ipad so I wont have to worry too much about it :-) Great review of the device though

  2. As a reader, you're not missing anything, Becky. But the media capabilities are impressive.

  3. First off, my husband would be sooooooo jealous you have an ipad but secondly thanks for putting my mind at rest. When eventually e-books come down in price I'll stick to a kindle.

  4. Hi ... I found you via Becky so I thought I'd check you out.

    I've been lusting after an iPad but couldn't justify its purchase to my husband. I just think I've missed the boat on everything else Apple related so I wanted to get in on the ground floor. I already have a Kindle (love it!) so I wouldn't really need it for an e-reader. I guess I view it as a portable computer ... but I know I couldn't blog on it because I cannot type on the screen with any speed. I think I want one just because it looks cool. My thought is that if the iPad was more the size of a Kindle, it would be more useful.

  5. Jessica, you're definitely making the right price. And, I think the competition with B&N has just brought the Kindle down to $189. Now may be the right time to buy.

    Jenners, you're absolutely right. I've tried blogging on the iPad and it is frustrating. If you do a lot of surfing the Internet or watching visual media, however, it is a truly wonderful device. I guess it's simply true that one device cannot be all things to all people.