The iPad eBook Reader: Some First Reactions

Yesterday morning, I headed to the Palo Alto Apple Store, spent an hour waiting in line, then finally gained entrance to the store. And who entered alongside me? Steve Jobs! An auspicious beginning. I left with a 32 gig iPad, took it home, and started playing particularly with the eBook reader. Here are my very early impressions:

15 months ago, I bought a Kindle and returned it. I just couldn’t read with it at night (a non-starter for me), and figured that Apple would eventually get it right. Well, they largely have. The iPad initially feels a little heavy. But, it’s actually no heavier than your average hardback book. Plus it’s fairly easy to hold. Score one for the iPad.

Then, when you fire up the eBook reader, you instantly like what you see. The fonts are crisp, and the images are in color, which means that you can read children’s books, comics and other graphic intensive texts. Plus, you can change the size and kind of the font. You can adjust the brightness of the screen. And, in some cases, you can even alter the background color of the screen. (Most of this you can’t do with the Kindle.) All of this contributes to a reader-friendly screen that’s easy on the eyes. And, yes, I can read with this device at night. (Readers make other good observations in the comments below.)

How about buying books for the iPad? Well, it’s pretty easy. Both Apple and Amazon sell books for the device, with prices generally ranging between $9.99 and $12.99. Rather notably, they also offer access to a sizable collection of free books in the public domain. (You can get more freebies here, too.) Overall, Amazon has a much larger inventory, and their books tend to be cheaper. But otherwise these are pretty similar services. And, because Apple now has a far superior device, you have to wonder whether this is the beginning of a big shift in the book market. In five years, Amazon might not be quite the behemoth it is today — something that’s probably letting Steve Jobs sleep easier than Jeff Bezos at night.

A final point worth mentioning here: Neither company will let you have true ownership over the books you buy. Both vendors lock down their books, dictate the operating environments in which you can read them, and control the user interfaces that shape the reading experience. (PC World has more on that here.) You don’t have much ultimate control over the underlying file. So the upshot is that you had better like the iPad (or Kindle) reading experience before deciding to amass a large and costly library.

Now for a few random observations:

1) The  video generally looks great (unless, of course, it’s produced in Flash). I was really impressed with the quality of YouTube videos, and Netflix movies (free app here) stream over the iPad rather brilliantly.

2) On the downside, I found typing on the iPad to be rather difficult — even more so than typing on an iPhone. The device is large enough that it’s hard to stretch your fingers to reach various keys. Maybe I will get a hang of it. But, for now, it’s unwieldy.

3) The New York Times and Wall Street Journal have developed new apps for the iPad, and they deliver a pleasant reading experience, to be sure. But I don’t see this suddenly making consumers any more (or less) willing to pay. The concept of the iPad saving the newspaper industry seems fairly overplayed, I’m sorry to say.

4) Is this a must-have device? Or just nice-to-have? Right now, I’m inclined toward the latter (and so is Slate). Aside from the eBook reader, your home computer or smart phone can accomplish most of what the iPad can. However, the iPad will rapidly differentiate itself. It will become a nice low-cost, portable computer — one that lets you store data in the cloud, and provides access to a large volume of cheap or free software (at least more than your average consumer normally gets). Give it a year. Wait for the flood of apps to come. Wait for innovative software developers to extract the potential of this machine, and wait for Apple to make the iPad lighter, cheaper, and even faster. Right now, it’s not a game changer. But it will be down the line.

Are you a new iPad owner? Have any thoughts in general? Or particularly about the eBook reader? Add them to the comments below, or send them our way. We look forward to hearing what you have to say …

by | Permalink | Comments (39) |

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Comments (39)
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  • wordord says:

    Apple says this is not only an e-book reader, but also a “productivity tool”. But as far as I understand (after reading the manual here: ) it’s impossible to read pdf files other than as e-mail attachments or converted to e-pub in a “real” computer (downloading from the web is a no-no?), *and* it’s impossible to copy text from web pages (such as the URL I pasted in here earlier) – so how exactly are we supposed to use the iPad as a productivity tool?

