Tuesday, December 13, 2011

iPads and e-Readers as book replacements?

I've recently started to acquire reference books as PDF files since getting an iPad. I was initially skeptical of this idea after being disappointed trying to read PDF files on a Sony e-ink device. After some software updates and a little experimenting I have found the iPad to be a completely different experience.

The large screen size and, more importantly, the quick navigation have made the iPad a logical choice for reading though a book, magazine or reference manual. Now that Apple has made some tweaks to the book reading application you are now able to sort PDF files into collections and this improves on the slightly clunky, although intuitive, bookshelf metaphor.

The cost is certainly an issue as iPads are not cheap and are rarely discounted. I will suggest that there are other factors which should be balanced against the initial cost:
  1. Convenience: The iPad is always the same size and weight. No matter if it carrying one book or one-thousand it remains a convenient size that can be slipped in a backpack or carried in a case.
  2. Speed: There are several features in software that allow you to quickly turn to the exact page you require or look-up a reference or keyword in the text. Even older books that have been scanned benefit from being able to see many pages at once or bookmark multiple pages for reference later.
  3. Intuitive interface: The bookshelf metaphor used by the iPad's reading application is expanded by the idea of collections of books that the user can manage. Pages are turned by taps or swipes and a single tap in the center of the page brings up additional navigation options. Other iPad gestures like 'pinch to zoom' also allow you to zoom on details or expand a diagram to fill the whole screen.
  4. Long term cost of ownership: Reference books, in particular educational text books, are often priced over $100 USD for a single volume. The same books are often available for much less in electronic format due to the elimination of printing, shipping and storage costs. For people such as myself the books I would like to own are often out of print or, if copies are still available, they are being sold at exorbitant prices. The iPad makes it possible for me to own and enjoy these books with the additional benefit of them not taking up shelf space.
An Apple iPad running the Books application.
There are other tablet devices available and I have used a few for brief periods of time while evaluating different applications. It is my impressions that the iPad does a better job of integration between applications and maintains a consistent user interface across all its applications. There are certainly more options for customization and experimentation on other platforms but for straightforward functionality Apple have the lead at the moment.

As a book collector I hope that we continue to see books printed and I will certainly keep collecting antique books but I do foresee a time when digital books will become the dominant media. I think we have only seen the tip of the iceberg when it comes to digital books, there is much more to come.

To read more about the impact of the Apple iPad in Schools read : Goodbye Textbooks, Hello iPad from PCWorld
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