Given how the press are fawning over the iPad this might seem a strange, contrarian question. It isn’t.
It’s very valid because there’s a big contrast -
- January and February – Something magical is going to arrive.
- March - Look it’s pretty and it does a lot of things.
- April – The WiFi version of the iPad is good and it isn’t necessarily better for reading than the Kindle. It’s in people’s hands so it’s no longer advertising and influence talking.
- April end/May – The 3G version of the iPad is out and it isn’t better for reading than the Kindle either.
Until the announcement of the iPad in January the Kindle was, arguably, the best choice for a reading device. Then, for over 3 months, there was this unknown of the iPad and its suitability for reading.
Now, finally, we have the iPad and we can hold it and read on it and fall in love with the night-time reading and get upset at it turning into a mirror in the sunlight and find it heavy or find the 2 pages lovely and hate the lack of books and love the animated page turns (well, almost everyone).
It’s mortal and it’s real and familiarity is breeding contempt for some and love for others.
The Stark Contrast between Competing against Perception and Competing against Reality
On April 2nd had written about how competing against an unknown product is more dangerous.
It applies across all areas of life. It applies especially to products and it definitely applies to eReaders.
Dedicated reading devices are primarily competing against two perceptions (perhaps illusions would be the more appropriate word) -
- A dedicated reading device for $259 is too expensive.
- The qualities that set dedicated reading devices apart (eInk, portability, battery life, focus on reading, lack of distractions) are not vital to reading.
It’s very easy to propagate these perceptions when you have some as yet unreleased product (that supposedly provides a better reading experience) about to come out.
When that product is actually available people get to see the reality.
Real, tangible issues that make reading on the iPad non-optimal
These are all examples that people have written about. Reasons for preferring a Kindle -
- Price. For people who want a dedicated reading device paying double price to do things other than reading doesn’t make sense.
- Size and Weight. The iPad is just too unwieldy. Holding 1.5 pounds gets pretty stressful pretty soon. It almost completely rules out one-handed reading.
- Lack of eInk. Reading on the iPad for longer stretches bothers people some (headaches, eye strain) including me. eInk has more pixels per inch and is easier on the eyes. There are some people who find no difference and that’s fine - In a few years we’ll know what reading books on LCDs does to the eyes and it might be nothing or it might be a lot.
- Reading in sunlight. On the beach, in the park, and just when you’re out and about. The iPad apologists’ just go and read in the shade argument is nonsense – that defeats the whole purpose of getting some sun.
- Losing Sleep. Sleep experts think the iPad’s backlight can lead to insomnia. There are no studies on this so take it any way you like.
- Focus on reading and lack of distractions.
- Reading related features. Things like WhisperSync and multiple Kindles shared on one account.
There are lots of other things – free 3G connection with the Kindle for example.
There are obviously lots of iPad advantages too – color, apps from multiple companies, animated page turns in iBooks, being able to do more than just read. However, we knew all of these before release and knew none of the disadvantages.
Before Release we only knew the good things
The crucial difference was that we didn’t know any of the disadvantages – No one knew you couldn’t read in sunlight (in fact, some of the press still haven’t realized this).
Not many people realized just how difficult it would be to hold a 1.5 pound device (that is the size of a large hardcover) for a long time.
Seriously – How many of us read a book while holding it in our laps?
Now that the iPad is out it’s like moving in with someone and realizing they have flaws. Little things that you didn’t even notice (LCD would mean non readable in sunlight, you don’t really have much in common) now become a pain. Things that seemed absolutely amazing (animated page turns, that cute little smile) suddenly don’t hold as much weight.
The Kindle gets to compete with a real, physical, mortal enemy
People underestimate the huge difference in the buying decision -
- In March and early April it was the Kindle with its strengths and weaknesses against some unknown device that only had strengths.
- In May it’s the Kindle (still with its strengths and weaknesses, also with the folders update) competing against a device that isn’t Perfect.
You notice this amongst the Press too – some of them are already talking about how it’s the second or the third generation of the iPad that will be the real eReader killer. Others feel it’s the iPad Mini or the iPad Max or some unknown variant that will do the damage.
The favorite lines have changed -
- Earlier - A device that can do more than just read for just double the price. No one is going to buy eReaders any more.
- Now – In generation 2 when it’s cut the price by 25% it’ll be so much more value for money. Only 2 million Kindles are going to sell this year.
You can notice the subtle hedging of bets.
Decisions that had been delayed now get made
Perhaps the biggest factor is that lots of people had delayed their reading device buying decisions.
People who wanted a device primarily for reading wanted to see how good the iPad would be for reading and now that they know they can decide freely. My gut is that the Kindle will win most of these – Perhaps Kindle loses 20% to 25% of sales to the iPad.
People who’re predicting more losses are not taking into account simple criteria – price, reading in sunlight, portability, weight.
The War of Perceptions will never be fair
It’s really good for the Kindle that the iPad is finally out.
Apple has $246 million or so of advertising budget. It’s either paying the Press that for advertisements or getting good coverage from them because they don’t want to lose that money.
Apple sent the cops after a blog that wrote about a lost new generation iPhone – You can bet they would stop advertising in any Magazine or newspaper that wrote anything negative about the iPad.
You also have the promise from Apple that they’re going to save the Press. And Publishers’ fear of Amazon.
Basically, there are a lot of reasons that the Press, consciously and unconsciously, will always keep favoring Apple. They will also keep favoring any company taking on the Kindle.
Amazon needs to get actual Kindles into people’s hands (which it’s finally begun to do via Target) and it needs to figure out how to fight the war of perceptions against magical devices that claim to be perfect for 5,000 things including reading.
Finally, we have something resembling a real competition
Now it’s in the hands of people who actually read and they have both devices’ strengths and weaknesses in front of them.
This is the closest to a fair chance Kindle and other dedicated eReaders are ever going to get. My money is on them winning.
Quite frankly, it’d be better that the Nook or Sony Reader won over the Kindle than something like the iPad which would just kill reading. The Kindle will be fine though.