  • Hi Dan, thanks for kicking off the discussion. Though early days, this is a game changer in terms of how we navigate, consume, and how sites will design for this unique display and interaction. There’s still room to grow for how we produce and contribute. Let’s just say that the Web has never looked better than on this device. It’s like looking at vintage photography at MoMA, gorgeously framed and lit.

    Focusing on iBooks, a few thoughts:

    1) Providing a free starter book was very nice. That it is classic Winnie-the-Pooh with illustrations by Ernest H. Shepard is one of those thoughtful touches. Having recently read this to my son, it’s great that this wonderful book will get renewed attention. The device as part of bedtime stories – what a smart way to integrate with the family and connect emotionally.

    2) Flipping pages is intuitive and graceful. One excellent detail – also utilized in the Maps app – is the way text/imagery bleeds through the back of turning pages. Very very cool. The slider at bottom makes jumping ahead/back easy. However, I wish there were a way to flip-scan through using gestures much like you would in a bookstore.

    3) Changing fonts is a nice option, though Verdana on most literature looks very wrong (Verdana is for the Web).

    4) I wish there was a way to pinch-zoom into book covers on the shelf or even to “shut” the eBook to peruse. Book covers are art, often iconic, and help sell a book. Please don’t lose this important aspect of books.

    5) The iBookstore is a bit limited, somewhat like an airport bookstore at launch. However, they have Bukowski! Not my favorite Rebecca Solnit (River of Shadows), but 3 other titles. The choices will only grow. Like you, I also wonder how Bezos feels about all this.

    6) The free samples are pretty generous. 25-50 initial pages of Bukowski, Kerouac’s On The Road, etc.

    7) The search within feature works very well. I quickly jumped to “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass. Searching for just “song” is a very interesting glance of Whitman’s use of the word in his poetry.

    Wrapping up, people often like to pit hardcopy books to eBooks, eg., “you can’t curl up with a screen”, etc. This misses the point. eBooks are just another way to read. One important exception: I think tablets will single-handedly revive comic books. ’nuff said.

  • Thanks for the summary. I would never underestimate the ability of apple to create a game-changer, so I can’t speak to that. I really think that will be based on people’s perception of it rather than what it actually does. There’s no question that it does enough to potentially dominate, but so have many, many applications that failed to do so.

    I would happily buy an IPad in the future if it offers enough compelling value as I’m pretty agnostic about apple. For now, I’ll stick with my laptop and a dedicated ereader. I’m curious how a screen designed like theirs can be as easy on the eyes as e-ink. Maybe it’s a matter of personal preference, but I know that most screens take a lot more out of my eyes than either the kindle or a paper book. I love reading with the kindle at night (with a small light of course).

  • Bob Price says:

    Dan, good report. I find your opinions a bit fairer than some of the folks seeded with iPads. On your comment: “Neither company will let you have true ownership over the books you buy”., I’m not sure we’ll see any value in that in the coming future, and, maybe more to the point, we don’t have it now. If we’re comparing to a codex type publication it would seem there’s no way to cut and paste either. Rights are difficult to exercise in that case.

  • I think the real deal-breaker for me is how easily you can read outdoors in sunlight. Have you tried this with your ipad? My Kindle is a joy to read outside, and requires only one hand to hold and turn pages for long periods of time. I can also make notes on my books while I’m reading on the Kindle.

    The Kindle also has a bookstore that I can access from my computer, as well as the ability to play mp3s while I read.

    I could see possibly investing in the future, but I’m more impressed with my Kindle right now.

  • Jonathan says:

    Interesting. Considering the reader apps available on most phones for free and the open source ones at that maybe the next review should be of something along that line. I am no fan of artificial fruit so I am a bit biased. I have started using an HTC Android device and have found the free ebook selection attached to some of the apps to be substantial. On top of that the ability to share them with friends and note copy paste etc. makes it a far preferred environment. Being able to read at night should be a no brainer. I am suprised at the Kindle’s lack in this area.

