iPad Reviews Raise Doubts About eBook Impact

Apple's iPad and iBookstoreThe early reviews are coming in and Philip Elmer-DeWitt and Pat Kiernan offer some much-needed perspective:

Steve Jobs’ handpicked reviewers have tested his latest creation and pronounced it a winner. The first three reviews of Apple’s (AAPL) tablet computer were posted Wednesday night — each, coincidentally, from newspapers that are developing their own iPad apps.

Elmer-Dewitt, Fortune

I’m increasingly uncomfortable with the relationship Apple has with tech reviewers.  For each product launch, Apple taps a few reviewers on the shoulder with an offer to send a review unit a few days before the rest of the world has access.  Huge numbers of page views and retweets are assured for the writer who is among the chosen few.  But who can be completely objective under these circumstances?

Kiernan, Mediaite

Not surprisingly, the reviews themselves are mostly positive, though not without notable caveats that might not concern the most fanatical early adopters, but should certainly tone down the Amazon vs. Apple hype for a little while.

Walter S. Mossberg, WSJ

It’s qualitatively different, a whole new type of computer that, through a simple interface, can run more-sophisticated, PC-like software than a phone does, and whose large screen allows much more functionality when compared with a phone’s. But, because the iPad is a new type of computer, you have to feel it, to use it, to fully understand it and decide if it is for you, or whether, say, a netbook might do better…

My verdict is that, while it has compromises and drawbacks, the iPad can indeed replace a laptop for most data communication, content consumption and even limited content creation, a lot of the time. But it all depends on how you use your computer.

Tim Gideon, PCMag.com

Apple iPad (Wi-Fi): The fact that you won’t find a single port, USB, or otherwise, tells you that this product is not meant to be a full-fledged computer, or the substitute for one. Apple expects you to use e-mail and syncing to shuttle files and documents between the iPad and your computer. I can understand the decision not to include USB ports: the iPad is basically a big iPod touch with added capabilities, and decking it out with a bunch of ports opens a can of worms the iPad isn’t intended to deal with. Still, this is bound to be a deal breaker for plenty of potential buyers.

David Pogue, New York Times

There’s an e-book reader app, but it’s not going to rescue the newspaper and book industries (sorry, media pundits). The selection is puny (60,000 titles for now). You can’t read well in direct sunlight. At 1.5 pounds, the iPad gets heavy in your hand after awhile (the Kindle is 10 ounces). And you can’t read books from the Apple bookstore on any other machine — not even a Mac or iPhone.

When the iPad is upright, typing on the on-screen keyboard is a horrible experience; when the iPad is turned 90 degrees, the keyboard is just barely usable (because it’s bigger). A $70 keyboard dock will be available in April, but then you’re carting around two pieces.

Edward C. Baig, USA TODAY

But Amazon retains some bragging points for avid readers, starting with a cheaper $259 price that I suspect will need to drop a lot further. At 10 hours or so, the iPad battery life, while impressive, falls far short of the two weeks you might get off a Kindle charge. It remains to be seen whether reading on a backlit screen for hours will be as easy on the eyes as the Kindle is. Curling up in bed was more comfortable with a 10.2-ounce Kindle than with the weightier iPad.

Amazon has about 450,000 book titles in the Kindle Store vs. 60,000 in iBookstore. Many best sellers in Apple’s store cost $12.99, though some are $9.99. Amazon is likely to charge similar prices after iPad arrives; Amazon wouldn’t comment. Out of the gate, Apple has support from major publishers Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster. Random House remains on the sidelines; it does support the Kindle.

Andy Ihnatko, Chicago Sun-Times

The Kindle has a few unbeatable advantages, though. In the price, size, and battery life portions of the competition, the iPad can’t put up any kind of a fight. The Kindle 2 will fit in nearly any back pocket and most jacket pockets. My other favorite book reader, the Sony Digital Reader Pocket Edition, will even fit inside most shirt pockets. You can almost buy two Kindle 2’s or three Sonys for the price of the cheapest iPad, too. And I think I’m right in guessing that the power source of the Kindle is something atomic. I almost never think about charging it because a single fillup can last for weeks. The iPad’s battery life is incredible for a device of its kind: you can count on ten hours of use per charge. But after a full day of travel and reading, you’ll still need to plug it in to top off the batteries when you get to the hotel. If you find yourself near a power outlet for a few hours once every day or two, it’s not that big an issue. Let’s not forget that the $259 Kindle includes access to the Store via free 3G Internet for the life of the device. To shop for books wherever you go on your iPad, add $129 for 3G capability and a minimum of $14.99 a month for the broadband service.

The most dramatic difference between the Kindle and the iPad is the depth of their respective stores. When the iBookstore opens, it’ll contain 60,000 titles. The Kindle Store currently packs over 475,000 titles, “including 103 of 110 New York Times bestsellers,” the company would like me to know. The iBookstore is so new that you can still smell the carpet adhesive. Nonetheless, the Kindle Store’s two year headstart on the iBookstore is a big plus. Ah. But the success of the Kindle Store is also a big plus for the iPad: Amazon will be releasing a Kindle app for the device. The Kindle can only read Kindle books. The iPad can read all of those, plus every iBookstore title. And when other bookstore apps are released, you’ll be able to read every Barnes & Noble title and comic books from many publishers…on and on. Kindles and Sony Readers and most other ebook devices won’t go away. Nor should they. Many consumers will be attracted by their smaller size and far more reasonable prices. But after the release of the iPad, any ebook device that costs more than $400 is dead meat.

