Analyzing Kindle vs iPad arguments, why non-readers attack Kindle

We have the Kindle 3 at $189 and the iPad WiFi at $499. They also happen to be vastly different devices. For all practical purposes there is zero reason to ever do a Kindle vs iPad comparison.

Why then are people always bringing up Kindle vs iPad comparisons?

This post is going to look at a few reasons and then dive deeper and look at things like fundamental human needs/instincts and why a successful product like the Kindle faces so much irrational opposition.

Kindle vs iPad – Somewhat valid reasons to make the comparison

There are a few reasons that somewhat justify a Kindle vs iPad comparison –

  1. Before iPad was released (when Apple didn’t know it would do well) it needed to identify booming markets that weren’t yet stable/decided and target those. That meant Apple went after netbooks, eReaders, and other similar markets. Apple quite actively promoted the notion that it was a great eReader and set up Kindle vs iPad.
  2. For some people money is not an issue – Hence, the comparison of a $499 device with a $189 device. For other people value for money becomes the deciding factor and they want to look at how many different things a device can do and whether the price is justified by this multi-purposeness. 
  3. A lot of people who aren’t avid readers want to compare Kindle as a general device. While this is a wrong assumption, once the assumption is made the Kindle vs iPad comparison becomes inevitable.
  4. A subset of people are immune to the downsides of LCDs. For them the big advantage of the Kindle (eInk) is lost and they feel compelled to ally behind LCD devices.
  5. The two devices are both doing very well and it makes for a good story to pit them against each other.

Perhaps the biggest reason Kindle vs iPad isn’t a totally ridiculous comparison is that each represents a channel to readers/customers and you can always compare competing channels.

Kindle vs iPad – the need to argue and attack winning products and ideas

From this point on we’re going to look at really abstract things. 

Let’s start with a list of reasons people are attacking Kindle or playing up Kindle vs iPad –

  1. Success of the Kindle motivates some people to attack it.  
  2. Kindle’s portrayal as a great reading device makes some people want to argue it – even if they have never used it. We’ll later talk more about this inherent need some people have to argue against a winner.  
  3. People who ally themselves with a product and its marketing pitch feel they must fight for it. If a device claims to be perfect at everything then its adherents will fight every single other device they can find.
  4. A subset of people dislike reading. For them attacking the Kindle is about proving that their tastes are valid ones. 
  5. Some people fear the Kindle will end up dominating all of books and publishing. They feel the iPad can balance it out. Publishers certainly feel this way and they’ve already used iPad to establish the Agency Model.

We could go on endlessly.

There are two common underlying threads here –

  • Some people seem predisposed to oppose and attack any idea or product that does well. 
  • Some people feel a strong need to believe that their stance and their tastes are ‘good’ and ‘right’ and ‘accurate’ and that they must fight anyone with differing tastes.

If this seems extreme let’s consider what’s happening around us.

No matter what you believe in, someone wants to argue against your beliefs

Here are a few random examples of things people argue about endlessly –

  1. Politics. There are always arguments about politics.
  2. Religion. Different gods, the belief that there is no god, and so many other strong beliefs.
  3. Global Warming – At this point everyone’s argued about this so much they don’t even know where they stand any more.
  4. Pretty much anything on the Internet. Go to a forum and write about how the sky is blue and some wise guy is going to write about refraction and perceptions and claim the sky is purple velvet.
  5. Pretty much anything in a group. Sit down with a group of friends, bring up a few contentious topics, and before long there’ll be something people are arguing passionately about.

The first two and the last two bring up a few interesting questions – Could it be about politics? Could arguing be a religious thing? Are people arguing only because it involves other people? Are people arguing only to influence others?

Is Kindle vs iPad about people trying to influence readers to not read?

Here’s a list of arguments against the Kindle with the implicit message listed alongside in italics –

  1. It doesn’t do anything other than read. Reading isn’t worth a dedicated device.  
  2. $189 is too much for an eReader. Reading isn’t worth $189.  
  3. eInk isn’t better than LCDs. For my particular reading requirements.  
  4. iPad does so much more. iPad doesn’t waste itself on reading.  
  5. Kindle doesn’t have a color screen or touch. I think reading is incomplete without color and touch.  
  6. Just pay $300 more and get so much more. Reading isn’t worth $189 but non-reading pursuits are worth $499.
  7. Kindle has no future. As tablets get better Kindle will die out. Reading has no future.  

It isn’t just every day people arguing this. Steve Jobs and other CEOs have said that people don’t read any more.

As readers we have to accept that a lot of people are insecure about our love of and capacity for reading.

If you are stuck in 2 minute entertainment mode or you need people to be stuck in that mode to sell your products then reading is a HUGE threat to you.

