The iPad Kindle Thing

by on October 6, 2010

So I bought a Kindle the other day, and have been thinking whether I should have bought an iPad instead. But the more I use the Kindle, the more that seems like an irrelevant question, despite all the debates that rage around it. For example, somebody I know recently mused that “… in some way the Kindle is like a crippled iPad: only monochrome, poor browser, etc.” His point was that if you look at the technology, the Kindle appears to exhibit a rather crippled sub-set of that provided by the iPad. As a new Kindle user, here’s my view on that.

Firstly, there is a long and quite stable history of “single use devices” in consumer tech that’s as mysterious as it is successful. But even if you don’t think that history will be a guide to the future in that respect, look at the user experience of each device, unalloyed by the considerations of technological prowess (which from what I can tell, only geeks really care about in the long run). In those terms, the Kindle is a book in low-key digital form. It mimics the real thing rather well: practically infinite battery life, very light, read almost anywhere and anything (via Whispernet, which give it the “infinity factor” via free 3G worldwide, no desktop software needed). Its demands are few. It does one thing well. It has no character, opinions or predilections to speak of. It’s nearly invisible technology, like a chair or a bottle opener.

In contrast, the iPad is a sleek computer. It’s also married to the utter abomination of iTunes, the experience of which you cannot avoid when thinking about the use of the device overall. Computers are of course wonderfully engaging things that provide infinite possibilities for everyone. Just ask Stephen Fry. They’re multi-faceted fun when they’re being good, but run out of power, depend on the net too much (at least to provide anything extra outside of the context of the living room sofa), crash and otherwise disappoint when being bad. The iPad has oodles of character, screams its opinions with every brush of your hand, and is as conceptually high-maintenance as might possibly be imagined. I read today that people even sleep with them.

Amazon will most probably blow it by trying to bring more functions to the Kindle. But in my opinion they should worry less about feature parity with the iPad and more if (or when) iPad app developers start designing for truly mobile scenarios – that is, ones that can cope seamlessly with on and off line situations. There seem to be absolutely no signs of that yet though (assuming those scenarios even exist: I’ve seen less than 10 people on the streets of London using an iPad in public so far).

So until then it’s apples and pears. Pun intended.

Comments

Great point, Jonathan, thanks.
I agree and especially like the invisible technology / bottle opener analogy.

I’m not totally sure that many of our objections will resist time and change and will matter much in 10 years, which might be Bruno’s original starting point in that FB thread, but so far it’s really like comparing apples and pears, as you say.

You’re right – the eventual trajectory of the Kindle, and the iPad, is unknowable, all this will seem pretty irrelevant at some point. On a related note, I sometimes wonder about the evolution of “invisible” technology. The old plastic phone on my desk right now is one such example. Perhaps 25 years ago might have been regarded as quite interesting (it has a “recall” button – whoo!), but now it’s just a simple abstraction of the voices of other people.

There’s a lot of stuff around us like that now: toilets, light switches, vacuum cleaners, watches. It would be interesting to envisage a time when multi-function tablet computers are occupying a similar position of invisibility. In which case, what will the “visible” technology be?

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