  • One doesn’t read paper books at night without light either. Many of us prefer not to have flashlights from glowing screens shining in our eyes.

  • Dan Colman says:

    When I bought the Kindle, I found that I had to use far more light than with a traditional book. I cranked up every light in the room, plus added a book light, and the Kindle page still felt murky and dim. At a certain point, it just felt ridiculous and I sent it back.


  • iPad is great product. Skype is also planning to release its messenger for iPad. Read more at

  • Ron says:

    “Both Apple and Amazon sell books for the device, with prices generally ranging between $9.99 and $12.99.”

    So is Amazon selling books in epub format? Or are you saying that you can read Amazon books on the iPad with the Amazon Reader app? If so did you see any differences in functionality between the iBooks and Amazon Reader?

  • dfrancis says:

    I’m returning my ipad. It is nothing more than an expensive interface to the Apple store (itunes and ibooks) since you cannot transfer your own files (txt, doc, pdf or otherwise) to the ipad it is useless for anything but buying from apple – that sucks! so Apple’s greed and short-sightedness, in my opinion, turns out to be the ipad killer.

  • Isaac says:

    dfrancis is wrong. You can transfer files using iTunes. Just like on the iPhone.

  • dfrancis says:

    I don’t know what files you’re referring to but you can’t transfer any ebooks whatsoever and as far as mp3s go I have my mp3 player and don’t need a 700 dollar (plus) Ipad to play music.

  • Sheryl Zeunert says:

    Hi Dan,
    Great review. Can you check ebooks out from the library on the iPaD? I have a Sony E Reader and love being able to download library books. I was surprised when my friend with a Kindle couldn’t check books out. I was wondering if you can with the IPaD?

  • There’s no way I’m ever, ever buying a “reader” that charges money for the content but won’t let me cut-and-paste from it without restrictions. As a non-fiction writer, that’s more than half the point of these devices.

    These f–kers are simply gouging people.

  • Wes Alwan says:

    Great post; a few (rough) notes on my experiences follow.

    — I really like the keyboard. I can touch type 60 wpm in landscape mode (about 20wpm less than on a regular keyboard; see a similar experience to mine here: And I can thumb type in landscape or portrait at about 25wpm (same as the iphone). I’ve tried a lot of tablets and this is the first one I’ve been able to touch-type on. (And it’s the first one that’s been usable at all in fact — tablets have traditionally been cursed because they’re too slow to provide a seamless experience; Windows is not designed for a touch experience; non-capacitive touch-screens were never sensitive enough (and until recently required a stylus); and battery life was horrible. I went through a number of models looking for something to read and annotate pdfs on without frustration — without the thing freezing up when trying to run Adobe Professional, without frequent wrong clicks and failed annotations, etc. No go. I’m looking forward to seeing how well the HP Slate, Dell Streak, and Notion Ink handle all of these issues).

    — I use iAnnotate to read and annotate pdfs on the iPad (and iphone). Highlighting, inking, underlining, etc. It’s superb, and syncs wirelessly both ways to your home computer so you can access any pdf and then sync the annotated version back wirelessly after editing. Also, you can use it to save, open, and edit any pdf email attachment. Unfortunately, it’s not able to open pdfs downloaded from the Web yet — it should be able to do this, and I’m hoping this problem be fixed in an update.

    — Word documents attached to emails and downloaded from the web can be saved/opened/edited in Pages. And contra wordword (first comment), you can in fact copy and paste text from the Web; so you could copy into quickoffice, Pages, or some other app and read/annotate to your heart’s content (I do this all the time on the iphone). There’s also Instapaper, a great way to save and read web pages later that unfortunately doesn’t allow annotation.

    — I use both the Kindle app and the iBooks app. I also have a kindle device. I really didn’t think that an LCD screen could compete with e-ink (eye-fatigue), but I’m rethinking that. iBooks is a superb experience, and there are plenty of free non-DRM’ed books that you can download. And have tons of etexts that are easily converted into .epubs and transferred to the iPad (I’ve done that with a few without any problems). Further, you can copy and paste from non-DRM’d texts. For DRM’d texts I would stick to the kindle/kindle app — more annotation capabilities and the ability to copy and paste passages (not to mention sync across multiple devices).

