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IPad – the latest “Kindle killer”

January 29, 2010

After considerable buildup and fanfare from the tech world—vocalized by a fervent blogosphere—the secret tablet from Apple was revealed to the public yesterday as the IPad (the derisive nickname appears to have been settled already).

First, Apple should get an ‘A’ for its P.R. campaign simply for the decision to either float or not knock down the rumor of the device’s price tag (which had remained steadfast at $1000 for months).  Therefore, when the news broke that the IPad would “start” at $499, the defining headline of the initial press coverage was set (aided by a straightforward slide).  After all, if this device was supposed to be a “must-have” at $1000, how could the whole country not run out and buy it at half that price?

But ‘Day 2’ stories (or in this era of instant and rapid media, ‘Hour 2’ stories) have proven more sobering. There are two camps—those who predict the downfall of the Kindle versus those who believe these are two separate markets.  The great thing about this debate, however, is that it isn’t a subjective beauty pageant—the sales data of the Kindle in coming quarters, years will definitively settle the argument.

As far as its “Kindle-killing” role (see here, here, here, here), Mr. Jobs made only a slight mention—5 minutes out of a 90-minute presentation—of the e-reading function, praising the Kindle while suggesting that the IPad would “stand on their shoulders and go a bit further”—interpreted by most as a “backhanded” compliment (particularly since Mr. Jobs previously predicted the failure of the Kindle due to his assertion that “people don’t read anymore”). This probably is an indication of Apple’s intent to not market the IPad as an e-reader but perhaps also hints at a decision to not place too much emphasis on a function that may prove to be less than… Either way, those quick to predict the demise of the Kindle (or ebook readers in general) are missing the point.

Jeff Bezos eloquently and preemptively branded the role of the Kindle—“long form reading”.  Hence, any qualified review of the IPad as an e-reader must take into account its ability to replicate the act of sitting down to read—whether on the couch or in the park.

The Kindle aimed to change the way readers read and publishers publish, but, as Bezos described in 2007, it must still “project an aura of bookishness; it should be less of a whizzy gizmo than an austere vessel of culture.” And for a true reading experience, it must “disappear”:

Poof, the Kindle disappeared, just as Jeff Bezos had promised it would. I began walking up and down the driveway, reading in the sun. Three distant lawnmowers were going. Someone wearing a salmon-colored shirt was spraying a hose across the street. But I was in the courtroom, listening to the murderer testify. I felt the primitive clawing pressure of wanting to know how things turned out.

Apple may have hopes of revolutionizing the ebook, but it appears to want to do so at the expense of many things that make reading the enjoyable exercise it is. One-handed reading? No way. Freedom from distractions? Only if email, videos, music, games, etc. do not tempt you. Weekend outdoors? Better bring a generator in your backpack.

It will be several months before the IPads are shipped and sales data are made public. However, having spent over a decade developing their tablet device, Apple has staked a lot on this product line—it cannot end up being simply an upgrade to their IPod Touch line.

I will conclude with a great line from the Newsweek article that sums up why the Kindle will continue to be the format of choice for most devoted readers:

Readers will read in public. Writers will write in public.

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