iPad reviews – top 5

The first iPad reviews are in and they seem to suggest that the hype is true – the iPad really is very good.

iPad Reviews – What are the biggest Pluses?

There are some big pluses –

  1. Very fast thanks to the custom Apple processor. 
  2. The IPS LCD screen is stunning. 
  3. Great for consuming content.
  4. Great for technophobes.
  5. It will run nearly all of the 150,000 iPhone Apps.
  6. Apps built specifically for the iPad look really good. They are however priced higher than iPhone versions.
  7. Battery life is solid – an hour or two longer than the claimed 10 hours.
  8. Tight, thoughtful integration of the Mail, Photos, and iWork apps.
  9. 3D games look fantastic.

The consensus is that Apple delivers and the iPad lives up to its promise and is excellent.

iPad reviews – Any downsides?

The iPad Reviews point out some negatives too –

  1. Not suitable for creating content – spreadsheets, long writing, etc. don’t work. For content creation and writing longer posts and emails you would prefer a laptop (or you could get the iPad keyboard dock attachment).
  2. Techies might not like all the restrictions and the lack of options.
  3. It comes in between laptops and phones and its unknown whether it’ll succeed in creating a new category. 
  4. Lack of multi-tasking. 
  5. It does not support Flash.
  6. The memory isn’t expandable and the battery isn’t replaceable.
  7. There is no USB port.
  8. No Camera. 
  9. Only 1,000 or so iPad specific apps at launch. Plus they’re priced higher though the free market is going to take care of that.
  10. The optional accessories are border-line necessary – especially the keyboard dock.

It’s worth pointing out that the negatives might not apply to you if you don’t care much about things like multi-tasking and USB ports. It’s also interesting that a lot of the reviewers hint at it not being a techie device – not sure if I’d agree with that.

Top 5 iPad Reviews

iPad Review by Edward C. Baig at USA Today

Here are the key quotes from Ed Baig’s iPad Review

The first iPad is a winner. It stacks up as a formidable electronic reader rival for Amazon’s Kindle.

Apple is likely to be the first (to crack the tablet market).

The device resembles an iPhone on growth hormones.

Apple has pretty much nailed it with this first iPad …

He’s very positive on the iPad though he does think that there are a few downsides such as lack of multi-tasking, lack of a USB port, no camera, and lack of support for Flash.

In terms of reading he feels –

  1. iPad wins in terms of sizzle, color screen, quick page turns, being backlit (for night reading), and being easier to navigate. He thinks newspapers and magazines are vastly superior on the iPad. 
  2. Kindle wins in some important areas as it has 450,000 books (iPad has just 60,000 for now), books cost more on iPad (will change with Agency Model arriving tomorrow), Kindle is much cheaper ($259), has better battery life, and is lighter.

He, like many other journalists, feels that ‘it remains to be seen’ whether eInk is better than LCD for reading.

Walt Mossberg’s iPad review

Walt Mossberg reviews the iPad and thinks that it has the potential to ‘change portable computing profoundly’ and also to ‘challenge the laptop’.

Here are some key quotes – 

 … it’s far more than just a big iPhone …

It’s qualitatively different, a whole new type of computer … you have to feel it, to use it, to fully understand it and decide if it is for you …

I was impressed with the iPad’s battery life, which I found to be even longer than Apple’s ten-hour claim …

Apple’s custom processor makes it wicked fast.

In terms of downsides he lists the lack of tabs in the browser (it actually allows up to 9 tabs), lack of GPS on the WiFi version, and the lack of wide-screen dimensions when watching videos.

Mr. Mossberg actually thinks the iPad is better than the Kindle for reading –

The iPad is much more than an e-book or digital periodical reader, though it does those tasks brilliantly, better in my view than the Amazon Kindle.

He adds more details –

 I consider the larger color screen superior to the Kindle’s, and encountered no eye strain.

But the iPad is much heavier than the Kindle and most people will need two hands to use it.