    — A note to dfrancis above — yes, you can transfer epubs, pdfs, docs, etc. to the ipad at will — unfortunately it’s not immediately obvious how to do that, but googling the topic will quickly show you how; additionally, the relevant third-party apps also provide means of wireless transfer that bypass itunes if you like.

    — I’m waiting for the iPad version of quickoffice, which on my iPhone allows me to edit documents (doc, xls, ppt) that I’ve stored in Dropbox (and saves back to the server automatically); I use Dropbox to sync files across all my computers and to the cloud. (And there’s a free dropbox app to view any of these files, including pdfs — but I use the aforementioned programs because I need to be able to edit).

    — I use iTeleport VNC (and logmein ignition) to remotely control my desktop computer and use any application on it from my iPad (and it gives me access to all three of my monitors).

    — Overall: I’m very happy with the iPad. The interface is a game-changer — beautiful, a pleasure to use, and I think the first really usable tablet. It’s not for multitasking and work-work unless you want to do that via remote desktop (I can hardly stand to use a laptop for those purposes — I need a desktop and multiple monitors). But for reading, surfing the Web, taking notes, blogging, watching movies, listening to music, gaming, and even writing the novel — absolutely.

  • Dan Colman says:

    Hi Sheryl,

    I actually don’t know the answer to that question. But when I find out, I will ping you.

    Hi Michael,

    I take your point. As you can tell from my post, I have some mixed feelings about the iPad, especially on this front. The fact that you can’t fully own and control the text you buy is a major problem, though I suspect this will eventually change. Apple is (mildly) pushing to get rid of DRM for music. Hopefully they will do the same for etexts.


  • eva knodt says:

    Hi Dan,
    great review! Pretty much jives with my first impression trying it out live. The apple store in Palo Alto was less crowded last night, but Stevee Jobs was conspicuously absent.

    I did not buy one. However….

    I was impressed with the eBook functions, even if it did nothing else, would consider getting it down the road (maybe rev 3.0).

    Couple of question I have for you:

    Can you annotate the books in the epub format (the ones in the apple library).

    Can you tap into the vast google open domain book library? If find the google format on my computer incredibly cumbersome to read and navigate.

    If yoy download one of these google books (will it let you), is it straigt pdf? One huge file? Or Is it being converted into epub format? Or is it the same clunky format that google uses for online viewing? Can you annotate and search these?

    Some random observations to close:

    I wish they would make the bottom flat so it will hold still and not wiggle arond while you are fumbling with that keyboard.

    How do you find he insertion point without a mouse? Can you use a bluetooth mini mouse with it?

    I am a cat person. I hate using the track pad on my laptop. I will never consider a world without mice..

  • Ivan says:

    I like the most parts of IPAD. I consider it is a multimedia display platform rather than a replacement of netbook or Kindle. I still use my Kindle for ebooks simply for the e-Ink screen, which is much easier for my eye for long hour reading especially after 10 hours of staring the monitor at work. The lighter weight of Kindle is another plus. I don’t enjoy holding the Ipad for more than 30 mins of reading without something to support the weight. Compare to a netbook/laptop, the Ipad is definitely not a replacement. Its more on displaying things rather than creating. Yes it has thousands of apps but most of them are not on the same professional level as the apps on a laptop. As for the video part, I am not crazy about watching movies on a 9″ screen with mono speaker. However, despite all the shortcomings, it is a very nice addition to your gadgets as a multimedia displayer. It is beautiful to show photos to your friends and family. It has the best PDF reading experience as a portable device (if install GoodReader for Ipad). Reading PDF/Comics/Magazines are the main reason for me to keep it. I hope in the future it can support Flash which will greatly open up its usage for web browsing. Web cam would be a nice addition for video conference. Another huge potential for Ipad is to use it as a travel guide!

  • Ipad is not a hype.Millions are sold in less than a month and demand will increase in a few month.

