Sunday, January 31, 2010

Two Kinds of Book Readers

To get to the heart of Kindle - iPad issue we need to understand that there are two kinds of books. One kind of book is what I will call "page turners". You start reading the book at page 1 and read sequentially turning the pages until you get to the end. The other type of book I will call "reference". You start reading the book by going to the index or the page of contents, finding the topic you are interested in and proceeding from there. Books such as dictionaries and encyclopedias are organized as indexes to make look up easier.

Of course, nothing is ever completely black and white. There are plenty of books that fall between the two poles of page turners and reference books. For example, a book of poems may be organized to be read as a page turner, however it will also contain an index of poems and perhaps an index of first lines. Many technical books are written as both a page turner and a reference. Perhaps on first encounter you read it cover to cover and then use it as a reference book. The way we read magazines and newspapers is more like a reference book than a page turner. In a magazine we look at the index to find the article we want to read, or flip through the pages to find something eye catching. Scanning a newspaper is a similar act.

The point of all this is that the Kindle book reader is a device that is optimized for reading page turners. Navigation is difficult. While the Kindle in theory can be used to read newspapers and magazines, it has not been very successful in this application. The iPad on the other hand has all the touch based navigation mechanisms and also the advantages of the web like hypertext and search engines.

In summary the Kindle is a gadget for reading a specific type of book and nothing else. As such is is effective and well received by dedicated readers of page turner books, a small but devoted audience. The Kindle is limited by its niche. The iPad is a much more general device that does book reading as one of its many functions. Better navigation and the display means that it can be used to consume all media types, and it is particularly good for navigation heavy media such as newspapers and magazines and reference material.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

iPad Excitement

After weeks of excitement, build up suspense and leaks, Apple finally got around to announcing their large form iPod Touch, called the iPad. Already it is being decried all over the internet for its many deficiencies. In summary, the complaints come from a bunch of geeks who say that the iPad is too deficient and locked down to be the kind of computer system that they can play with, and anyway they already have enough computer systems, so why do they need another one. The simple answer to these complaints is that nobody is forcing them to buy an iPad.

I see the iPad as a lifestyle device. It is the thing I have in my living room so that while watching a movie, I can look it up on IMDB, perhaps to find out who is that familiar looking actor in a cameo role. In the kitchen I can use the iPad to look up a recipe, and in the breakfast nook to skim the morning newspaper headlines over a cup of coffee. Last thing at night, I can use the iPad to read blogs, news magazines or a few pages from a book before going to sleep.

In my opinion, the most interesting thing about the iPad is that Apple is playing to their strength as a systems integrator. The iPad has lightning performance and good battery life because Apple has developed their own processor chip in tune with the software that runs on it. Admittedly the software comes with plenty of restrictions like a lack of multi-tasking. However, as is often the case with Apple, the end result is "less is more".

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

3D - Not

We are hearing big things about 3D. The movie Avatar was recently released in two different 3D systems, and at the CES trade show, several television makers announced that they will have 3D TVs available later this year. Optimism abounds. Someone in the panel for the This Week in Tech episode broadcast from the CES show in Las Vegas said they managed to watch a 3D demo for several minutes before they got a headache.

The real problem is that we have been here before. Every few years there is a new 3D system that is going to change the world of visual media. 3D still pictures are 100 years old. The first 3D movies were released in the 1950's. I saw "Flesh for Frankenstein" in 3D more than 30 years ago. Since then we have had 3 or 4 more 3D hype cycles. The result has always been the same, a lot of huff and puff with no lasting result. I see no reason why 3D should fare any better this time than it has on all the previous occasions.