Finally, not a review of the iPad itself, but of the iBookstore and potentially significant issues with discoverability:

The ePub eBooks Metadata Mess, Mike Cane’s iPad Test

Some of you will protest that what I’ve shown you are from publishers who won’t be in the iBookstore. Well guess what? Murder Piping Hot is a Smashwords books — and it’s going to be in the iBookstore. Under the frikkin Category of haggis, apparently!

If you think none of this matters, this is why you aren’t working for Apple. How do you think their Genius system will work for books? It will be based primarily on sales and matched to book Categories. It won’t recommend a Romance to someone who primarily buys Biographies — unless the underlying metadata is screwed up. And as we have just seen, in the case of Murder Piping Hot, it will be!

What’s your take on the iPad? Is it a true game-changer, an over-hyped new gadget, or something in between?

And is it a “Kindle killer”, or simply another channel for Amazon to sell more eBooks?

15 thoughts on “iPad Reviews Raise Doubts About eBook Impact

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  2. karen wester newton

    Nice roundup! On the eReader front, I think the iPad will cut into sales of Kindle because it will be sufficient for the casual reader who reads less than a dozen books a year. They can’t get into ebooks for no extra hardware expense. But I don’t think it will actually hurt Amazon because I think the iPad will draw hordes more people into reading ebooks than the Kindle could on its own. I see the iPad as a win for digital reading.

    I think the key is that iPad will be wildly popular for folks who use their laptops as entertainment devices and much less popular with people who are working or creating content.

    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Post author

      Kindle is for the hardcore ereader, iPad will be for the casual ereader. Either way, Amazon likely wins as they have the customer base and inventory already, and there’s no competing on price any more. As long as they don’t botch their iPad app, it makes more sense to continue buying through them as opposed to the iBookstore whose eBooks will be limited to the iPad.

  3. Bradley Robb

    Not really surprised that Apple stacked the deck with ringers. What interesting is to see what these reviewers nitpicked and even seemed to brush off – like multitasking and port selection – and the casual stance of “it’s not an X, it’s a new device entirely!” to overcome shortcomings.

    1. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez Post author

      Exactly! I’m looking forward to reviews from outlets who aren’t banking on paid apps to save their businesses. The next two weeks should be interesting. DBW should have ours to play around with next week. Stay tuned!

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  6. Gianfranco Ceci

    In Giugno sarò in Italia e vorrei comprare un iPad,essenzialmente da usare per leggere libri,per usare e-mail e leggere i quotidiani.Potreste indicarmi dove potrei trovare in Internet un manuale esplicativo di tutte le sue potenzialità ? Grazie

  7. Rebecca Maines

    Although right now the market for the iPad is the early adopter, I foresee this over time becoming the device of choice for media consumption for people who don’t really care much about computers but want a portable, space-saving, easy way to enjoy whatever media they prefer. Some of those people–the hardcore ereaders Guy mentions above–buy Kindles. But the less hardcore may not buy a Kindle or nook or Sony ereader or whatever because that’s a lot of money for a device that does just one thing. But if they could read books, magazines, and comic books; watch TV shows and movies; listen to music; get online; and do other entertainment-related things via apps (e.g., keep score at a baseball game with iScore), dropping a few hundred bucks might be more appealing. Especially as the price goes down, as it always does over time.

    As an ereading device, yeah, pluses and minuses, but one plus that I’ve not heard much mention of is that although you’re tied to the iBooks store for the iBook app, you’re not tied to iBooks overall: you can use the Kindle ereader or the B&N ereader or Kobo or Stanza or whatever on the iPad. So if you’re already invested in one (or more) of those, you’re not abandoning that content. You can go back and forth. (I’m trying to do a side-by-side comparison of the various readers on the iPad, although I think that will wait a week or two as iPad versions of some of those are still in the works, rather than doing an apples-to-oranges comparison of iPad versions and iPhone versions on the iPad.)

  8. Ryan Chapman

    Rebecca’s and Andy Ihnatko’s points are salient here: the Kindle is for Amazon ebooks, the iPad’s for everyone’s ebooks. It’s also brainlessly easy adding my own epub files into iBooks. Now, if you’re worried about remembering which ebook you’ve purchased is associated with which app on your iPad, then you probably shouldn’t buy DRMed content. But that’s a discussion for another day.

    It’s easy to see how the dedicated ereaders would fill one niche and the iPad another. Let’s face it: the Kindle is for large-print readers. I don’t buy the “avid readers” argument, especially when Amazon keeps their curtains drawn about actual numbers. I can’t remember if it was Verso’s survey or Bowker’s, but in one of them the customers reported their #1 favorite feature wasn’t discoverability, or cost, or any of that. It was adjusting font size.

    I see the iPad and the readers who purchased it as a different segment. I’m eager to see what tops the paid iBooks charts as an early indicator. Note that so far, “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” is #1. It’s #118 in the Kindle store, and #6 on the NYT Bestseller list.

  9. Viqi French

    Stellar roundup of iPad reviews!

    I suppose “peer pressure” has me on the brink of going iPad. But I suspect I’d miss a few key features; it would feel like I’ve sacrificed some time-savers I’d never stop missing.

    I’ll try to sit this one out, maybe get the next generation?

  10. jason

    without eInk, I will always go for the Kindle. I’ve tried reading on backlit screens before and while surfing the net is ok, reading a book just hurts the eyes to much.

    As for the Kindle only being for Amazon books, I have over 100 books and only about 10 have been bought from Amazon. The kindle is an excellent eBook reader even without the kindle store. It’s so easy to load pdf’s and books from other stores. Check out Calibre, an excellent eBook manager and converter for OSX and Windows. 1 click upload to Kindle and one click convert. It doesn’t get any easier.



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