The iBooks app also lacks any way to enter notes, and Apple’s catalog at launch will only be about 60,000 books versus more than 400,000 for Kindle.

After all his love for the iPad he ends on a strange note (especially given that he started by saying the iPad would challenge the primacy of the laptop) –

Only time will tell if it’s a real challenger to the laptop and netbook.

David Pogue reviews the iPad

David Pogue provides 2 iPad reviews – one for techies and one for non-techies. Not a bad idea and one worth stealing when reviewing eReaders – one for people who read a lot and one for people who read once in a while.

David Pogue’s iPad review for techies is rather critical and ends on a harsh note –

The bottom line is that you can get a laptop for much less money — with a full keyboard, DVD drive, U.S.B. jacks, camera-card slot, camera, the works.

Besides: If you’ve already got a laptop and a smartphone, who’s going to carry around a third machine?

The techie review is also pretty harsh on the iBooks app (to the point of being unfair) –

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 a while (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.

His review for non-techies seemed much more balanced. The iPad benefits he talks up include –

  1. The big difference the larger screen makes.
  2. All the nice touches in the iBooks app like animated page turns, dictionary definitions, and brightness controls.
  3. The fact that you don’t need a contract with the 3G model.
  4. The promise of Killer Apps and how good the Scrabble App and the Marvel Comic Book app are.
  5. The fact that all iPhone Apps (nearly all) work on the iPad.
  6. It’s fast and light and the multi-touch is very responsive.

He paints a picture of the iPad as being great for technophobes –

Some have suggested that it might make a good goof-proof computer for technophobes, the aged and the young; they’re absolutely right.

… (the iPad when compared with laptops) it’s infinitely more convenient for consuming it (content) — books, music, video, photos, Web, e-mail and so on.

David Pogue definitely has the right idea – the 2 reviews model works perfectly because the iPad is a very different device depending on what your perspective is (techie or technophobe).

iPad Review from Andy Ihnatko

Andy Ihnatko reviews the iPad and starts off by saying that the iPad really does justify the level of excitement.

It’s a computer that many people have been wanting for years:

a slim, ten-hour computer that can hold every document, book, movie, CD, email, picture, or other scrap of data they’re ever likely to want to have at hand;

with a huge library of apps that will ultimately allow it to fulfill nearly any function;

That is actually a really good summary of what the iPad is – it’s a super-simple computer for people who don’t get computers.

There are also a rich selection of good quotes –

 When Apple looks at a fingertip, they see a warm, living thing that can feel. They don’t see a poor substitute for a mouse.

 It’s not a replacement for my notebook, mind you. It feels more as if the iPad is filling a gap that’s existed for quite some time.

Mr. Ihnatko goes as far as to say that the iPad confirms his decision to choose staying in tech over becoming a movie reporter. I guess he’s definitely going to buy an iPad.

PC Mag’s iPad Review

Tim Gideon writes perhaps the best and most comprehensive iPad review. It is however a tech focused review so skip it if you’re not tech savvy – the above 4 reviews are probably enough.

He has a lot of good things to say –

Content from the iTunes Store looks predictably awesome on the iPad’s big, bright display.

The Photos app is brilliantly organized.

He does mention the lack of HD support, the necessity of having a case or a dock so you can prop up the iPad, lack of headphones, and also touches on the usual suspects – lack of camera, multi-tasking, and Flash.

The section on iBooks is particularly interesting –

Kindle: I like you, but I am nervous about your future.

The iBooks pluses and minuses Mr. Gideon lists are –

  1. iPad is much flashier, you can bookmark individual words, search is excellent, and there’s a brightness setting/indicator. 
  2. Like every other journalist he’s not sure how the iPad will do for long periods of reading. Why not just compare the iPad and the Kindle by reading a couple of books on each? 

It’s amazing that when contrasting Kindle and iPad hardly any reviewer covers obvious things like reading in sunlight, making notes, reading at night, ebook range, and ebook prices. Everyone is obsessed with the iPad being flashy and page turns being animated.