  • Thanks for posting the info about PDFs on iPads. More and more people are asking “how-to” and we agree Goodreader works well on the iPad for QuietGuides, guided tours (like ebooks with images) for mobile.

  • Ben says:

    I agree with the folks who buy the iPad, take it home, and realize too late what they have in their hands. It has beautiful aesthetics, but deep down it’s an immature device. More like a proof of concept. The concept is that Steve Jobs can sell anything. What you’re holding is not much more than a pet rock. It has so many limitations, that for just about anything except the most basic kind of stand-alone games, the device is seriously impaired. Right now it’s a fad. Version 2.0, maybe 3.0 will probably get it right. I think it’s one of the best digital picture frames on the market. Add bluetooth and it would win hands down.

  • leviev says:

    the i pad can do anything i love it so much

  • Bill Conti says:

    I purchased an iPad last week, and I have to say I’m very pleased with it. I primarily purchased it to replace a Fujitsu tablet I was using and although the tablet PC is more functional, I love to read, and buying a dedicated ebook reader didn’t make sense. I did find a site that offers unlimited ebook downloads for a flat fee…

  • Mike says:

    Great review, thanks for sharing this information. Getting ebooks from Amazon and itunes makes it that much easier.

  • Mike says:

    I like my iPad. Of course, it is a 1st gen product and as such has some limitations. Give it a few iterations and I could see it being a notebook replacement for some people. To the person complaint about not being able to copy text out of iBooks. You can copy text from non-DRM books. It is only DRM books that you can’t copy text from. Thank the publishers for that.

  • JReader says:

    I myself an a recent Nook owner, which so far I am very pleased with. I personally enjoy having the dedicated device so that when I read, I focus strictly on reading and do not have the temptation to wander onto something else. I have seen the iPad, its very nice, but from the people I know that have and use them, for most it has become just and overpriced toy unfortunately. The product has capabilities, but I don’t think the majority of buyers quite get that yet.

    My reasons for not going with the iPad in general, was the lack of scalability in Apple products. Apple creates a product, they know you will want to replace when they create another one. In essence, for each iteration of an Apple product, you are paying for the same product over and over. They got the economics of selling electronics down pat imo. But I like my Nook, because I have native access to multiple ebook formats and can upgrade how much storage my device has and even replace the battery if ever needed. I won’t need to buy another one, just because they decide to add more storage.

    But to each their own. If you enjoy your purchase, then you made a wise purchase.

  • marylebone says:

    I’m using Kindle for PC while awaiting a real Kindle DX and wondering it any eReader will work for me. Is the iPad much better? Should I return the Kindle and purchase a different eReader?

    I want to read as I do on the computer, i.e, scroll line-by-line instead of page-by-page, copy-and-paste interesting passages so I can incorporate in attributed writings. Easily cnp publishing information as citations for papers.

    I want to be able to print what I have written (Kindle will save my “notes” or highlights but doesn’t seem to permit printing).

    And I want to be able to connect the eReader to a computer or, at least, a monitor and a printer.

    Can iPad work this way? How about the Kindle or the Sony eReader?

    Thanks for your help.


  • iPad is much better than other eReaders. Some doctors even used in Surgery as a display for the camera inside body, cool Gadget.

  • suzi says:

    You can email epubs and pdfs to yourself and then read on the iPhone or iPad either by opening from the email or selecting the option to open in iBooks – simple!

  • suzi says:

    oh and if you don’t have ebooks in pdf or epub – just use a converter such as Calibre (free) it will convert any format to any format :o)

  • david mayers says:

    I need to know if I buy an ebook, and load it onto say my laptop,will I be able to edit the pages,add my own comments,etc,save changes,for future studies,regards David.

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  • Tressy Fyre says:

    It’s amazing to hear your description about the iPad, I may get one later.

  • baagii says:

    Unlimited eBooks for the iPad

  • Katrin says:

    hi, I’m a totally new Ipad user, in fact have always had PC. Can I transfer epub format ebooks from ipad2 to my sony reader? having to manage new technology scares me…

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