Take ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. Take this particular passage –

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch;
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you take it to heart it kills a lot of notions instantly – celebrity culture, the concept of popularity, peer pressure, social programming, worrying about how many ‘friends’ you have on Facebook.

Most of the products sold these days use illusions like popularity and social pressure to work – The notion that we need something extrinsic to be happy, the suggestion that we should look at celebrities as a guide for what to buy, the belief that we should do things because lots of other people are doing them.

Almost everything around us works on advertising and advertising is doing nothing more than using our ignorance and human failings against us. One of the best defences against influence and advertising is reading books so it shouldn’t be a surprise that dedicated book readers are under attack. 

Why would people want to argue against the Kindle?

If people don’t care about reading and think the iPad is better they could stay happy by completely ignoring the Kindle.

However, that isn’t what they are doing. They feel compelled to talk about how much better Device X is for reading or how bad the Kindle is or how useless it is.

They are arguing against the Kindle because they want to influence us and change us.

Humans have probably always argued to gain an advantage

Let’s say we go back a few hundred thousand years and you are in a tribe and you’re a hunter. There are hunters, gatherers, craftsmen, and people in other basic occupations.

Who gets the most prominence? 

Perhaps the most skilled. Perhaps the one who brings the most food. Perhaps … Actually, there’s an easy answer.

The one who can influence others, through words or power, is the one who gets the most prominence. Even if you look within a particular occupation being able to argue and influence others becomes disproportionately important.

Arguing your point becomes far more crucial in the modern world

There are a few reasons arguing becomes far more crucial now –

  1. You can’t exactly have a clubbing contest to decide who gets the lion’s share.
  2. Our occupations have become more and more difficult to measure and evaluate. We are usually paid based on how well we can convince others that our work provides a lot of value.
  3. We are all civilized now so we need to ‘talk’ and ‘agree’.
  4. It’s become super important to be politically correct and ‘good’.
  5. We ourselves want to be on the right side.

It’s an endless list. We aren’t just convincing others – we’re also convincing ourselves. Which makes the need for strong, convincing arugments even more acute.

How this ties to Kindle vs iPad.

Kindle vs iPad is about reading vs not reading

That’s what it comes down to. People who dislike how the Kindle is revitalizing reading and increasing its importance have no option but to argue against the Kindle.

They can’t exactly come out and say –

It bothers me that someone reads so much that they buy a Kindle and I worry about how they’re becoming smarter while my brain is getting trained to be Pavlov’s Dog.

I worry that while all I’m learning is how to Gym, Tan, and Laundry like The Situation they are conversing with Shakespeare and Emerson and Kafka.

Most of all I worry that my worth is going down while theirs is going up.

We all know that knowledge is power and we all recognize at some level that you aren’t going to get knowledge from Farmville or Angry Birds. However, we perhaps don’t have the aptitude or inclination to focus on books.

So it worries us. That people are reading and becoming smarter while we are watching TV and playing Fruit Ninja and becoming dumber.

The only option left is to argue and pretend that reading doesn’t deserve a dedicated device.

Why not give up that Kindle which is making you smart and erudite and free of advertising?

Why not embrace the iPad where you can watch TV and YouTube like we do and waste your time like we do?

The great Levellers of our generation, the new opium for the masses, are all there on multi-purpose devices – TV, games, YouTube. 

With the Kindle you don’t get any of that.

At some level people realize this and it bothers them endlessly that while they sink deeper and deeper into the sort of life that Rudyard Kipling wouldn’t wish on Shere Khan others are headed in the exact opposite direction. 

It would be great if someone did an experiment where they took two groups of 1,000 kids and put them into separate life experiences –

  1. Group 1 played sports while Group 2 sat on the couch and watched sports.
  2. Group 1 went out and played with their friends while Group 2 farmed on Farmville and made ‘friends’ on Facebook.
  3. Group 1 read books and had Kindles while Group 2 watched YouTube on their iPads.
  4. Group 1 had real life experiences and joined Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and did activities and went to the park while Group 2 played video games.
  5. Group 1 watched no TV while Group 2 watched lots and lots of it.

What would the difference be? What would these kids grow up to be?

Time for Kipling again.

 If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

Fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds worth of distance run?

We’re just filling our days with hours and hours of sitting still on couches. Our temples are TVs and video game consoles and YouTube and Facebook and, like Neil Gaiman talks about in American Gods, we are praying to our new gods and giving them more and more power.

In this environment it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are tempted by the illusion that reading is better on a device that is focused on movies and TV and games than on a device that specializes for reading.

Kindle vs iPad comparisons are a joke. If you want to read, get a Kindle 3 or a Nook or a Sony Reader. If you want an undiluted supply of the new opium for the masses, get an iPad.


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