Mr. Gideon does end with this ringing endorsement –

I’m curious to see who actually buys the iPad, apart from Apple enthusiasts.

But I can tell you that when my laptop eventually dies, I’ll be getting one.

Closing Thought – 5 out of 5 is pretty darn good

All 5 iPad Reviews are very positive. The overwhelming sentiment seems to be –

iPad lives up to the hype. Try it out and see if it’s right for you.

It creates a new niche – between phones and laptops – and fills it beautifully.

It’s more for non-techies and it’s great for them.

It’s certainly going to be interesting to see how the iPad sells. Look for more on the iPad and on Kindle vs iPad once I get an iPad myself.

Lots of angst as Agency Model debuts April 1st

Before we delve into the horrors of the Agency Model let’s look at a free month of Grace Notes from Philip Yancey (page a day devotionals, April 1st through 30th) available free in the Kindle Store –

  1. Grace Notes: April 1-30 by Philip Yancey. The entire book gets 4.5 stars on 13 reviews.

Now back to the Agency Model.

Agency Model strikes April 1st

Various ebook stores, newspaper sites, MobileRead, and TeleRead are atwitter about the changes the Agency Model will bring.

  1. Rleguillow writes about various books disappearing at ereader.com – This is presumably so that they can be repriced and put back up. 
  2. Crusader writes about books missing from Fictionwise.  
  3. Fictionwise has closed down their discount book club (Buywise Club). 
  4. Bloomberg covers Sony’s update on the Agency Model – Sony say bestsellers will still be $9.99.
  5. WSJ reports that Amazon has struck Agency Model deals with Simon & Schuster and Harper Collins. They also report that it’s in advanced negotiations with Hachette and Penguin. Amazon has already agreed to a deal with Macmillan (after a stand-off during which Macmillan books had their ‘Buy’ buttons removed from Amazon.com).

The first 3 items are from Mobileread’s News Forum (as are a few of the items in the next section).

Readers getting angry with eBook Stores

It’s surprising to see readers blame ebook stores for the changes and higher prices –

  1. Users start off getting angry with the ebook stores. Some change their mind after finding out the Agency Model is a publisher thing. 
  2. Advocate2 advocates a class action lawsuit against Fictionwise for closing down their Buywise Club.  

It really illustrates how the customer relationship is almost entirely between the book stores and readers. And perhaps that everyone is going to suffer due to the Agency Model.

Don’t think people are actually ready for this

There are going to be a lot of very surprised people. They’re going to be very upset with eBook Stores and eReader companies and start off blaming them. Some of them will find out that the Agency Model is initiated by Publishers and then perhaps they’ll be upset with Publishers instead.

The timing is unfortunate – April 1st isn’t exactly the best date to introduce a new pricing scheme.

We’re only going to see actual reactions and how customers behave after the changes come into place and from initial reactions it looks like it’s not going to be pretty.

How should eBook Stores handle the Agency Model?

Let’s start with Joanna’s suggestions for eBook Stores (from TeleRead) –

  1. Joanna thinks Amazon should add ePub support and also add Text to Speech and Dictionary support to their various apps (Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone, etc.). 
  2. Sony don’t get suggestions and she thinks they don’t have much of a chance as they don’t have anything to differentiate themselves. 
  3. For Smashwords the suggestion is to highlight quality books for readers by having actual people read the books and recommend them. 
  4. KoboBooks could be the Canadian content bookstore – which is probably the last thing Kobo want to hear given their plans of world domination. Other suggestions include supporting Indigo gift cards and adding proof-read public domain books. 
  5. Fictionwise gets told to stick with providing books in multiple formats (the multi-format offerings get a lot of praise) and to cater to all eReaders. They are also told to provide customer reviews and social features. 

An interesting set of suggestions.

