Kindle, iPad, tablet: not the same, with good reason

I just ran across an article claiming that iPads are superior to Kindles because iPads are more than just e-readers.

I love my Mac, but I love my Kindle, too. I love them for different reasons. I love that I can play with Calibre, Stanza, iMovie, and all Teh Internetz on my Mac. I love that I’m seriously unable to get distracted by web-surfing and e-mailing on my Kindle, and that I don’t need Calibre or Stanza to create readable personal files (thank you, .doc files, e-mail, and

I use my Kindle for reading, annotating what I read, and occasionally hitting the wi-fi to download the daily paper, classics from Project Gutenberg, some feverishly-typed-up study notes, or copies of my favorite magazines. For people who read tons of text, have five too few bookcases, and need to avoid distractions, the paperback-book-sized Kindle is far superior to the iPad. One could send an e-mail in a crisis, assuming wi-fi or 3G capability was up, yet the Kindle’s deliberately too-small keyboard is an effective deterrent for those of us on a social-media diet.

I think of tablets as slightly too-small PDF-reading and e-mail-checking machines with limited typing capabilities–and I mean that as a compliment. Tablets are almost there, as far as research tools, but I’d like to see a true 8.5 x 11 screen size and the ability to highlight and annotate PDFs before I commit to an iPad (or to whomever meets the requirements first). I would love to take a tablet into the stacks with me to take notes (or scan/photograph images) and to fill it with tons of academic database articles and newspapers. (Hey, I’m a writer. I’m a grad student. I have been a reporter and likely will be one again.) However, the tablet/iPad would have to have native PDF annotating and highlighting capabilities to win my eye. And with the AARP about to stalk me, the eyes get priority.

I broke up with my iPod Touch because the mice-type was making me blind and I didn’t enjoy the “alternative” of reading novels half a paragraph at a time. On the Kindle, I can resize text for whatever my need is at a given moment. Resizing PDFs on the small Kindle is a non-starter. (Imagine covering half of a page vertically and then trying to read it.) I thought the big Kindle’s sumptuous 9.7-inch screen would solve both text size and readable-PDF-page problems, but the DX was too awkward and heavy for casual reading or one-handed key-poking, especially for someone with bird-bone wrists and tiny hands. I swapped my big Kindle for a small one and have been watching the iPad/tablet developers duke it out ever since.

I got a great deal on an Acer Iconia A500 for my partner, who was disappointed at not having won an iPad in a drawing at work. Of course the A500 isn’t an iPad, but because she has an Android phone and the A500 runs on Android, it seemed like a good fit. It also seems more practical, in that it has “gigs and gags” the iPad doesn’t, like a mini-SD card reader. She’s warming up to it, in her usual technophobic way. The A500 can talk to her Mac, which treats it as a USB device, and she has many free software options (no online purchasing needed). It talks to her e-mail and she can tap the address on a work order and pull up a Google map. She can take endless cat-worship videos with “The Eye”–“Oh! It has The Eye in the front AND in the back!” And, if you have The Eye, you can use Es-Skippy, just like on the regular computer. A technophobe who develops a secret passion for Google Sky on her phone should have no trouble adapting to the A500.

Why do manufacturers always load stupid games onto your new toy without asking? Why not let us choose the games we want? We’re not all 12-year-old boys trying to sublimate our testosterone rushes via combat sims. I like the occasional game of Asteroids or Pac-Man, and I admit to letting the iPod whip my butt at level-one chess a few times, but I really don’t play games on my e-toys. (Okay, I have played Scrabble online. My idea of portable-device diversion is WriteRoom. Or a fresh download from Project Gutenberg.)

I’d much rather have the option to choose, say, five or six basic productivity programs: a mind-mapper, a PDF annotator, a fully-functional suite like Pages or Office, a web browser, and maybe a Leitner-box flashcard set and a decent gradebook). Call it the iStudy package.

Another marketing tip: Don’t fake-load the program in demo mode, only for users to find out that they have to pay $14.99 to get a fully-functional version (ahem, DataViz…). If the Documents to Go icon shows up, I don’t expect to unwrap a hollow box–and I definitely don’t expect my partner to have to pay for what seems to be a gift. The first thing she asked to see was the word processing program. She didn’t want me to pay for Docs to Go. I thought we could download OpenOffice, but the open-source gods haven’t cobbled the Android tablet version together yet.

Quite a few iPad-armed colleagues would appreciate an essay-grading app. If we could edit the rubric criteria, this would be a must-have. However, if we can’t open and view the essay alongside the app, and iPad can only run one app at a time (really?), we’d still need to pick up paper submissions from students.

How would this make grading any easier for instructors and less confusing for students? It wouldn’t:

“I don’t understand why you didn’t mark up my paper! If you e-mail me comments, why can’t I e-mail you my paper? Why should I have to pay to print out my paper?…”

Really, Apple and other developers have overlooked this research/academic/writerly market niche for too long. Let us decide whether to download Angry Birds or Chess or whatever, but first give us the tools we actually might use with an iPad or other tablet. Include a few good market-targeted programs instead of junk apps priced into the deal yet destined for the recycle bin. That, and a slightly bigger screen, would convince me to part with a few hundred bucks, possibly for the October-surprise version of iPad.

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9 thoughts on “Kindle, iPad, tablet: not the same, with good reason

  1. Kate McClare says:

    Hi Robin:
    Good insights on all these devices. I have a Nook and like it pretty well, but it is S-L-O-W as molasses when it comes to annotating. The Kindle is pretty good at that? I’m thinking of switching.

    I also think the Nook is just awful when it comes to reading between devices. I got a Kindle reader for my BlackBerry and PC, and they sync so beautifully. The Nook is a horror with that.

    • robinkemp says:

      Hi, Kate,

      Kindle is so-so for annotating. Basically, it lets you highlight and save text to a file, but only up to a certain percentage. I assume it has something to do with fair-use limits. You *can* type brief comments to yourself, but I never do so because the keyboard really is basic-bones and unreadable.

      It just so happens that I saw this as a possible solution (akin to Mendeley, but a bit more Mac desktop-looking than iTunes-looking):

      I may finally break down and buy an iPad to go with my Kindle. For many people, the iPad would make the Kindle redundant. But I do like to read in sunlight, and I would use them for different purposes. I still own the Handspring with stylus and fold-up keyboard that I was certain would change my life. I think I should donate it to some field researcher who might actually be able to reprogram it to track exotic snakes or something…

  2. robinkemp says:

    Oh yeah–the October Surprise is supposedly an iPhone, with the new iPad coming in 2012 instead:

  3. Tom says:

    Each has it’s place. I got a Kindle for my birthday, had it two months, while traveling put it in back pocket. I now have new Kindle after testing the screens ability to withstand high compression forces,. in other words it does not last if you sit on it.

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