Suggestions for the Kindle Store

My experience is primarily with the Kindle Store and it’s going to be tough trying to survive in the time of Agency. Here are some suggestions –

  1. Start highlighting Random House and Publishers that are ready to sell sans Agency Model.
  2. Build up independent authors and Encore.
  3. Use the profits from Agency Model books to subsidize other books i.e. let users save even more on non-Agency Model books.
  4. Figure out some value-add features to make up for the lack of low prices.
  5. Lower Kindle prices and/or offer a book subscription model where 2 book purchases a month for 2 years gets you a Kindle for $99. Basically, use the profits from the Agency Model to supplement the Kindle’s price.

The ‘eReader as money saver’ idea gets weakened due to higher prices – Amazon have to figure out a way to make the value proposition compelling again.

Suggestions for ebook stores that don’t have a linked eReader

These ebook stores are in terrible straits. They will now have to have the same prices as everyone else and it’ll be really difficult to get eReader owners to veer away from the default ebook store.

Here are a few things that might work –

  1. Sell ebooks in all major formats – So that a user can use the purchased ebooks across all devices.
  2. Sell without DRM whenever possible.
  3. Give away free books (public domain, independent authors) to help readers’ reciprocation kick in. 
  4. Provide detailed book reviews, guides, and other content to pull in readers.
  5. Create social communities, blogs, forums, and tools to pull in readers.
  6. Find value-add features like text to speech to add to the value of the ebooks.
  7. Add in images and illustrations and proper cover images and do better proof-reading and improve the quality of books.

The smaller ebook stores get hurt a lot as their ability to compete on price gets taken away. People probably don’t realize just how much the Agency Model hurts smaller ebook stores.  

How should eReader companies handle the Agency Model?

The Agency Model, at its core, is a vicious attack on eReaders.

eReader companies are in a tough position because they have to figure out a way to replace the value that lower priced ebooks used to provide.

Here are a few suggestions –

  1. Let readers know why prices are going up and enlist their help. Communicate everything that you’re doing to improve the value proposition for them. Solicit feedback.
  2. Go to court and sue Publishers for price-fixing. Get an injunction until the case is decided. By then eReaders will be strong enough to survive.
  3. Use every method possible (that’s legal) to push non-Agency Model Publishers.   
  4. Use every legal method to hinder the sales of Agency Model Publishers. Perhaps keeping them off bestseller charts and out of the recommendation engine would be legal.
  5. Find and add new content sources like blogs, magazines, short stories, independent authors, and more. 
  6. Add on value-add features like text to speech, speech to text, audio recordings, memos, etc. to eReaders.
  7. Be more aggressive with technology – get writing and color and unbreakable screens in. 
  8. Consider banding together with other eReader companies and kicking out one (only one) of the Agency Model Publishers. That would send a big message.
  9. Consider creating two sections of the bookstore – Agency Model, High Value Model. Let users see the difference.

eReaders have to address the Perception of Reduced Value

There were two huge advantages ereaders and ebooks had –

  1. Convenience.
  2. Higher value for money.

Publishers have killed the second advantage. 

eReader companies have to rebuild the value advantage by adding other features, adding more to ebooks and finding other ways to amp up value. They also have to direct user attention towards the convenience of ebooks and find more ways to improve user convenience.

It’s going to be an extremely difficult battle and eReader companies have to be ruthless and if possible attack Agency Model Publishers directly (legally, boycott them, hide them in their ebook stores, favor other publishers, rally users against them).

'Only' 12% of developers 'very interested' in Kindle development

A survey by Appcelerator, a company that provides hosting and services for app developers, shows that only 12% of the developers surveyed showed high interest in developing apps for the Kindle.

At some level this should not be a surprise – there aren’t that many people interested in reading, only 3 to 5 million of them have eReaders, and there are lots of other platforms that are competing. It is, however, worth investigating the reasons the Kindle app platform appeals or does not appeal to developers.

Factors that combine to make the Kindle App Store less appealing

The low interest in the Kindle is perhaps due to its focus on reading, the strength of competing platforms, and limitations of the Kindle and of the Kindle App Store.

Strong Competing Platforms

Appcelerator talk about three tiers of App Platforms –

Leaders (iPhone, Android, and iPad).

Up & comers (Blackberry and Windows Phone).

Laggards (Symbian, Palm, Meego, and Kindle).

If you look at these tiers you can clearly see that the iPhone, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry platforms have the advantage of each having tens of millions of units in circulation. The iPad has all the buzz and the expectation that sales might reach tens of millions of units. It’s also very easy for developers to shift from iPhone to iPad development.

At some level it’s impressive to have the Kindle on the list (given that eReaders are just starting off).

Kindle isn’t designed for Apps + Restrictions of the Technology

It’s pretty clear that the Kindle is designed for reading – the eInk, the simple design, and the long battery life. That means it’s not a blank canvas ideally suited to apps like the iPhone is. In fact the only apps it seems suited to are those related to reading.  

There are also several restrictions, including some important ones –

  1. eInk takes a lot of time to refresh. 
  2. Animation and Video are ruled out.
  3. It’s in black and white. 
  4. There’s no touchscreen. 

The lack of support for animation rules out most games – That’s pretty significant considering the biggest selling category of apps in the iPhone App Store are games.

Restrictions of the App Store

The App Store comes with its own set of restrictions that add on to the physical limitations –

  1. No advertising. A good thing in my opinion – However, it rules out all the developers who build advertising fuelled apps.
  2. No generic readers.
  3. Bandwidth limit of 100 KB a month for users. It rules out apps like weather apps.
  4. Apps using more than 100 KB a month have to be subscription apps.

When you combine the limitations due to eInk and the limitations the App Store imposes you rule out a lot of apps (and some ways of monetizing apps).

The decision to keep out advertising is probably a very good one – However, there are lots of developers obsessed with advertising and they’ll definitely stay away.

Developers have to pay for bandwidth 

This is a pretty important restriction.

The first thing the 15 cents per MB download cost does is rule out (or make rather difficult) certain bandwidth intensive apps –

  1. Browsers. 
  2. Email Apps. 
  3. Photo and Document sharing.
  4. Social Networking Apps.
  5. Instant Messaging Apps.

The second thing it does is reduce the profit that could be made from other apps i.e.

  1. Twitter Apps. 
  2. Weather Apps.
  3. Stock Quote Apps. 

The bandwidth restriction will rule out a lot of good apps, especially email and communication apps.

There’s lots of uncertainty

Here are some of the things that are unknown –

  1. When the Kindle App Store will open. 
  2. How many people will buy apps.
  3. What types of apps they will buy.
  4. What priced apps will work.
  5. How many people will be offering free apps and which apps.
  6. How much competition there will be. 

It’s hard to plan when there are so many unknowns.

Not enough of a User Base

If we assume the number of Kindles in circulation is between 2 million and 5 million there might not be enough potential buyers for certain apps.

If you have 40 million smartphones using a platform then even an app that appeals to just 5% of users has 2 million potential buyers.

With the Kindle an app that appeals to just 5% of Kindle owners might have just 200,000 potential buyers. Throw in a few competitors and things get pretty sketchy.

With time this disadvantage ought to reduce – provided Kindles keep selling. At this point of time it’s a big concern.

The fact that it’s an eReader – Not knowing how interested people would be in Apps and Games

People are buying the Kindle to read books. No one knows if people will be interested in games and apps that are not related to reading.

What if only 20% of Kindle Owners actually buy apps that are not related to reading?

Then we’re talking about a potential audience size of hundreds of thousands of users – probably not enough to sustain many apps.

Books aren’t allowed

The apps that would make the most sense are books and reading apps – However, generic readers aren’t allowed which rules out books. It’s worth noting that one of the biggest categories in the iPhone App Store are Book Apps – all of those are automatically ruled out.

If Book Apps aren’t allowed on an eReader then the most natural fit is excluded.

Factors that make the Kindle an interesting platform

The list of factors in the previous section is pretty overwhelming – However, it has some big advantages which explains why 12% of developers are ‘very interested’ in developing Kindle Apps.

Kindles (and eReaders) are exploding

The number of Kindles and eReaders being sold is increasing rapidly (at least it has so far) and it’s not inconceivable that in a few years we have tens of millions of Kindles in circulation.

It’s a new market

There are lots of positives here –

  1. Users don’t have any apps at the moment.
  2. There will be much less competition than in established app markets. 
  3. There is no precedent in terms of what users expect. 
  4. If you do well and get a foothold then as the market grows your profits grow too.
  5. It’s easier to get visibility – You can experiment and try out a lot of different ideas without getting drowned out by 150,000 other apps.

There’s lots of opportunity and lots of freedom.

Users of Good Intent

We’re talking about people who pay $259 or more for their devices and $10 for books.

These are people who are likely to gladly pay money for apps that provide value. They won’t expect free apps supported by advertising (since there is no advertising). They won’t be expecting all apps to be $1. They also won’t be trying to steal apps and perhaps best of all there is no precedent of free.

Reading related Apps ought to do well

While there might not be tens of millions of owners there are a few million users and they share a few important qualities –

  1. They love to read.
  2. They are willing to pay for books.
  3. They have a lot of reading and books related needs.

Apps that could potentially be bestsellers are –  

  1. Apps that provide Reading Shelves.
  2. Review Apps.
  3. Recommendation Apps.
  4. Translation Apps.
  5. Thesaurus and Dictionary Apps. 

Any app related to reading will likely appeal to most Kindle owners.

It’s a challenge

Let’s be quite frank – It’s quite an exciting challenge to work against strong hardware and software limitations and still create a work of beauty.

It takes a lot of optimization – making the code work around eInk refreshes, making it work around the bandwidth limitations. It encourages simplicity and optimization and it’s going to result in developers creating some beautifully crafted apps.

Developers get paid

By excluding advertising, making the system closed, and excluding user information gathering the Kindle App Store keeps out some apps –

  1. Apps from people who believe in free and open (most of them). 
  2. Apps that use advertising to monetize and spoil the market for paid apps. 
  3. Apps that sell user information.

A lot of the people who were using free apps as a lure to get other things out of users are kept out as are the free/open believers. That means developers who create good apps can earn money for their apps and not get undercut. 

Development is easy (relatively)

The development is in Java. There’s a Kindle Simulator for PC, Mac, and Linux. There’s no charge for signing up.

The Beta is pretty straightforward and there’s good documentation and it’s relatively straightforward to develop apps.

There are just two devices to test on

Since there are just two product lines the Kindle App Store targets i.e. Kindle DX and Kindle, it’s relatively straightforward to test out apps.

Of course, it gets a little complicated if you think of it as US and International versions. Perhaps it’s safe to assume that the only changes are related to what wireless service is  used and testing for the International Kindle version takes care of the US version.

Another related benefit is that Amazon updates Kindle OS builds automatically which means nearly all devices are on the same build and there are just two configurations to test against at any given time.

12% developers being ‘very interested’ is a good sign

The Appcelerator article paints 12% as a very low number and lists the iPad’s 53% in comparison. However, we’re talking about a dedicated eReader with an eInk screen and an app store that isn’t even open yet.

With the iPad you have the success of the iPhone motivating developers and with Android you have all the openness and other things developers love (things that actually make it harder for them to make money). iPhone’s app platform and the other mobile phone app platforms have tens of millions of users and a lot going for them.

The Kindle App Store being just a little behind Palm and Symbian (16%, 14%) is really impressive given the Kindle is just starting off and that users will probably be focused on reading.

Within a few months we should see the Kindle App Store debut and we’ll gather a lot more about users’ intentions and what sorts of Apps they prefer. It’s certainly going to be interesting to find out what developers come up with, which apps users choose, and how much they pay for them.